Increasing Ballsy Open Rates with Email Expert Dylan Kelley

Foundr Magazine publishes in-depth interviews with the world’s best entrepreneurs. Our articles highlight the key takeaways from each month’s cover feature. We talked to Dylan Kelley, founder of Wavebreak, about the best way to create an effective email and SMS marketing program. To read more, subscribe to the magazine.


You have probably heard this story before.

An emerging brand emerges through social media ads. Big-budget competitors get into the game. Prices and competition go up. Now the startup can’t keep up with the monthly ad bill.

Sounds familiar? It’s a trend exacerbated by Apple’s 2021 iOS updates that left e-commerce brands stagnant or struggling to get the return on ad spend (ROAS) they had in the second half of the 2010s.

That’s why Dylan Kelley, founder of Wavebreak, is helping his clients optimize two traditional digital marketing channels: email and SMS.

Wavebreak is one of the leading agencies in the direct-to-consumer (DTC) space, helping e-commerce brands like Nutrafol, Dune, Halo Collar and Ballsy grow their email and SMS programs.

Kelley developed frameworks that helped e-commerce brands reinvigorate their marketing strategy and started by focusing on what wasn’t hot.

A daring approach

One of Wavebreak’s best references is Ballsy, the makers of Ballwash, a trendsetter in the rise of alternative DTC brands using scroll stop messages.

“When they came to us, they were getting open rates below 10 percent,” says Kelley. “They struggled to really find an agency that could match their kind of fun, outgoing, wacky brand voice, while also making sure it wasn’t too wacky.”

Wavebreak rebuilt Ballsy’s database from the ground up by targeting their most engaged subscribers and gaining a stronger sender reputation. Then they slowly brought more subscribers into the segment and started testing everything.

“For them specifically, we find short and simple works very well; quirky subject lines get the most opens.”

The team dug into customer behavior and found that a portion of their shoppers were women shopping for their spouses on vacation. So they created different messages for male and female customers and have become more segmented over time.

“That’s one of the biggest things I talk about: People get segmentation wrong,” says Kelley. “They think you have to be super granular, but we’ve tried it and it doesn’t work. Instead, our approach is much more high-end.”

Kelley says having a cohesive, advanced strategy was the key to increasing Ballsy’s open rates by 30 to 40 percent and ultimately tripling revenue.

The other email strategy that worked for Wavebreak customers is creative.

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“Over the last six months, we’ve increased open rates 30 to 40 percent, not just sending less content but better content,” says Kelley.

Kelley sees brands investing in email creative as an afterthought compared to social media ads. Instead, she suggests that brands should inject personality into their copy and send emails that people expect to receive. She has seen email revenue grow by up to 30 percent by improving creativity within email.

“A lot of people are flying out of the seat of their pants,” says Kelley. “If they slowed down and were more strategic and focused on quality, they would see a lot more results from email.”

Kelley says there is no silver bullet to creating a revenue-generating email strategy. But he believes segmentation and personalization are the future, thanks to the rise of actionable customer data.

“Humans can only do so much of [personalization]but technology can really automate most of that and do it really well.”

The return of SMS

Kelley not only saw the untapped potential of email marketing, but also SMS (Short Message Service), Wavebreak’s other specialty.

Just like email, SMS has been abused by brands and flooded their customers’ phones with unnecessary alerts, offers and updates. That’s why Wavebreak implements SMS strategies that only send the most critical messages. These messages include welcoming people to the brand in question, post-purchase alerts, and abandoned cart messages.

Even Kelley was skeptical about SMS, but the numbers didn’t lie. He has seen brands earn $333 for every dollar they spend on them and abandoned cart open rates of 80 percent.

“We grew brands from $0 to $40,000 a month in SMS revenue in 60 days,” says Kelley.

“And then we’ve taken businesses to 7-figure SMS channels in 120 days.”

Kelley says that SMS and email are more effective when they work together, and he sees that customers’ performance is doubled by using both instead of one. That’s because the channels balance each other.

“The challenge with SMS is that you can only fit a limited amount of text in an SMS. It doesn’t have as much space as email, but what’s great about it is that it removes noise to a really incredible level compared to email,” says Kelley. “The good thing about email is that you can communicate a lot and you can be much more visual.”

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