If you’ve ever run a business, you know that an email list can be a powerful tool to engage users, provide updates, and deliver content.  But with sites like MailChimp being too bulky and other tools sacrificing basic features to be lightweight, finding the best of these services can be a hassle.

Buttondown meets in the middle, being minimalistic and lightweight, but still feature-rich.

I first saw Buttondown on Product Hunt.  Since I was looking for an email marketing platform myself, I learned a bit more about the product, and I was impressed.  I got to interview Buttondown founder, Justin Duke:


How did you come up with the idea for Buttondown?

This is a cliché but honest answer — I was using a similar tool and thought to myself “man, I could make something better than this.”  I have this impulse a lot, and usually I stop myself from actually following through (there is always so much complication hiding below the surface!) but I kept coming back to it.  Eventually, I set a deadline for myself; I said if, six months later, I couldn’t scratch the itch to make something better (or at least find something better) than what I was using, then I’d start working on it.

The six months passed, and so Buttondown was born.


How long did it take to bring this idea to market?  How many people worked on Buttondown with you?  

It took me around a month of work to get Buttondown into an MVP stage (it could send emails, record subscribers, and… that was pretty much it) and then another month to add a level of polish and feature richness that I was comfortable with.  So, two months, and that was working on nights and weekends, sneaking in hours of free time where I could find it.

I worked on it alone, but had help from lots of folks who tested it and provided invaluable feedback.  In particular, I’d like to thank my friend Iheanyi (who’s been super passionate about the project) and my partner Molly (who has put up with me being on the computer so much the past few months!)


Why is Buttondown better than similar services like MailChimp?  How will Buttondown compete with the “big guys”?

Better is a tricky word.  Mailchimp is great!  Drip is great!  Lots of tools are great for different things, and that’s completely reasonable.

But you wouldn’t use a chainsaw to cut a steak, you know?  And Buttondown is tailored for people who want an emphasis on ease of use and, you know, pleasantness rather than the enterprise-level complexity that something like Mailchimp offers.

There’s a very large contingent of folks running newsletters or email services that don’t need the power and heavy features that MailChimp offers: they just need an easy way to track and manage subscribers, and an interface that lets them send great emails.


You got on hunted on Product Hunt pretty recently.  What are your thoughts about the launch?

It was a lot of fun!  So many people said incredibly nice things about Buttondown, which I was blown away by.  It made me really happy that I had built something that really resonated with folks.

It was also incredibly stressful.  Launching something is always stressful: everyone says it gets easier but in my experience it is exactly as stressful every time, you just get a little more used to the stress.  There were so many unknown factors, and I knew I was shipping something that wasn’t quite finished.

But nothing’s ever quite finished, and nothing ever’s really perfect.  After a certain point, you just have to put it out into the world.


You’re a busy dude: Buttondown is just one of your side projects and you’re also a software engineer at TenantBase.  How do you find the space in your life to do so many different things?

I think I do a lot of things that contradict a lot of productivity advice or, like, hacker stereotype stuff:

– I try and get as much sleep as possible.  I am a zombie if I get less than seven hours.

– I exercise regularly: a combination of weights, bouldering, and now that it’s nicer out, biking.

– I read a bunch (I just finished Ship of Theseus, which was so much fun, and now I’m reading through The Years of Rice and Salt) and watch more television than is healthy.  I love art and poetry, too, and try and get a steady diet of both.

Basically, I try and live as healthy and well-rounded a life as I can, so that the time I spend in front of a computer screen is super productive.

Beyond that, I work really well with the framework of todo lists: I have what I’m doing in a given day or in a given week or in a given month on a post-it note or a text file so I can spend less time thinking about what I could be doing and more about what I need to do.


What do you think Buttondown is going to look like in 5 years?

Hopefully the same — at least on the surface.  The next big pieces for Buttondown are adding API and automation functionality, which are both huge features on their own but also significantly increase the complexity of the application.  I want to be extremely mindful of expanding the purview of what Buttondown can do without forgetting what it needs to do well.


Lastly, do you have any tips for young tech-focused entrepreneurs?

  1. Find people who support you.  This is common advice, but it’s important to forge personal relationships with folks: it makes everything that much better. Having people to share your highs and lows with, to use as sounding boards and de-facto advice columnists is super important.  Especially if you’re building something on your own — you need someone who can offer some outside perspective.
  2. Pace yourself. There were weeks where I was just burnt out and the best thing I could do was just step away from the project and watch, like, Bojack Horseman and wait for my creative energy to come back.  And that’s completely fine!  I think everyone goes through that.
  3. Read more poetry. Seriously. Everyone should read more poetry.  More tech folks should sign up for Poem A Day).


If you want to learn more about Buttondown, you can do so here: