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How Knak was built from an agency

Pierce Ujjainwalla

By Pierce Ujjainwalla

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Updated Jan 31, 2024

Published Mar 13, 2023

How Knak was built from an agency

Most marketers use outside agencies to provide services they themselves do not offer. This can mean outsourcing certain types of work, or using agencies to augment bandwidth by providing skills the company doesn’t have internally.

One of the tasks that often gets outsourced to agencies is email and landing page coding.

Because Knak does away with the need to code emails and landing pages, some agencies feel threatened.

In this post, I want to explain how both agencies and marketers can take advantage of Knak to up their game. If they are willing, marketers can use Knak to make their agency spending go further.

A bit of history

I am uniquely placed to talk about this issue because I have seen the agency question from all sides.

As a young marketer, I was forced to send my emails to an agency for coding.

This was a long and frustrating process.

I was gung-ho and excited and had all sorts of creative ideas.

But when it came to time to implement them, coding stood in my way. Having to send the emails out for coding limited my ability to be creative with what I was producing, whether I was using Eloqua (at my first company) or Marketo (which I used later).

So 10 years ago, knowing there was a need for something to make marketers’ work easier, I started an agency of my own. It’s called Revenue Pulse, and it remains a growing concern today.

Revenue Pulse is a specialized boutique agency. We started by focusing on users of Marketo, and eventually expanded to cover users of other platforms.

So, not only have I worked with large agencies as a marketer, but I also own a small agency. And now, as a co-founder of Knak, I provide software to marketers to help them create emails and landing pages without the need for an outside agency to do the coding.

That range of experience gives me a broad perspective on the issue as I watch how our customers interact with agencies.

The problems that come with using an agency

I know from experience what it’s like to work with an agency to build an email or landing page.

It takes time because there is a lot of back and forth between the person who created the concept and the technical person who is building the email or landing page.

And because the process takes time, it ends up costing money – money which, when I was using an agency to put together those emails and landing pages, came out of my allotted budget.

I started Revenue Pulse 10 years ago to help other marketers using Marketo. I knew other marketers like myself needed agencies, and I saw a business opportunity.

I was right. Revenue Pulse could make money.

But I also quickly realized we hadn’t completely solved the problem. Part of our business was building templates, and once a customer has a template, they can use it as they wish.

There was real money to be made building single emails and landing pages for clients, which is what the big agencies were selling to marketers.

Except they were selling coding, which remains a slow and cumbersome process, with the back-and-forth I had so much experience with.

Still, companies with no coding capabilities were usually happy to let an outside agency complete the task. That’s because, even if it was often awkward, there appeared to be no alternative.

Of course, this was great for agencies, particularly if they were making bespoke emails. It’s all about billable hours, and there could sometimes be lots of those.

Except it was never quite clear how long it should take to code an email, especially to marketers.

Coding can appear intimidating to people who don’t know how to do it. So how is a marketer to know whether it really does take 40 hours or a couple of weeks to turn their idea into a beautiful email or landing page?

The new paradigm

Revenue Pulse had built a nice revenue stream by building custom templates.

But eventually, I realized I hadn’t solved the real problem, which was farming out the technical part of the work. Marketers know what they want; wouldn’t it be nice if they could do it all themselves, quickly, and more cheaply?

That’s when we got the idea for Knak.

The first iteration of Knak helped marketers make templates, eliminating the need for template creation to be farmed out to agencies. In no time at all, we had created more than 50,000 templates for various customers.

But that didn’t solve the problem entirely. We needed something that would do away with templates and let marketers themselves become masters of the creation process, with the ability to make adjustments, small or large, in their emails or landing pages.

So the next iteration of Knak – the one that’s in use today – allows marketers to do the entire build themselves, without the need to know how to code.

From our perspective, anyone still sending emails and landing pages out to an agency to be coded is essentially burning money.

How agencies can take advantage of our solution

I now see enterprise companies buying Knak and telling their agencies that they need to use Knak too.

From a customer’s point of view, the advantage is obvious.

Instead of having to pay for the 40 billable hours over the several days or weeks, it might take an agency to build an email or landing page, our customers can do it themselves, on average in just 23 minutes.

Naturally, agencies that have been making money by doing coding are nervous.

Should they be?

No.

That’s because there’s a huge opportunity here for agencies to shift the kind of work they do for their customers.

We’re already seeing customers use their agencies more strategically.

Instead of spending their agency budget on coding, they are using it on other things: creative projects, A-B testing, or gathering and analyzing data. In other words, the customers’ agency budget has merely shifted to projects with a higher value-added.

At Revenue Pulse, we practice what we preach. Though Revenue Pulse started out making templates, we now advise against it. We tell our customers to use Knak for email and landing page creation and have Revenue Pulse concentrate on adding value in other areas.

The agencies that have embraced the new paradigm are excited about its potential. They see how they can shift their billable hours from coding and production work to projects that allow them to become more of a strategic partner for their customers.

Some agencies, though, are reluctant to make the change. They try to poke holes in Knak or come up with excuses for doing things as they have always done. Some know about Knak but won’t tell their customers about us because of their fear of change.

But marketers are smart.

They know agencies can have an agenda. And right now that agenda for some are slowing down the adoption of Knak.

We hear it from our customers. One was told by their agency that a solution was not available. The customer went out and found us. They told their agency, which responded by saying, ‘Oh yes, we know about them.’ But the agency hadn’t told the customer.

That’s no way to build a partnership.

By the way, we do not sell to agencies.

We refuse to.

That’s because we want to solve the underlying problem: the time it takes for marketers to create emails and landing pages.

The reason marketers need to use agencies is that they don’t know how to code. But agencies do know how. There is therefore no skills gap, which is why we don’t sell to agencies.

If we did, some unscrupulous ones might want to keep billing 40 hours for work that can be done in 23 minutes.

In that sense, we have marketers’ backs. That’s part of our mission.

To help with that, we have actually built into Knak the capacity to audit how long it takes to build an email or landing page in our platform. We want it to be transparent (one of our core values) to everyone that our process works!

The future is all about change

Marketers need to know that Knak can help them build beautiful and effective emails and landing pages in literally just minutes – no matter what their agency might tell them.

And agencies need to understand that the paradigm has shifted. Wouldn’t it be better for them to embrace the change and work at bringing added value to their customers?

We realize this is a big shift, and as an agency owner, I can appreciate that. Agencies might have to shift their price model and their statement of work model, for example.

But coding emails and landing pages are no longer where agencies can most help their customers. Better to embrace the change.

In a perfect world, agencies would be referring their customers to Knak – some of them already are. They would let Knak allow marketers to create great emails and landing pages, and move on to providing added value services for their customers – perhaps by coming up with ways to make those emails and landing pages perform better.

If you are a marketer, you need to know there’s a quick and easy way to create emails and landing pages – a way that doesn’t involve coding, no matter what your agency might tell you.

If you are an agency and you want to hear how Knak can help you up your game and become a more strategic partner, please reach out. We’d love to hear from you!


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Pierce Ujjainwalla

Author

Pierce Ujjainwalla

Co-Founder & CEO, Knak

Pierce is a career marketer who has lived in the marketing trenches at companies like IBM, SAP, NVIDIA, and Marketo. He launched Knak in 2015 as a platform designed to help Marketers simplify email creation. He is also the founder of Revenue Pulse, a marketing operations consultancy.

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