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Show HN: Maildown – Markdown email campaigns
92 points by chris140957 on Apr 6, 2019 | hide | past | favorite | 53 comments

The beta program of my new startup, Maildown, is now complete and is now accepting paying customers: https://www.maildown.app

As well as a lot of stability enhancements, we've added a new help system, a new CLI (https://github.com/chris104957/mailer-cli) and a REST API.

Maildown lets you create transactional and marketing email campaigns using Markdown syntax, so you can generate and send your email content far more quickly than with traditional WYSIWYG editors.

Thanks for looking, Chris

So the value prop is markdown. Besides that, you have to compete equally with Mailchimp, etc which is impossible. Why not offer your markdown parsing as a service layer on top of existing providers' APIs?

Speaking as a direct competitor of Mailchimp (CEO of EmailOctopus.com), I strongly disagree. It's an enormous market and there are plenty of ways to differentiate yourself.

Effectively, that's exactly what I'm doing with AWS.

Some of us actively dislike what Mailchimp has become and welcome the alternatives.

Same here.

You can definitely compete with the likes of Mailchimp. It's a big market.

Reliable mail deliverability is no small problem, however, and one that by and large has already been solved by other providers.

If a new competitor enters this market that competitor will have to solve this problem again without being able to provide an additional benefit to customers.

So, building your own email delivery infrastructure - even if by merely using existing cloud-based infrastructure such as AWS SES - might prove to be an uphill battle.

It might still be worth it though in order to remain independent of third parties.

Founder of Sentopia.net here... I actually agree, we would love to integrate a better campaign editor in our platforms, since we have our own delivery engine and don't rely on Amazon SES.

> you have to compete equally with Mailchimp

Why would they need to compete equally with Mailchimp?

MailChimp is crazy expensive for mailing lists of size.

If this is a problem you're having, I recommend checking out a service that integrates with Amazon SES. This is what we do (EmailOctopus.com) but there are plenty others out there. You'll generally save up to 5x on Mailchimp prices.

I've been using EmailOctopus for more than two years and would highly recommend it! (This is unsolicited, by the way.)

So glad to hear this!

It looks like your email validation doesn't allow "+" signs. I was able to circumvent (the validation is client side only), but it would be nice if it were allowed.

Edit: I am currently unable to verify an email address with a "+" in it, as well.

Thanks, somebody else already pointed this out, and its down to frontend regex-based verification. Will get it fixed

It really looks like a nice backend! I have substantial experience in creating email campains for clients.i must admit that an important features for mailings is a possibility to create responsive layouts, which are supported on different email clients... unfortunately i don't see the real value in using markdown for writing the email text.

Maybe you can simplify one of these approaches for normal users: https://foundation.zurb.com/emails.html https://mjml.io/

Thanks. Its theoretically possible to insert HTML into mails in Maildown, opening all sorts of possibilities in terms of layouts, but this is not something I've actively explored or documented yet. Something for me to look into a bit further

I like that this exists, as someone who writes everything in Markdown.

(I should note that there is a platform that offers something similar to this already: https://buttondown.email/)

But while Markdown on its own is great to see more of in the email space, I think there's room to extend the idea. A few years ago, an employee of CakeMail created this great demo of a concept that mixed shortcodes and Markdown, but never followed through with the idea: http://cakedown.alexandredeschamps.ca/

Part of the problem with that design was that it was built around specific components in Foundation for Emails, which kinda backed that design in a corner, but there's room to allow end users to custom-build components for easy access, along the lines of what MJML can do. To me, I think that idea has a ton of blue water around it. Nobody is combining shortcodes and Markdown in this way for email clients, and it could potentially be very valuable as an alternative to the overly complex WYSIWYG editors the rest of the email market uses.

