Spam Resource Spotlight: Chip House

Chip House is an executive and growth leader with over 25 years of leading marketing and customer success teams in fast-paced, B2B SaaS companies. He is Chief Marketing Officer for CRM platform Insightly.

We go back a ways. Once upon a time, I was hired by e-commerce provider Digital River, where Chip was a senior director of marketing. My role was titled "Consumer Privacy Manager" because, back then, the term "deliverability" had yet to be coined. I worked with Chip and many others at Digital River to help guide and police hosted email marketing campaigns for DR's clients, and it was a solid introduction to the then-still-nascent world of email marketing for both Chip and I. By 2006, Chip had moved on to email service provider ExactTarget, and I had reached out to him looking for leads for potential jobs in Chicago, where I wanted to move to. Chip said hey, move to Chicago if you want, but why not work for me at ExactTarget? I'm glad I said yes. It meant lots of driving to-and-from Indianapolis, but it also gave me a long time to work directly for Chip, something I definitely do not regret. Times change and we've both moved on. Though Chip is now a very fancy C-level executive, he was still kind enough to participate in my silly blog interview series!

You can find his Linkedin profile here.

Chip, thank you for taking the time to talk to me today! When we first met, we were both working for e-commerce provider Digital River. What brought you to DR, to e-commerce?

In college I was an econ major at St. Olaf, but out of college, my first gig was at Fingerhut Corporation, which was a catalog retailer. They're not as well known now, but at one point we had like four million loyal customers, and they were really thriving before the Walmarts hit all the small towns, because we were highly analytical marketers, had loyal customers, and we extended credit to people who otherwise couldn't get credit anywhere.

I raised my hand in 1996 and said, hey, now that the web is a thing, I would like to be part of the web e-commerce group [at Fingerhut]. We spun up a brand called Andy's Garage Sale and we were responsible for liquidating excess inventory. It was kind of campy -- Andy was this persona, a sort of down home guy who had all this stuff in his garage. So it was a very approachable brand. And we had a big deal of the day on the e-commerce site. That's when I first did banner advertising, in 1996, and then email marketing. We were just starting to capture email addresses. I had probably just gotten an email [address] at Fingerhut right before that. We were capturing email addresses and I remember asking, hey how do we go about doing email marketing? We had literally no idea. And so we found some local guy here in Minneapolis who said, "oh, you can get a LISTSERV and we'll do it for you." So what I did was, I emailed our recent customers and said hey, we're going to be sending out some promotions via email, do you want to opt-in? It's something you wouldn't do [that way] now, but back in the day, what did we know? And it was successful!

And so when I was hired as the first marketer at Digital River in 1997, obviously part of it was because I had [that] early e-commerce, early digital ad, and early email marketing history. As you know, Al, at Digital River, it applied really well, because we took what now would be considered an obscene amount -- twenty percent -- of software download e-commerce revenue, so there was definitely margin in there, to market on behalf of our customers.

And I remember, this was probably 1998, when we had one of our gaming clients (I forget which one) and I went over to [Digital River Unix admin] Brian Eitrem and said, hey, can you send email to these 20,000 names via Unix mail and he grumbled and I probably bribed him with some whiskey and a sandwich or something, and he sent it out and it probably took like twelve hours to all go out, but it was fantastic. We were probably spamming all of the customers of that gaming client -- but again, what did we know? This was early days, probably 1997 or 1998.

So by the time you showed up at Digital River [in 2000], Al, we were starting to figure out how to do it correctly.

And that was such a good training ground for email marketing -- some bumps along the way, but learning the right way to do it. You and I certainly have talked a lot in the past about other people at DR trying to argue with blocklists or try to talk their way out of spam issues, but not really knowing how to handle that. So that's where I came into the picture, in that weird sort of role as "Consumer Privacy Manager" to try to "protect us from ourselves" when it came to spam and permission marketing issues. (What we would now call deliverability and compliance.) That really was a lot of fun. A lot of frustrations, too, and you were really at the "Wild West" forefront of all of that, before I even got there -- that's so cool!

Yeah, it was totally "Wild West!" It was part of the benefits that we touted [to customers] at DR -- if you're part of our network, we'll do things like give you list co-promotion [email marketing] with other partners. By today's standards, it's not something you'd probably do that way now. But it was successful.

Fast forward a bit, and you hired me on to ExactTarget, where you were managing the deliverability/compliance team, a tiny little part of your much broader mandate to manage marketing services. Thanks for the opportunity, by the way-- I am very grateful. Though, those were some rough-and-tumble days of a small(ish) company looking to grow fast. Lots of salespeople (more salespeople than engineers) and lots of revenue pressure. What was it like for you in that environment?

I joined ExactTarget in 2001 and somehow convinced Scott Dorsey to give me ten thousand dollars a month for Overture or Google PPC (paid search) way back in the day. And that helped. But we were soon figuring out that our customers were running afoul of AOL, which was the big deal [mailbox provider] then. They started sending spam complaints back, right, so we started sending out Deliverability Report Cards to our customers, kind of as a benefit, but also so we could keep track of who our good actors were and who our bad actors were. I learned it by doing. And then I hired R.J. and Greg, as deliverability consultants and as we scaled, we needed more people, a manager made sense, so you were the clear winner for that, given your experience.

