Email has become commonplace in all our lives. Each day, almost 120 billion consumer marketing emails hit inboxes. And professionals spend almost a third of their days reading and responding to email — an average of 120 messages per day. Despite this high usage, email has not changed or adapted much in the past decade or so.
SAM Email wants to change that. This Deal to Watch is creating email tech that can display real time information (such as store inventory or airline seats) and allow consumers to interact directly in the email. The company is starting with airlines but has plans to expand into many other verticals. We sat down with founder and CEO Shi Li to talk about email’s current stagnation and just what makes the SAM Email team perfectly suited to answer this problem.
Note: This interview was conducted over email. It has been lightly edited for clarity and length.
Can you give us a brief elevator pitch for your company?
SAM’s patented interactive, dynamic email technology helps brands create more meaningful, impactful interactions with their customers, right from the inbox.
What inspired you to take the leap and build this company?
We rely on email every single day. But since its invention in 1971, there hasn’t been a whole lot of innovation happening around it. I believed that — owing to its wide adoption — it should be able to do more than just basically send messages, attach files, display images and links. With that in mind, I formed a team to brainstorm how we can push the capabilities and technological barriers of email, while developing a solution that would add value and simplify tasks in our daily lives, much in the same way that email’s original development has done. This, in turn, could also be leveraged to help businesses solve pain points that they are experiencing with regard to the customer digital experience.
I also believed that leaving the development of this solution in the hands of a smaller, agile team would allow us to build a meaningful product and business — something that would have the potential to impact billions of peoples’ lives every day, while allowing us to enjoy the accolades and challenges of turning a small business into a future-proof entity.
What past experiences prepared you to start, build, and lead your company?
My first foray into online business was building digital products that helped offline businesses to [get] online. Since that time, I’ve been fortunate to help build both B2B and B2C companies in both the US and Asia. Working alongside many different brands and teams across different continents and cultures gave me the insight to try out a variety of strategies. Through this work, I was able to raise funding and build a community of investors who recognize and fully support our mission and values, and together with these investors, we can build the venture together and move the company forward.
What is your vision for the future of the industry you are operating in?
Our mission, at its core, is to make emails more engaging, exciting and more useful. However, the overarching vision is to help businesses from various industries transform the ways in which they engage with their customers — in turn building a better digital experience that is more seamless, productive, and downright delightful to use.
To better understand the future, we need to look back at the history of email. From the first email ever sent from back in the 1970s at a lab in MIT, until today, email has become an integral part of our daily lives. Even though other technologies like social media, the migration from desktop to mobile, video streaming and more have passed email by, email is still the most widespread technology, and we believe it will continue to be so.
In fact, we believe that the demand for human-computer interactions won’t change, nor will the need to have access to real-time information at one’s fingertips. In the future, we’ll be able to insert something akin to pulling in mini applications from the email itself, which serves as the hub of interaction (rather than forcing the user to click through countless web pages). SAM is our answer to building more engaging, interactive emails.
Who is on your team and how did you come together?
Duncan and I — the co-founders — used to live under the same roof in Brooklyn. We have a team with diverse backgrounds and skill sets which is the secret sauce of the company:
- Founder and CEO Shi Li — Shi is the Sensei of our team who has built consumer and business-facing companies in both the United States and Asia. He is a serial entrepreneur with extensive work experience of 8 years in the digital and airline industry. Shi has also acquired and collaborated with brands in more than 10 countries including, including but not limited to, IAG(Parent company of BA, Iberia, and Aer Lingus), ANA, JetBlue, Israel Airlines, Google, Walmart, etc. He has been frequently invited to and awarded at industry summits, including Airline Information (2019), FTE and IAG (2018), and IATA World Passenger Symposium (2017). Fun Fact: Shi snowboarded across the Williamsburg bridge during one of New York’s coldest winters.
- Founder and Product Manager Duncan Sham — Duncan wears a creative belt in our team with a passion to build and create things. With over a decade of experience in the creative industry, he has designed exciting campaigns for the global brands including Gap, Adidas, YouTube, Lacoste, Pepsi, Meitu, Artful Dodger Clothing (Jay Z’s Clothing Brand), Gatorade/Serena Williams, McDonalds, New York Marathon, Blackberry, Smart, Wrigleys, LG Phones and Yahoo. His work has reached billboards in Times Sq (NY), TV commercials across the U.S., and major events hosted by celebrities in Asia. Fun Fact: Duncan has skydived off the Macau Tower.
