Sparkloop: Reviewing My Experience
Blacklisted by Sparkloop and I’m rather upset.
I started using Sparkloop with my Newsletter in March 2022. I’d been casually running the newsletter since 2020 but decided to take it and my associated website more seriously. We moved from Constantcontact to AWeber and found out about Sparkloop from Jason Woodruff at The Pour Over. My day job is as a professor, so this is a passion project that I decided to dive into. We only had about 1000 subscribers at this point.
I’d been very happy with Sparkloop. What had proven most effective for us was using the Sparkloop Magic Link in cold prospecting emails. We’d been doing this for about six months. It was working great to the point that on December 13, 2022, Sparkloop co-founder Louis sent me an email that read in part, “Just a quick one — was looking through our SparkLoop dashboard and noticed you had over 1200 new subscribers last week. But you haven’t started using Upscribe yet? The numbers would be pretty huge. You’d unlock extra revenue of at least $250k/year.” Who can resist that?!
I explained to Louis that we were getting the signups through a Magic Link and explained during a strategy call that I was using the Magic Link untraditionally. He assured me that it wasn’t a problem and that it could integrate with the upscribe widget. There was never a mention of this approach being problematic. In fact, they were eager to get me using more of their products.
I set it up it didn’t work. It turned out according to Manuel Frigerio, another co-founder, on January 4, 2023, that they “found an issue with the way magic links and Upscribe page works”. On the 6th, I got a message from Manuel saying, “this should be fixed.” That same day, the emails I started getting through the Magic Link became scrambled. For example, rather than [email protected], it would come through as something like [email protected]. I don’t know what caused this but after months of working correctly, it started on the same day that Sparkloop made their fix. Manuel has insisted that the emails are coming to them scrambled. That may be true.
We thought we may have found the answer when we found out that the click tracking through the prospecting system was using amended links. But the emails continued to be scrambled even after all click tracking was disabled. Further, the prospecting system was amending the links prior to January 6 when Sparkloop “fixed the issue.”
The Sparkloop Partner Network
On December 17, 2022, we started using Sparkloop’s Partner Network and shared a daily recommended newsletter in our newsletter using Magic Links. It was as great as everyone said. From our list of 8,800 people, we averaged 13 signups a day. It was a nice few hundred extra earned in December. The problem began on January 18, 2023. We had an odd spike to 360 signups. I was shocked. It seemed very high but the list at that point had 11,200 emails so it didn’t seem impossible. I knew that Sparkloop monitored this program and had anti-fraud software so I figured they would reach out to me if there was an issue.
Over the next 9 days, there were several more spikes with the highest reaching 579. Again, it seemed too high, but we had sent out 13,000+ emails that day so it also didn’t seem impossible. Further, I had been expecting that Sparkloop would flag a problem with our first spike, but it had cleared no problem, so I figured that a couple of newsletters just resonated REALY well with our audience.
On February 1, I received a note from Sparkloop saying that there were a lot of “broken” email addresses and asking me to stop using “Magic Links combined with Upscribe/the partner network.” So, I stopped. Since the Partner Network doesn’t allow me to see the full emails that signed up for other newsletters, it was difficult for me to troubleshoot the issue. I was eventually able to determine that it was the jumbled emails from the Magic Link that were causing the issue. Since I was able to download the emails of those who had clicked the links and manually upload them to my list, I had naively decided not to delete the jumbled emails every day. I figured they were dead emails and there was no use since I aggressively clean my list and they would soon be removed.
What I didn’t realize is that some email systems would click the links in those broken emails and that those clicks would make it through Sparkloop’s anti-fraud register as good emails in their system. Once I found that out, I cleared all those emails off my list and changed my tech stack so that I was not using Magic Links in my prospecting. I also added even more aggressive cleaning measures to make sure that I quickly cleared off any emails that displayed bot behavior. This should fix the issues that were presented with Sparkloop’s partner network.
This is where the communication issues began. Sparkloop had always been very responsive. But after February 2nd they became very unresponsive. Despite their policy being “same-day email & chat support”. It took a week for them to respond to me and that was only when I looped Manuel into a conversation with another vendor that was trying to help me solve the problem.
