As a country, we now know that crisis sparks entrepreneurship. The Conversation puts it perfectly, “Pandemics have helped advance health-care systems, wars have fuelled technological innovations and the global financial crisis helped advance tech companies like Uber and Airbnb.” We believe that this year’s COVID crisis will be no different. It’s like the age old saying, “When the going gets tough, the tough get going.” In other words, strong people step up when things get hard.
Lisa S. Jones, Founder and CEO of Eyemail, also knows that crisis sparks entrepreneurship. While she had a front row seat to the entrepreneurship of her father, and her best friend’s mother growing up. It wasn’t until she experienced her own crisis that entrepreneurship became her path.
“When I was laid off from my job, I realized I had to take ownership of myself. However, it was much later, with my mom’s passing that gave me the courage to step out on my own. EyeMail Inc., was born from a necessity to re-engage as a vibrate happy person, living life on my own terms and with a specific purpose”.
So many people have navigated hardship this year, including massive layoffs. We think Lisa’s story will be an incredible source of encouragement and inspiration.
The Ice Cream Shop
Lisa grew up in Montgomery, Alabama the youngest of three girls. As a kid, Lisa was observant and hungry to learn and understand. She always asked a lot of questions. Even to this day Lisa recognizes her inquisitive nature as friends call her a “what if” person; always wanting to understand.
Growing up, Lisa’s father was an entrepreneur. When she was four or five years old, her father started his own ice cream shop in downtown Troy, Alabama. Lisa admits that she didn’t actually know what an entrepreneur was at the time, but she would spend a lot of time there. Lisa’s mother also managed the ice cream shop and was an incredible stay-at-home mom.
Funding and segregation/integration were two early challenges her father faced. Until he could find a loan company that would issue him a loan, he was forced to bootstrap. Also, due to segregation a large portion of his customer base were students that had been bussed in to the local square. The shop was very successful. When the school systems introduced integration, however, students were bussed elsewhere and sales dropped. He had to get creative with promotions and ads in the newspaper. Lisa remembers watching him a lot and feeling a sense of awe.
When Lisa was 5 years old, her family moved to Montgomery, Alabama where her mother worked for the state in teacher certification and her father got a job as an administrator at Alabama State University. It was in Montgomery that Lisa met her best friend, Rita, and witnessed her second dose of entrepreneurship.
The Candy Lady
Rita’s mom was known in the neighborhood as “The Candy Lady”. The Candy Lady was Lisa’s first experience with a female entrepreneur.
The kids in the area would all come to Rita’s mom when they wanted a treat. She had a bar set up in her home which acted as her shop with little signs and prices. She sold candy, pickles, and frozen kool aid in styrofoam cups just to name a few things.
It’s so clear in hindsight that entrepreneurial seeds were being planted in Lisa’s life well before she even knew what an entrepreneur was.
“I learned that you can make money in multiple ways…that you can find different ways to generate money.” Lisa remembers
While she continued to do well in school, she admits she didn’t particularly like it. She didn’t like setting an alarm clock or being on someone else’s schedule, but she loved the learning.
“I wanted to complete school as fast as possible but wanted to gain knowledge. I believe knowledge is power. I knew then that you needed education to make a better way for yourself.”
“You can start at McDonald’s.”
When Lisa was in the 11th grade, she got her very first job at McDonald’s. Telling this part of her story, Lisa laughed.
“I give McDonald’s hamburgers credit for my entrepreneurship, my interpersonal skills, and my customer service!”
She started at 16 and worked there for five years, all the way through college. Lisa became the number one producer at funneling customers through the drive through and thrived working within the McDonald’s systems and interacting with customers. She learned how to follow a script and how to upsell. She learned how to talk with customers and was in charge of hosting the McDonald’s birthday parties for kids.
“I learned organization, event management, I learned everything” Lisa says. “McDonald’s helped me find my voice. I want people to know you can start at a McDonald’s! It can be part of your journey!”
While Lisa stayed with McDonald’s throughout college, she secured her Bachelor’s degree in Logistics and Procurement and an MBA in Marketing from Alabama A&M University.
“When I was getting ready to graduate, my friends partied but I was always focused on getting to the next step. While they were partying in year four, I was sending out 300 resumes. Folding and putting them in envelopes and mailing them off! People looked at me like I was crazy but I was focused.”
Her focus paid off because she received offers from both the FBI and NASA. Ultimately, she chose to work with NASA and took a position at the Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, AL.
NASA, Layoffs, and Loss
Lisa’s determination to complete her education landed her a dream job at NASA where she worked for 4 years. She was responsible for space shuttle parts and inventory levels. When a mission went up, her role was to ensure adequate levels of shuttle inventory were stocked and readily accessible. Unfortunately, after four years, Lisa was laid off.
“When I got laid off I only had a limited amount of money in the bank. That’s what ignited my entrepreneurial spirit. I went to school, I got good grades, I got a good job, and I got laid off. It made me question what I should do with my life. That’s when I said, I’m going to have to take ownership for myself.”
