Aug 252008

Half as Long, One Third as Hard

Half as Long, One Third as Hard

(Post written on Saturday, August 23.) I ran the Mesa Falls Marathon & Half Marathon near our house in Teton Valley, Idaho today.  I ran the 1/2 and Brad ran the full marathon as part of his quest to run 50 marathons, one in each state, by the time he turns 50.  Return Path is a proud sponsor of Brad’s running, donating $1,000 for each race he completes to the Accelerated Cure project for Multiple Sclerosis.

Brad chronicled the race here.

The run was set up well for us.  I wasn’t up for training for a full marathon, and this race had a half marathon that started at the halfway point of the full race, 2 hours after the start of the race.  So I waited a few minutes with Amy at that point until Brad came cruising by us, and then he and I ran it in together.  I was in charge of keeping him fresh and focused during a big hill and when he hit the proverbial wall.

As usual, the 26.2 mile run is an awe-inspiring distance.  Even more so running the second half of it with Brad today when I had fresh legs at the beginning and he had already done 13.1 miles.  My conclusion, based on my training, my strength at the finish, and the way my legs feel at the moment (pre-Advil and pre-cocktail), is that a half marathon is a nice accomplishment, but it’s not 1/2 as hard as a full marathon.  It’s probably about 1/3 as hard.  I’m sure there’s some great CEO metaphor about doing something halfway with a third of the effort, but I can’t conjure it up at the moment. 

So hats off to Brad on completing #12 in his amazing series. I was delighted to have my favorite people in the world meet me at the finish line, shown herePost_finish_with_family_and_brad  with Amy taking our picture.  (Yes, for those who are wondering, we are expecting #3 in January.) 

Also, Happy Birthday to my colleague Brian Westnedge, who was born in Ashton, Idaho (right near Mesa Falls) a bunch of years ago on the race day of all days.

Aug 122008

Opportunity Knocks

Opportunity Knocks

When our friends at Habeas announced that they were exploring a sale of the company a few months back, we were intrigued.  While fiercely competing in the marketplace does create some degree of tension or even mistrust between two companies, that activity also creates a lot of common ground for discussion about the market and the future.

So we are very excited today to announce that we are acquiring Habeas in a deal that is signed and should close within a couple weeks.  Cutting through all the PR platitudes, here’s what this deal really means for our stakeholders:

For everyone we work with, this deal means we have even more scale.  More scale is a good thing.  It means we can invest more in our future in everything from technical infrastructure, to product innovation, to globalization, to employee development.  It’s easy to be great when you’re a 25 person company.  It’s actually quite challenging when you’re a 50-100 person company.  It becomes easier again, though in different ways, when you are a 200 person company with more resources.

For ISPs and filters, more scale means more and better data products to help fine tune filtering algorithms and improve member experience.  It also means an even more streamlined way to reach masses of marketers and publishers. 

For sender clients, we can now offer expanded service levels and access to a broader “footprint” of ISPs and filters who subscribe to our services.  The consolidated company will be one step closer to providing a universal set of standards for measuring sender-focused email quality and reputation.  Some of the details still need to be worked out here, so look for more specific communication from your account representative in the coming weeks.  The one thing we do know at this point is that we will be maintaining both Sender Score Certified and the Habeas SafeList as separate and distinct whitelist programs indefinitely.  So for now, it’s business as usual.

For employees, combining the resources of the two companies means we will be in a better position to wow our clients.  A bigger employee base and a larger company also means more career opportunities for all. 

We have always been mindful that, even as the market leader, we have to earn “every dollar, every day” from our clients, and we have to constantly demonstrate to ISPs and filters that we are not just advocating for our sender clients but for them and their subscribers as well.  None of that changes with this deal.  We still have plenty of competition and are redoubling our efforts to lead the market with innovation and service levels, not just with size and scale.

