In 2017, I started as VP of GTM Operations at Culture Amp and found myself with a brand new, sparkling-clean work email inbox that gave me a sense of optimism and clarity.
However, after attending Dreamforce and a few other conferences, my contact information was soon for sale by data vendors and my inbox began to swell with email from people trying to sell me new software and get a piece of my time.
In a fit of frustration and inspiration, I wrote and sent the original Gated Challenge Email to a salesperson who wouldn’t stop emailing me, even after I asked them to stop. I included a link to my Venmo account on the assumption that the platform was a popular form of payment with folks early in their career, like this particular Sales Development Rep (SDR).
That same week, I sent out a few more Challenge Emails and was surprised to see my Venmo account growing with donations. It was clear to me that certain salespeople had targeted me thoughtfully, done their homework, and wouldn’t hesitate to make a small monetary gesture in order to reach me. In fact, senders often paid even more than I asked, just to get my attention!
I was intrigued and wanted to learn more. I tested different donation amounts, from $0.10 to $5.00, and saw minimal drop-off in the rate of payment. I also tested different written copy in the email to discover which wording worked best with unknown senders. I received encouragement and positive feedback across the board, even from those who were being asked to make payments!
I knew that others would share my enthusiasm about how this concept might impact user behavior and the email industry at large. At the fundraising party for Sendoso (a company I advise), I shared my idea with a number of leaders in marketing and the response was overwhelmingly positive. Indeed, years later, people still remember those conversations and Kris, the CEO of Sendoso, is an advisor and early user of Gated.
At that time, I understood the potential for Gated but lacked the engineering background to make it happen. Things only took off when I made the acquaintance of Sam Levan, CEO of MadKudu. Sam is a phenomenal technical leader and he got the concept right away. He shared insight into an email filtering tool he had previously built and provided guidance on building a minimum viable product with Zapier and Airtable. These early steps toward creating a tangible product allowed me to automate the sending of Challenge Emails.
With a fully functioning tool, I started rating every Challenge Email - whether it should have been sent or not. Over six months of training and testing, Sam and I gathered a wealth of fascinating insights that have shaped the design of our product today. Most importantly, we realized that it was critical to build a product that would still be a good user experience for ‘false positives’ - people we actually knew that were sending from an unknown email for some reason. This insight, among others, helped us refine Gated to create positive impact for both email senders and users.
In March 2020, I told Sam that I wanted to extend Gated to other users. In a happy development for all involved, Sam’s son Lino had a passion for coding and a free summer break ahead of him. We hired him to code v3.0 and integrate the product with a payment platform. By the end of summer 2020, the platform was ready for us to onboard twenty marketing influencers as beta users. The insights from this early group enabled us to see how Gated worked in the hands of real users, with real needs.
Published March 2021
Updated December 2022