By February 15, we thought we had identified what was causing the scrambled emails (turned out not to be the cause) and I was eager to test it out, but Manuel told me that things were on hold because they were updating their anti-fraud software. Seemed totally reasonable and needed. I didn’t hear from Sparkloop for two more weeks. A week later, on February 23, my access to the Sparkloop Partner Network was without notice suspended. It was another week, March 3, before I received communication from Sparkloop.
The March 3 email from Louis asked for my patience and assured me that “We’re happy to work with you to address the issue”. He did continue to assert that it wasn’t a Sparkloop issue but another part of my tech stack. I don’t know if that is correct at all. He also said, “I’d be happy to pause your billing until we resolve this.” Since I wasn’t able to use the part of Sparkloop that was giving me the greatest benefit. 10 days later I was my regular monthly fee from Sparkloop. They never responded to any inquiries about this.
Trying to Move Forward
On March 27, I sent the following email:
I’m reaching out since it has been over three weeks since we last corresponded.
First, you had said that you were happy to pause billing until the issues were resolved but we were billed this month.
As far as being able to use the serves again, I am hoping we can begin to discuss this. We are happy to hold off on using the Magic Link in our prospecting. We have fashioned a work around, for now, which doesn’t require the use of Magic Links. Of course, we would like to get that working at some point but for now we’d rather get other portions working. I should also underscore that we cleaned out all the junk emails from our list, no new ones have added since we stopped using the Magic Link in prospecting, and we have added a protocol to our list maintenance that is designed to regularly clear out any emails addresses that look like they may be causing false clicks.
We would like to be able to use the Magic links in the following three ways:
- Technically not magic link, but we would like to be able to use Upscribe again.
- We had an email as part of our welcome sequence that encouraged readers to subscribe to several newsletters.
- We would like to once again be able to include a daily newsletter suggestion in our emails.
We are happy to undergo testing, even without compensation, to make sure we can use your services in these three ways without causing any problems.
Once those three elements are successfully and without glitch a part of our system then we can discuss when we may be able to explore fixing the issue related to our prospecting, but that can wait for now. We would like to first get the traditional ways of using the magic links working.
Silence. There was no response at all.
Still Trying to work with Sparkloop
Over the next two weeks, I followed up three times via email. I contacted Sparkloop via the support chat on their website. No response. I send Louis a message on a Slack channel for newsletters we are both on. No Response. Today, I sent Sparkloop a DM on Twitter and tried emailing again. Finally, almost six weeks since they last responded to me, I got a response in which I was told, “we aren’t going to be able to reenable your access to the partner network” even though I “didn’t intend to make fraudulent referrals.” I object to the word fraudulent since it, by definition, requires dishonesty and deceit for the purpose of dishonest gain. There was a technology issue that I worked hard to fix. An honest mistake. Unintentional fraudulent behavior isn’t a thing.
When my access to the Partner Network was suspended, the dashboard said I had approximately $3800 in earnings. I estimate that about 2/3 of that was from bad emails that I didn’t know would cause false clicks and Sparkloop’s system didn’t catch. I should not be paid for those. But I should be paid for the good clicks. Even at that, I was willing to let all past earnings go because I just want to use their system. I don’t know of another company that offers anything comparable. I was willing to wait and overlook all previous finances just to use their product which I think is fantastic.
It isn’t to be. But in the process, I discovered very problematic business practices from Sparkloop. I have a small newsletter with only 20,000 subscribers. I’m sure Sparkloop figures my newsletter just isn’t worth the trouble to do what is right. That is disappointing.
Update April 28, 2023
It is now several weeks later, Sparkloop has refused to honor paying any of the revenue earned even though their backend clearly and easily identifies email addresses that are still subscribed to the newsletters. It would take just a few minutes. More disturbing though is that they agreed to refund the last two months that we paid them since while we were waiting for them to fix the issues we were not using the services for which we were paying. But they have not reimbursed us. Further, they even charged us for another month. I’ve tried reaching out to them about this issue but again they are not responding.
Update May 17, 2023
One Sparkloop employee did reverse the last charge from Sparkloop. But I have not heard from him since then despite attempts. Sparkloop has yet to reimburse what they agreed to reimburse and continues to not respond.