Startup Offers AI-Driven Email Messaging

A Chicago startup is offering to help emailers target consumers based on their behavior, using Artificial Intelligence.

Optimail was founded earlier this year by Jacob Zweig and Brock Ferguson, partners who met at Northwestern University. They also run a data science company called Strong Analytics.

In essence, Optimail is an email marketing platform that uses AI to automatically learn how to adapt campaigns based on how and when people are most likely to respond, Zweig said.

For example, it sends emails based on when people typically open them: during the morning commute, at noon or at night. And it deploys them based on response to subject lines and other elements. The goal: To serve relevant communications—automatically, Zweig said.   

By inserting some code, Optimail can help a client track behavior on its website and mobile app, “anywhere you have access, to it” and to trigger communications based on those actions, Zweig said. If the goal is onboarding, say, the data will “automatically trigger into the campaign,” he said 

There are at least a couple of other companies in this space. But they tend to serve enterprise-size outfits, whereas Optimail is aiming at smaller firms.

Otimail’s service is “a way simplify the process of building messaging campaigns,” Zweig said. “Typically,  the way to build them is by putting to together a decision tree: ‘If they do this, then that will happen.’ But there have been some absurdly hierarchal decision trees.”

As part of this process, marketers will often run A/B tests. But it doesn’t pay to have them running all the time in this digital environment, Zweig argued. “You can do it all manually, but by the time you start to learn something, you’re going to be overwhelmed with data, even with a team of people working for you,” he said. “It has to be more dynamic.”  

At this point, Optimal is self-funded, and has two people on staff—Zweig and Ferguson, both experts in machine learning. The company was recently featured in a “Built In Chicago” column.

Zweig earned a Ph.d. in neuroscience at Northwestern. His dissertation is titled Multi-Level Contributions to Low-Level Multi sensory integration processes.  

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