Posts Tagged 'Focus'

August 17, 2011

SendGrid: Tech Partner Spotlight

This is a guest blog from Tim Falls of SendGrid, a technology partner that provides cloud-based email infrastructure for reliable delivery, scalability, real-time analytics and flexible APIs for customers who want to focus on driving their own growth and profitability.

Company Website: http://sendgrid.com/
Tech Partners Marketplace: http://www.softlayer.com/marketplace/sendgrid

Understanding the Value of [Email] Infrastructure Services

The Fall of DIY ... As We Know It
Today more than ever before, businesses depend on third party services to operate efficiently and achieve their objectives. As a business leader, you have countless web applications and software as service solutions at your fingertips, which collectively address just about any problem or demand imaginable. Examples include cloud-based file storage, cloud and dedicated web hosting, recurring billing applications, online HR management portals, APIs for telephony and geo-data, and managed email infrastructure and delivery services. Startups and established corporations alike can utilize these tools quickly and simply with a credit card and a few clicks on a trackpad.

So, what does this mean, and why is it worth recognizing and appreciating? Well, it means that your life is a lot easier than it was 10 years ago. And if you fail to recognize the opportunities and advantages that these resources offer, your competitors will soon leave you in their proverbial dust ... if they haven't already.

The gist:

  • You don't have to do everything yourself anymore ... So don't!
  • Be the best at what you do, and rely on other experts to help with everything outside of your realm.

The Email Puzzle
Let's face it. Email sucks. Not email in and of itself - obviously, it is an essential part of our lives and is arguably one of the most transformative communication tools in human history. But, from a business standpoint, the implementation and maintenance of an effective and efficient email system is truly a nightmare. If there is one thing that web developers across the world can agree upon, it may be this: Successfully integrating email into a web application just ain't fun!

To better understand the challenges developers face when integrating email into their web applications, let's look at an example (fresh from my imagination). Through this discussion, we'll uncover the clear advantages of working with a partner in email infrastructure and delivery.

Let's say you're building PitLovabull.com -- a social, online community for dog owners. Sound lame? Well, it's not ... because it's "different." As the clever name indicates, it's specifically for pit bull owners and advocates. Community members interact with each other and your company in a number of ways: Forum discussions, photo sharing, commenting, direct messages, the "give a dog a bone" button (think "like") and buying cool doggy stuff. Each of these features involves email notifications ... "Sporty's owner just responded to your forum post on Healthy Dog Diets." "Barney's owner just tagged your puppy Stella in a photo." "Thanks for purchasing a new collar for Boss! We'll notify you by email when your package has shipped!"

After six months of grassroots marketing, tens of thousands of passionate pit bull owners have joined your community, and your email volume has grown from 800/week to 8,000/day (that's almost 250k/month!). As a budding bootstrapped startup, you cut costs wherever you can, and you choose to manage your own email servers. You quickly find out that server costs grow substantially as you send more mail, customers are complaining that they aren't receiving their email notifications, and your support team is stretched thin dealing with confused and frustrated customers. The end result: Poor deliverability is directly (and negatively) affecting revenue! What's more: You have no insight into what is happening to your emails - Are they being delivered? Opened? Are links within them being clicked? Have you been blacklisted by an ISP?

Upon deep reflection, you realize that your developers are spending more time on email than they spend building awesome features for the community! Plus, you find yourself, the CEO/Founder of the company, researching mundane crap like ISP rate limits, Sender Policy Framework, DKIM, and the CAN-SPAM Act of 2003 — a few of the less-than-interesting aspects of email that must be understood in order to achieve optimal deliverability of your notifications and newsletters.

Luckily, you just hired Joey, a fresh, young hacker who's active in the developer ecosystem and always on top of the latest technologies. While exploring PitLovabull's web hosting control panel on your SoftLayer servers, he discovers a better alternative: The Softlayer Email Delivery Service &ndahs; a hosted and managed email infrastructure that's already built for you! Joey signs up with a credit card for $150/month (which covers a full 250k emails/month), changes a few settings on your web application, and within minutes all of your email is being relayed through SendGrid.

May All Your Email Dreams Come True
A few months go by ... Email is in your customers' inboxes. Deliverability is being tracked and displayed on your web dashboard, along with open and click rates, blocks, bounces, spam reports and unsubscribes. Customer Support receives fewer emails, calls, and IM chat requests. Engineering is busy implementing a backlog of feature requests (not doing email stuff). Sales are gradually increasing and overall customer satisfaction is higher than ever.