After being laid off from NASA, Lisa decided to move closer to home, moving to Atlanta, GA where she began a fresh start and new career in telecommunications. Years later, while going through a divorce, she received a phone call from her older sister with the news that her mother had passed-away in her home, alone. She was just 61 years old.
“I remember that one call changed my life.”
Lisa and her two sisters held a graveside funeral where Lisa planned to speak about her mother but when the day came, she couldn’t do it. From Lisa’s perspective, the funeral was short. It lasted about seven minutes.
“I said ‘Is this what life comes down to? 7 minutes?’ I remember praying to my mother that I was sorry I couldn’t speak. I told her ‘When I go back to Atlanta, I want to create something that is going to be global that’s going to create a legacy in your honor and make up for those 7 minutes.’
This was just the small beginning of EyeMail. While continuing her corporate career, Lisa began researching communications and ultimately email. During her research she discovered that it didn’t matter if you were Walmart or the NBA or a small, local business all email was the same. It was a static, unengaging experience. Lisa’s wheels began to turn and the concept of adding audio and video to the email experience started to grow.
“The concept for EyeMail was officially born in 2004. I filed a patent at the end of that year. I was still working full-time from 9-5PM and then I’d come home and work on/research my idea from 6PM-2AM every single day including weekends for years. This meant thinking about the market, strategy, funding, etc.”
When Lisa felt ready, she took the money her mother had left her and invested it into EyeMail to hire a development team. Every development team she interviewed told her adding audio and video to email wasn’t possible. She kept interviewing until one international team said, “we don’t know if this is possible but we believe in the vision” and they were able to create the first iteration in 2006.
So what is EyeMail?
The email experience hasn’t really changed in the last 15 years, but marketing trends are all moving towards video. Consumers have spoken and they prefer to consume content in video form.
EyeMail provides true instant-play, full video and audio across all email, webmail, and mobile platforms in less than 15k with no download required.
EyeMail allows you to play your full video automatically when the email is opened or when the email is visible in the preview pane, and because it is delivered in less than 15K in size, it passes through company firewalls.
This next generation experience supports a higher return on investment by improving existing standard open rates on average by 60% and click-through rates on average by 38%, while establishing the foundation for a more connected consumer / employee relationship.
The First Customer
To get EyeMail off of the ground, Lisa did a campaign for the Greater Women’s Business Council for free. The organization wanted to send a dynamic email to their members and board of directors; a board who had members from Delta, The Home Depot, and Time Warner. She believed if she could get an eyemail in front of this board she could possibly get her foot in the door of some big companies.
According to Lisa, after the campaign launched, Time Warner contacted her and became the very first customer of EyeMail. Shortly after, she signed Coke and from there experienced a chain reaction of other corporations jumping on board. Lisa was able to quit her full-time job to focus on EyeMail in 2009.
“The EyeMail team has done a lot of work between 2009 and today,” Lisa says “We have secured clients like The Coca-Cola Company, Major League Baseball, Merck and Porsche.”
Lisa was also selected as a member of Microsoft’s preferred supplier board, was invited to their incubation lab, and had the opportunity to work with the Microsoft Engineering Team.
Today, EyeMail Inc. has partnered with many fortune 100 brands and has been able to remain bootstrapped and debt free. They have also expanded with teams in Canada, Africa, Pakistan, and most recently the UK. Lisa has seen a growth increase of 20% year over year and is currently building a relationship with Apple.
The Future of EyeMail
So what’s the vision for the future of Eyemail? Lisa wants to become the brand leader, globally and in any language, for video within email communication. She believes EyeMail will transcend all industries from automotive, education, healthcare, retail, and entertainment just to name a few. She believes any email is an opportunity for EyeMail.
“Traditional email has not changed in 15+ years. Our goal at EyeMail is to enhance the inbox with video-in-email experience. EyeMail brings email to life! My vision is to reshape the communication experience and my promise is to improve the interpersonal connections in our global community through engaging email experiences. Instead of saying “Did I receive an ‘Email’ today? Say ‘Yes, I received an ‘EyeMail today!’ That would make my heart shine for a lifetime.”
So what advice does Lisa have to pass on to other entrepreneurs? “To stay true to yourself and your vision, even if it doesn’t make sense to anyone else. Your big idea may be right around the corner.”
“Stay inspired when the chips are down or the revenue is not where you envisioned. Stay the course. Continue learning from others, secure multiple mentors, and listen more than you talk. Always be willing to help others in their journey and always practice gratitude. Every single step counts towards reaching your goal.”
“Greatness can be born from within anywhere in the world and significance is not geographically defined.”
Would any of us ever choose the crises we’ve experienced in our lives? Loss of jobs, health, relationships, money, and even life? Our guess is no. But if we can take anything from Lisa’s story it’s this: Crisis breeds innovation, creativity, and determination. There is a hunger for life and living it to the fullest when the chips are indeed down and from that place we get some of the best entrepreneurs and startups out there, including Lisa and including EyeMail.
If your chips feel down today, keep your head up! Your big idea may be right around the corner.