The early days were crazy, for sure. Because you figure it out as you go, entirely. In fact, I don't think we ever thought, because of CAN-SPAM, that we would be doing deployment. ExactTarget was leaning into software while Cheetahmail and Epsilon and others were leaning into services and deploying [email campaigns] on behalf of their customers, so the fact that we had a design team building emails was something I didn't think we would even do. And of course we had partners that we were trying to empower to do that on behalf of their customers, all at the same time.

Enough work talk! Some folks might not know that you're a drummer. A very good one, actually. I've only seen you live a few times, playing with a band called Silent Iris long ago, and more recently playing with the Wreck, but I am very much a fan. How do you find the time to manage a full time C-suite marketing career AND actually keep up with practicing your drum skills AND finding the time to actually play live gigs? Oh, and you've got a family. When do you sleep?

It's funny, Al, because I started drumming when I was 10, and then I think for a talent show in junior high was when I first had a band, and I think I've been in a band ever since age 12. And now I'm in two bands. I'm in the Wreck and a band called the Non-Prophets. [With the Non-Prophets,] it's a male singer and we do what I would call ‘70s B-sides. There's a lot of cover bands out there but if they play the Doors tunes, you know what they're going to play. If they play Led Zeppelin or whatever, you know the typical bar band tunes [that they'll play]. We try to not play those tunes and play the B-sides or just songs you don't hear very often. And it's really fun to play that. And honestly, it's a secret, when you've been drumming for as long as I have -- I can listen to music while I'm working, and learn the song. So I don't have to play it to learn it. I sort of know what the guy's doing, if that makes sense? It's different if we're trying to learn a Rush song or something like that and I actually have to figure out the riffs and fills and stuff like that, what does my body need to do. But mostly, if I'm playing something like the Doors or Tom Petty or the Cars, I've heard the song a million times, and I've known the song, probably since I was fifteen. Really. So it's easy, frankly.

Right now -- You don't know this, but I had neck surgery (a neck fusion) at the beginning of February, because I was having weakness down my left arm and so the last gig I did with the Non Prophets, I played like Rick Allen from Def Leppard -- I played with just my right arm. And it worked okay! You just can't stretch out and do crazy fills and stuff, but I can still play time.

Wow! So what about practice? You said that you're pretty lucky to be able to pick up a lot of it through reverse osmosis but I know that every drummer's got a practice space and not every drummer's wife likes that practice space to be at home. Do you have a separate practice space? Or a heavily insulated basement? Or do you do it all virtually with V-Drums, or pad practice, or what?

There's a practice space that we have for both bands, we share it, down by International Market Square, and that's where I keep my real drums. And then at home, I do have Roland V-Drums, the latest version of which I got in 2020, during the pandemic, and we were doing a lot of online playing. We were actually productive as a band practicing remotely during the pandemic. One of the best things I like about V-Drums is that you can Bluetooth in the music and play along with it.

Nice. What about the cymbal feel? For me, that was always the weak spot of the V-Drums -- at least, that was the case years ago. Maybe they're better now, but I always felt that the cymbals just didn't seem like they could feel right to a real drummer.

The new ones are much better, frankly. Yeah, I like them a lot, actually. You can customize your kits, so I can have the typical kit, or I can make it an ‘80s kit, or a Neil Peart kit or a John Bonham kit, it's kind of fun!

I've been asking everyone if raisins ruin everything, but I think we need to change it up. So my question to you is: Is a hotdog a sandwich? And more importantly, can you even get a good hotdog in Minneapolis? If not, what would you name as your favorite fancy or casual restaurant food or experience in the Twin Cities?

So, I actually like raisins. I will say that. A good oatmeal cookie with raisins, I'm totally fine with. I don't know that a hotdog is a sandwich; I haven't thought about it. I don't think there's a place in Minneapolis to get a good hot dog. At least I've never tried to [find that place]. There probably is. I don't know. It's not something I eat a lot of, and if I have a hot dog, I eat it at home and I grill it myself.

The restaurant that comes to mind is on 54th and Penn, called Colita. It's a Oaxacan restaurant, kind of like Tex/Oaxacan. Super creative fare. You have to be careful ordering drinks there because I order something that sounded kind of good but it came out blue and had a sort of foam on it with a rubber ducky on top (!). It was not a very manly looking drink.

That's awesome, and it's great to hear how neighborhoods have evolved in Minneapolis. 54th and Penn was maybe in the past known for having a hardware store 30 years ago, when I lived near there, but now, a whole bunch of interesting and great restaurants are popping up in different parts of the city, especially in South Minneapolis.

Yeah, it's true! And there's another one in downtown Linden Hills called Martina which is more Argentinian and that is also excellent.

Awesome! Okay, last question time. If you had the undivided attention of every email marketer in the world for the next three-to-five minutes, what would you want them to know? I mean, besides that they should take a look at Insightly for all of their CRM needs. What things should they know, but don't know, about CRM marketing success?

I would say that right now, in its current state, I wouldn't focus on AI-driven B2B email. Because, in the B2B realm, especially, it's definitely personalization that makes the difference. I've seen sales guys decide to just focus on quantity, and quantity doesn't work. My inbox is crazy as a CMO. Everybody's trying to sell me something, all the time. And I think that most executives that buy software experience the same thing. The only thing that breaks through the noise is strong personalization.

Chip, thanks so much for your time and words and knowledge and opinions!

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