I run a newsletter with 10k+ subscribers (https://tedium.co/) and I run it on Craft CMS in a way that replicates the CakeMail approach to a degree, with my own flourishes (which was convenient as I already use shortcodes for my text). It allows me to throw in ads on the fly and simply add design features to content without a lot of extra work. I'd love to see the general idea get picked up by some new email provider.

I think we need more thinking in this direction, because a lot of email tools are built for marketing, which means that editorial concerns get short shrift. I could see stuff like this making a lot of sense for the growing editorial newsletter market if it's handled the right way.

Thanks, this is really interesting. One thing that is theoretically possible with Maildown already (although I haven't tested it yet) is inserting raw HTML into your emails, and this is possibly something I could look to expand.

Ultimately emails are rendered using Django HTML templates, and it supports most of the Django template syntax. I'm thinking there is probably way more that Maildown could exploit here to give it the ability to create richer content within emails

https://docs.maildown.app describes your model, 7 pound for 1000 emails. However, it's hard to find.

I also miss a lot of information. How do you prevent ending up in spam boxes? Which templates to choose from? What can be configured, what not? Etc.

Also interesting insights / developer journeys like how easy Chargebee is for you as developer, etc. would give me some incentive to try it out. Just my two cents!

PS: 3 days ago https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=19562539 it was a MVP and probably buggy. Maybe tell that to your customers as well. ;-)

Signup doesn't allow '+' in the email address, which is sometimes used in Gmail email addresses.

Edit: Plus `## Creating contact lists` in the docs doesn't seem to have rendered properly.

Good catch - That'd be down to the regex in the front end. Will look into it

You shouldn’t use regex for email validation.

The backend (Django) also verifies that the email address is valid. The frontend validation is just added as a an extra convenience

The problem is the standard for what is a valid email address is so varied with enough edge cases that what you might consider a “convenience” is actually breaking the site for other people.

There are quite a number of articles written about this topic, I’d recommend researching it.

Allowing + is bad. It allows users to churn trials easily.

Accept the address and key the user based on the part preceding +.

That can be prevented with simple validation on sign up.

Thanks, appreciate there is still some work to be done on the user onboarding process.

In terms of spam protection, an unsubscribe link is added to all sent emails, to make it harder to spam people. Once unsubscribed, it's impossible to send any more mail to a user.

There's a templates gallery in the app - I'm planning to add a carousel to the landing page to show the possible email themes there

Hi, the service looks neat. As others found the verification is a bit clunky and delete email address doesn't work. I'm working on an email app, which converts HTML/plain text to markdown. Not yet released :) As far as see the plain/text is written markdown. I would suggest you modify content type to be "Content-Type: text/plain; charset=utf-8; format=flowed; markup=markdown" In this case, an email client will know it is markdown and can use it without conversion. "Mail Mate" mac app support it, hopefully, my app for iOS soon.

Looks like you're using undraw svgs with the default color. You can change the color by clicking the color button in the upper right corner of the undraw site.

I'd add some examples of emails that look good that are done in Markdown. Starter templates would be really helpful.

I'd change the limit from X emails/day to X/month. Who sends mass email every day?

I can't tell what the pricing would be for a much larger number of emails without signing up. Do it the way Mailchimp does -- put your pricing slider outside the signup.

Thanks, have been meaning to add a pricing page, as well as a tutorial video, to the landing page.

Your feedback on monthly vs daily is also interesting. Will consider that - ultimately it you exceed your daily limit There is no hard fail, it just gets retried later

Seems eerily similar to Buttondown(https://buttondown.email)

Interesting concept, not sure it'd meet our needs but I'd like to try a send.

I couldn't verify my email, or find any contact info though...

So when you first sign up, you should get an email (via AWS) with a link to verify your email. If you don't receive this, you can trigger the email again from the Email addresses section (in the apps navbar).

There's a quick start guide in the docs (https://docs.maildown.app) which guides you through the process of creating and sending your first email - probably worth a look.