Empowering Developers
But wait, it gets better! After researching SendGrid's APIs, you recognize the potential for extreme customization, in the form of internal and external features. Internally, the SMTP API allows you to assign a "category" to each of your emails (password reminders, purchase confirmations, etc.) and in turn collect unique statistics for each category. Externally, the Parse API allows you to receive incoming emails to your web app. In a single day, Joey codes up a new feature, and now any community member can email a picture of their pup to post@pitlovabulls.com, include a caption in the subject line, and the picture and caption are automagically posted to that user's profile!

The New Meaning of Do-It-Yourself
We all know it's difficult to trust a third party to handle the critical elements of any operation. With the help of proven SaaS models that employ advanced technology, cloud-based infrastructures and dedicated experts, companies can now feel more comfortable moving into a modern mode of doing-it-themselves: Pay a nominal monthly fee to a service that handles email (or recurring billing, or telephony), and let the service do the dirty work and liberate the brains of your brilliant developers so they can focus on innovating with the tools available to them.

I hope this story helps entrepreneurs and business leaders think smarter as they build their dream. The lessons illustrated in the context of email apply across the board. We're in a fascinating time, where building an internet business has never required less capital and has never allowed for the laser focus that is afforded to companies today. Open your toolbox, work smart, and build something that people love!

-Tim Falls, SendGrid

This guest blog series highlights companies in SoftLayer's Technology Partners Marketplace.
These Partners have built their businesses on the SoftLayer Platform, and we're excited for them to tell their stories. New Partners will be added to the Marketplace each month, so stay tuned for many more come.
November 3, 2010

Our Competition

It doesn’t come as a big surprise to anyone when I say that I spend a lot of time thinking about the competition. I want to understand what motivates them. I need to understand how they see the marketplace evolving. What are they doing about the cloud? What about IPv6? What about the network? No surprises there.

What I do think would surprise people is that I do not think of Rackspace, Saavis or Amazon as the competition. I think that real competition is found within the small medium business or the enterprise. I don’t have any hard statistics on it, but a number of analysts seem to settle on a 25:75 split. That is, they believe that only 25% of businesses go outside the corporate walls for their hosting needs. The other 75% have their own data centers, or have servers in various closets around the organization (and I mean real closets in some cases). It is not that we don’t want to win the other 25% of the world (we obviously win our fair share of customers there), but the attraction of the rest of the marketplace for SoftLayer is apparent – the opportunity is 3x larger. And that is really exciting.

In 2004, Nicholas Carr authored a book called “Does IT Matter”. One of his central arguments was the notion that IT adoption no longer meant implicit competitive advantage, essentially because IT has become commonplace, standardized and cheaper. I agree with him to a degree, particularly when it comes to larger companies and certain types of IT deployments. For example, there is not much competitive advantage to ERP or HR systems anymore – there are very few larger organizations that don’t have something in place. The same can be said for the Internet or mobile computing – everybody has access, and everybody uses fixed and mobile email. That said, you are dead without either function in place – the lack of adoption is a definite disadvantage. I can only assume that he did not have infrastructure as a service (sounds like IT to me…) in mind when he wrote the book.

I think that there is significant advantage to a relationship with SoftLayer. The difference is that we are taking some IT burden away to give some competitive advantage, versus adding IT burden to deliver an advantage.

What competitive advantage does SoftLayer bestow that is lost when everything is kept within the walls?

  1. Cost. This one is easy. We can deliver at a price point much lower that what you can do internally. This means that resources are available for other things, perhaps product innovation or marketing innovation.
  2. Expertise. Infrastructure is our business. We are better at this than you are. We invest in systems, network and people to make sure this is always the case. Think of less downtime and better security.
  3. Technology. Our ongoing investment in technology and our commitment to innovation means that our customers have access to the cutting edge before most others do. For example, we are already native IPv6 in the network.
  4. Focus. What happens when some of that burden gets shifted externally? It means that the company can focus more of its resources on growing business, versus merely supporting the business.
  5. Automation. If something around here gets done more than twice manually, then it is time to automate. The end result is that we are efficient – no waiting for servers to be racked and stacked. Give us an order and you are up and running in less than four hours. Think of this in terms of speed to market, and speed to scale.

I think you get the point, and I think that the 75% is slowly getting the point too. We deliver a significant competitive advantage by helping to drive your business forward versus delivering as a ‘back office’ that serves to drive costs. We’re waiting for you….

-@lavosby

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