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Interview: Litmus CEO Paul Farnell on Microsoft partnership

Recently in an industry-first, a Litmus Microsoft partnership was announced to improve the Outlook email client experience across many platforms. Right after publishing the news I got the opportunity to interview Litmus CEO Paul Farnell about the new partnership.

The questions logically focus the most on the run-up to the announcement, the implications of the partnership itself, but also on the future of Litmus and its products.

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Here’s the interview with Litmus CEO Paul Farnell, enjoy!

Remy: During the announcement at The Email Design Conference, Kevin noted on stage that he got in touch with Outlook, after which things started rolling. At what point in time did a partnership become a real possibility?

Paul: We’ve been in conversations with the Outlook team since last year. That’s when things were open to discussion. At the beginning of this year, the partnership really started to take shape and solidify, and we got a better sense of what to expect. We’re excited about what our initial conversations have turned into, and look forward to working with the Outlook team.

Remy: It’s been a while since new Outlook versions have started using Word as a render engine (since Outlook 2007): Why has it taken Microsoft 10 years to take this step – and has the active email developer community helped in that step?

Paul: Microsoft’s intent with using Word was to ensure better compatibility across Outlook and Office users in general, particularly with regard to embedded Office documents. In their attempt to make Office users’ experiences more compatible across that suite of products, they of course affected rendering for other HTML emails. I see this step as an evolution of that thinking, a desire to bring compatibility to a wider range of emails, and to bring better email experiences to their users.

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Remy: With the web, updates on software and app platforms are easy and nearly immediately released to all users. However, many people use Outlook (in various versions, with 2010 and 2013 most used on PC today) on desktop: how does Microsoft intend to release fixes for desktop Outlook? Will they come through Windows Update?

Caitlin Hart, Program Manager at Microsoft:

We are seeing tremendous growth of Office 365 subscriptions, which gives users the latest and continuously updated versions of Office apps, including Outlook. As users on older versions of Outlook upgrade, the number of versions of Outlook email developers need to target will become much simpler. We also have consolidated Outlook.com and the web version of Outlook in Office 365, which reduces yet another separate version. We’re looking forward to when all of our users can enjoy the latest, greatest, and consistent, Outlook experience as easily as they do for the versions of Outlook that are updated through app stores.

Remy: Has Google (or any other large webmail provider) responded to this new partnership with any inquiry, or not?

Paul: This is huge step for the email marketing community, and now that an open relationship has been established, we hope other email providers will follow suit. We are always open to discussions with any webmail, mobile or desktop email software providers. If and when other partnerships take place in the future, we’ll always share the news with the email community.

Remy: The partnership also means new Outlook email clients will be available for testing using Litmus. Now that there is a bug report loop set up, will this testing improve the rendering quality (e.g. fixing bugs faster because they’re spotted faster) by those new email clients?

Paul: That is absolutely our hope! The more the email community gets involved in identifying rendering issues for Outlook, the easier it will be for the Outlook team to prioritize key issues and develop rendering fixes and solutions.

Remy: This is one of the largest announcements since the start of Litmus: How was the atmosphere in the run up to the announcement? How is it after the announcement? How difficult was it to keep this quiet the whole time?

Paul: Our whole team was tremendously excited; it was palpable. To keep things quiet, everyone on our team refrained from saying “Outlook” or “Microsoft” when referring to the announcement. It felt a little like we were working at Apple for a few weeks! Our team was great, and kept it under wraps despite most of the attendees trying to tease it out of us! I met with one attendee whose email team had a pool going at the office, taking guesses on what it would be. It was a lot of fun.

Remy: How has the overall response from the email developer community been on this announcement?

Paul: We’ve had great feedback from the community! I think everyone understands that this is the beginning of something great, and that the goal here is to make the lives of email marketers and developers better. We’ve always considered the email community and our customers since the beginning, and the partnership rings true to that.

During the live announcement, and throughout the conference, it was apparent to Caitlin (at Microsoft) that the email community has had some issues with Outlook in the past – it’s safe to say everyone’s excited about the partnership and to see how Outlook will change.

Some example responses from Twitter right after the announcement:

Litmus CEO Paul Farnell on Litmus’ growth so far, and what the future will hold

Remy: When it comes to Litmus as a company, you’ve seen steady growth over the years. Has this been through careful planning and developing your products and services, or more through responding to clients’ needs and marketing trends?

Paul: It’s a blend of both. We get amazing suggestions and feedback from our customers, and events like The Email Design Conference are wonderful opportunities to hear from customers and non-customers alike. That said, sometimes the truly breakthrough innovations aren’t things that people ask for. They’re not an incremental improvement on what already exists, but a whole new category of product. Our Email Analytics and Litmus Builder are both examples of this.

Remy: With regards to Litmus’ products and services, what does the future of Litmus look like? Will there be more testing and analytics services, or will campaign / marketing reports / analytics on a broader scale other than just email be an option in the future?

Paul: Since taking our round of investment last year we’ve been able to build upon our already amazing team, meaning we’ve been able to tackle some much bigger problems for marketers. All I can say now is watch this space. There is a ton happening for us -and the wider email community- in the coming months.


Thanks to Paul Farnell of Litmus for taking time to answer all the questions, and Gabby Byers of Kickstand for assisting with organizing this interview.

You can find the Emailmarketingweb.com article on the Litmus Microsoft partnership announcement here, and be sure to check out Litmus’ website and services too.

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