Eventually I'd like to add an in-app tutorial which shows the buttons to click to get you started. As I've mentioned in another reply, I know the learning process is still not yet obvious

I got the link. It just took me to the marketing site. The "Check status" thing worked, just clunky.

Including some of the docs inline in the editor would be very useful... wouldn't have seen the templates (including recipient name etc) otherwise.

I lost my edits because I assumed they'd be saved (save button was below the fold..)

I like the style of the dashboard.


Glad it came through. Yeah I need to have it save the emails periodically

I had the same issue. I clicked the verification link, but it redirected me to the main site and I still have "You cannot create any emails yet because you have not verified any email addresses".

Later I noticed I have to go to "email addresses" and "check verification status". You'll probably lose some people at this step, since I hadn't expected to need to do that.

Also in "my campaigns" it says "Click on the campaign name to expand" but actually you have to click on the arrow at the end of the row.

I would use this. I'm so fed up with rendering HTML (even with MJML) or dealing with WYSIWYG editors in web UI's.

However, the concerns would be:

1. Deliverability and everything to do with spam ranking etc.

2. Price. Email is a total commodity. It needs to be sharp.

3. Stability. Is this a 1 year "startup idea" or a company that's in it for the long run?

Thanks for the feedback, I didn't think I'd be the only one that hates WYSIWYG. Deliverability is something that we're keeping an eye on. We're using AWS SES, which provides a lot of options in that area. Anybody who receives an email from Maildown can unsubscribe at any time using the link appended to every email. Once they done that, Maildown will refuse to send that user any mail from that Maildown user's account. Similarly, we track bounces via SES, SNS and Lambda and handle them in the same way. This minimizes our bounce count, and therefore enhances our sender reputation

Price is in line with similar competitors and starts at £3.50 a month

The stability thing applies to any new startup, but we've had a lot of interest in this so far so it seems like it will make sense to continue

Can you steal my idea and run with it?

I’d like to set up mail campaigns as markdown sure, but ideally as a folder structure in a git repo. Then gut push to publish. I don’t want to use a web UI at all because they are slow and sucky. And I want my campaign properly backed up.

My first question for e-mail service providers is always, do you support SPF, DKIM, and DMARC for mail delivery?

Sorry for the slow response. Yes we support all of those. We can send you the appropriate records to set this up on request

For anyone who's interested in this but wants to check out various services: https://buttondown.email/ uses Markdown. I've had a great experience with it so far.

A few people have mentioned this one. I wasn't aware of it, but looks good

Thank you for making your CLI a first class citizen. I have been growing tired of typical web app interfaces and am glad to see something that just gets straight to the point instead of trying to “Wow” me with graphical UX.

Thanks, I think the CLI/API is pretty key too - Ultimately I think Maildown is primarily targeted at developers so its important that it integrates easily with what its customers are trying to build

I will be honest. I want an tool for this that I can then send via Amazon sms directly. The same prop is just the composer/markdown aspect and I do not want to pay on a per email basis for it.

Neat! I like Markdown.

Out of curiosity, have you tackled email deliverability yet? If so, may I ask if you have any recommended reading sources. I recently found myself interested in the topic.

Thanks. Deliverability is something I'm still learning about, I don't really claim to be an expert on it yet.

As Maildown uses SES, I did find this article to be quite helpful: https://docs.aws.amazon.com/ses/latest/DeveloperGuide/delive...

The website doesn't work with third-party JS disabled.

But how does one automate or do programmatic markdown? With some kind of markdown templating language?

I'm genuinely curious how many people you find to like markdown, once you are outside the tech community. My work has always focused on detailed content management, which isn't Markdown's strength (nested lists, embedded tables, detailed options on layout and numbering, etc.), and markdown is therefore a non-starter when we talk about putting authoring capabilities into our customer's hands. I can see where email is simpler, so the tech limitations won't stop you.... but would love to hear what audience/demographic is paying for a service where markdown is the main feature?

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