Our friend Ken Magill wrote some unkind remarks about Habeas a while back.  At the time, as fierce competitors with Habeas, we probably agreed with him.  But as we’ve gotten to know Habeas better over the past few weeks, we realized what a great business the Habeas team has built in the last five years  — including: a strong customer base and partner network, innovative reputation technologies, complementary receiver and data partnerships and most importantly, an incredible team of people as fanatical about saving email as Return Path. For Return Path employees and clients, we get access to these new assets that now makes us an even stronger leader in this space.  And Habeas employees and clients now have expanded access to great resources and talent from Return Path.  But the big winners are the ISPs, filters, and email senders – they will l now have access to a more universal solution to deliverability and filtering accuracy.

So, to  Habeas’ employees, we say “Welcome to the Return Path family!”  We are delighted to have you and look forward to many years of success together.  As I said to my wife when we were in the middle of all the due diligence on the deal, “learning more about Habeas is a little bit like looking in one of those Fun House mirrors at a carnival – you see yourself, just looking slightly different.”  We will all have to work together to move to the common ground from the prior world of competing against each other, but the exciting future of the business and the industry will propel us there. 

Onward!

Filed under: Business, Email, Human Resources

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Aug 092008

Book Short: Catchiest Title in a Long Time

Book Short:  Catchiest Title in a Long Time

You have to admit, a book called The 4-Hour Workweek: Escape 9-5, Live Anywhere, and Join the New Rich has a pretty enticing title.  The email geek in me thinks that if it were a subject line, it would have a good open rate.  Anyway, the book, by Timothy Ferriss, is a breezy read that  blends self help with entrepreneurship, has a lot of good resource lists in it, and is worth reading  if you don’t take it too  seriously.

There are some good central points to the book.  First, life has changed, and people don’t want to slave away until they’re 65 any more so they can do all the fun stuff in their old age — they want to change directions, unplug more regularly, and enjoy life with their families when they’re younger.  I buy that.
Second, good companies are increasingly allowing employees more degrees of freedom in the where and when and even how of getting things done, just as long as they get things done — and people should take advantage of that.  I buy that as well — we practice that at Return Path, generally speaking.  Third, startups that are mainly virtual organizations and internet-based are easier, cheaper, and potentially more profitable than most businesses have been, historically speaking.  Ok, fair enough.

Fourth, anyone can be just like the author and do all of this stuff, too, right?  Start a business that turns into a cash machine that requires little to no maintenance while becoming one of the best tango dancers in the world in South America, etc. etc. etc.  Well, maybe not.  I guess the point of self-help books is to show an extreme example and inspire people to achieve it, and I do think there’s a lot to what Ferriss says about how people can live richly without being rich, but the fact is that the world would fall apart if everyone did what he does.  And the other fact is that Ferriss is well above average in intellect and drive, and probably some physical talents as well from his descriptions of tango dancing and kick boxing, which must contribute to his success in life far more than his operating philosophy does.

But as I said, it’s a fun read, and if you don’t take it too seriously, or at least take the feedback directionally as opposed to whole hog, it’s well worth it.

Aug 052008

Curbing My Enthusiasm

Curbing My Enthusiasm

For the first time since I started blogging over four years ago, I have recently run into several examples in a short period of time where I’d love to blog about something happening in the business, and I think it would make for a great blog posting, but I can’t do it.  Why can’t I?  Lots of different reasons:

- Don’t want to telegraph strategy to the competition

- Don’t want to compromise an employee (current or former)

- Worried about downstream legal ramifications

There are other reasons as well, but these are the main three.  I love transparency as much as the next person (and more than most), but these scenarios have to trump transparency in my position as a CEO.  Hopefully the passage of time and the release of news will mean that I can still do the blog postings, but as more of a post mortem than something in the moment. 

But I hate curbing my own enthusiasm.  It’s a definite frustration in this case, and a new one.

Aug 052008

Book Short: On The Same Page

Book Short:  On The Same Page

Being on the same page with your team, or your whole company for that matter, is a key to success in business.  The Four Obsessions of an Extraordinary Executive, by Patrick Lencioni, espouses this notion and boils down the role of the CEO to four points:

  1. Build and maintain a cohesive leadership team
  2. Create organizational clarity
  3. Overcommunicate organizational clarity
  4. