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.
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.
- 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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org, 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
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.