- VP of Engineering/R&D William Warbington — William has over 16yrs of experience in the travel technology industry in both Europe and Asia. His first airline job was as an officer with the US Air Force. He has also worked for one of the largest airline I.T. providers with a focus on travel tech. He has lead and coordinated product introductions, scoping requirements, solution design, handoff to implementation. His portfolio consists of top tier airlines from All Nippon Airways, Delta Airlines, British Airways, Singapore Airlines, Cathay Pacific, Sri Lankan Airlines /Mihin Airlines, and Malaysia Airlines, just to name a few. Fun Fact: William is internationally certified as a sailboat skipper.
- Advisor Bard Berkson — Former Mckinsey Partner and Former Senior Official in U.S. Department of Defense. Brad served on various boards including Boeing Defense, Security, and Space and CEVA Logistics Government Services and the National Defense Business Board as Chairman. Fun Fact: has ventured under the polar ice cap in a nuclear submarine, across the waves in the USMC Amphibious Fighting Vehicle.
Do you have any competition, if so, how do you differentiate?
Our closest competitor would be ESP (Email Service Providers). However, their objectives and overall business model differs considerably from our own. Our first differentiator is from a product level. We enable interactive components and dynamic capabilities in email in real-time. Our second differentiator is that our system is connected to the business’ back-end system to help synchronize real-time dynamic data including things like inventory and pricing. Thirdly, the email campaigns we send out are not specifically marketing or budget-driven. In other words, our solution is integrated into the brand’s workflow, and the back-end system functions are triggered by events and rules. This is what we categorize as a transactional email.
What does your business model look like?
We charge a fee per email sent, along with a commission fee on a sale we help convert.
What brought you to equity crowdfunding and how do you intend to use the money you raise this round to scale the business?
As it has for many industries, the pandemic has greatly impacted the way we work, do business, and even raise money! Being able to meet investors face-to-face is not a viable or practical option at the moment, so we felt that crowdfunding was the safer and smarter option.
Now with the SEC’s RegCF and RegA exemptions, investors can access a wide range of projects and businesses regardless of their geographic locations. Likewise, companies who need to access growth funding can now publicly present their business to potential investors across the region. We’ve experienced first-hand the efficiency, transparency and better-organized management of online funding for ourselves and believe that this was a smart decision given the many circumstances that surround us.
The funds we raise this round will be deployed to fund R&D as well as marketing efforts used to help strengthen our brand leadership and first-to-market advantage in our targeted markets.
What do you want potential investors to know about you and/or your company?
We’re more than just our brand. SAM is the whole package of our market, our technology, our team and our innovations. SAM’s core competencies bring a huge revenue impact to our clients and allow us to penetrate multiple industries with first-mover advantages that are further protected by our patented and patent-pending technology.
The fact that we’re already able to work with top-tier brands in many different regions and countries — such as IAG in the UK, ANA in Japan and LATAM in South America — further bolsters and proves our value proposition and product market fit. These are the kinds of advantages that not many early stage companies have.
And last, but certainly not least, our team is what makes all of this possible. From designers to technologists, from McKinsey to Amadeus, we work with the brightest minds to give ourselves a competitive edge. The wide and varied interests and achievements of our team, both inside and outside of the company contribute to an overall culture of achievement and ambition.
As you think about the business 5-10 years down the road, what do you see exit opportunities looking like? have you set any future goals for the company?
The high demands of both B2B and B2C companies to increase profitability and improve their customer experiences across the board won’t change. Nor will people’s desire to consistently interact with and exchange information. If anything, they will increase exponentially. So long as this is happening, our mission to improve the experience by allowing seamless, interactive communication will never stop.
We already see the potential of exit opportunities in the sub verticals we serve (such as airlines). We will likely experience similar exit opportunities in the verticals that we plan to expand into across the next 3-5 years, including e-commerce, banking and financial services, telehealth, telemedicine and so on. Already large entities like Google and Salesforce are investing heavily in this space, and we fully expect this investment to continue with greater consolidations, mergers and acquisitions.
We at KingsCrowd are excited to see where Shi and his team take the company. SAM Email is currently raising on StartEngine.
About: Olivia Strobl
Olivia comes to KingsCrowd with a background in venture capital and technology. She spent time at Glasswing Ventures, an AI-focused venture fund in Boston, before joining the KingsCrowd team. There she helped develop machine learning algorithms for the opportunity qualification of preseed and seed-stage startup companies. Prior to her time at Glasswing, Olivia worked in a lab studying the neural correlates of attention. She holds a degree in Neuroscience from Wellesley College.