Phrasee is a startup which aims to automate the optimisation of email subject lines. 

It's the brainchild of Parry Malm, (who is also a regular contributor to Econsultancy). I've been asking Parry about the business and his plans for world domination...

Please describe what the company does...

Phrasee is software that automates and optimises your email subject lines. It combines human input with machine learning to generate awesome-sounding and response-driving subject lines. 

When you input your open, click and conversion rates, Phrasee optimises your subsequent subject lines using advanced machine learning algorithms.

Our strapline says it all: Phrasee turns you into a subject line superhero.

What problems does it solve?

A few months ago I did some research on how email marketers split test subject lines and blogged about it on Econsultancy.  What I learned was:

  1. Spilt testing (aka 'controlled subject line experiments') remains the best way to learn about your audience and improve your response rates.
  2. Email marketers want to split test better but don’t always know how or have enough time. It’s hard to think of subject lines to test, and even harder to learn from the results.
  3. There’s so much bad-to-average advice about subject lines that doesn’t really help email marketers out. People just don’t know where to turn.

There is clearly a science to subject lines, but until now it was inaccessible to marketers. 

We built Phrasee to solve this problem. Now we are taking over the world, one split test at a time.

Is this a crowded market?

Not yet! Phrasee is the only SaaS platform on the planet that generates and optimises your email subject lines.

In January I blogged about how I think programmatic language optimisation is the next big thing in marketing. Other companies will probably enter the marketplace with derivative Phrasee knock-offs after this article gets published. 

Heavy is the head and so forth I suppose!

What are your goals?

Phrasee’s vision is to be the creative brain behind the programmatic revolution. 

There are so many optimisation tools out there, across all online channels, which help with the mechanics of testing. It’s amazingly easy to run a test online.

But the problem remains: if you’re testing the wrong things, or using bad methodology, you don’t learn anything.

Our goal is to automate what marketers test, not how. We’re focusing on email subject lines right now, and are expanding to other areas very soon. 

What are the biggest challenges you face?

Phrasee’s machine-generated advertising language outperforms human-generated language. But some copywriters view Phrasee with unease, like we’re trying to put them out of a job.

I can assure you it’s not the case! We love copywriters and employ a bunch of them. In the near term (say 10-20 years) machines won’t be able to outperform humans when it comes to creating long-form text. 

What Phrasee can do is outperform humans with small, structured language sets such as subject lines. 

You should only use Phrasee if you care about getting more opens, clicks and conversions. If you are precious about a subject line being in words you’ve written yourself, then Phrasee isn’t for you. 

How will you make money?

We operate on a tiered SaaS subscription model. PAYG, no contracts, cancel anytime, and so on.  

Complicated pricing models make me really bored, so we’ve made things really simple and transparent.

Who is in your team?

I’m the CEO and co-founder, and I know a thing or two about email subject lines. I guess you could call me the ideas guy, the spokesman, and the buyer of Jaegerbombs.

I’ve got two founding partners: 

Neil Yager is our CTO.  He wrote the book on data mining (literally) and is the brains behind our machine learning engine.  I’ve known Neil since we met studying computer science in Canada in the 90s.  He’s got some stories about me from back in the day.

Victoria Peppiatt is our COO.  She is the most organised and conscientious person I’ve ever met, and also runs a creative agency called The Pink Group.  At all my previous jobs her agency was always my go-to for branding, creative and web design. (Disclosure: Pink designed Phrasee’s brand, site and app.)

We’ve got a growing team of developers, copywriters and marketers/sales… (and are hiring, so just saying, get in touch…)

Where would you like to be in one, three and five years’ time?

We were just talking about this in a board meeting – it’s a great, if not difficult, question. We’ve got a million ideas, some crazier than others. The hardest part is deciding what to do first.

Phrasee is not restricted to language. For any structured set of variants, we can apply our machine learning model. There are some VERY cool things in development right now way beyond subject lines, but our CTO would punch me in the face if I spoke about them before they’re ready to shout about…

One of our million crazy ideas is based upon Neil’s PhD research (image processing using artificial intelligence.) Picture this: what if you could run a display campaign where the creative (not just text but imagery too) was being optimised in real-time by Phrasee’s machine learning engine… 

That would be pretty cool and useful, right? But we’re going to conquer the world of subject lines first. 

Other than your own, what are your favourite websites / apps / tools?

I love data, even though I think “BIG DATA” is baloney.  There’s some super cool blogs that apply statistical reasoning to real world situations. 

For example, FiveThiryEight (for sports and US politics junkies,) NHLNumbers (for ice hockey fans,) and PornHub Stats (no lie – it’s an absolutely fascinating blog and is mostly SFW.)

App wise, I’ve played Civilization Revolution on my phone about a billion times, and couldn’t live without Uber. Oh, and a massive big up to Hungry House who fuelled Phrasee’s development with many late-night pizzas.

Graham Charlton

Published 6 March, 2015 by Graham Charlton

Graham Charlton is the former Editor-in-Chief at Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter or connect via Linkedin or Google+

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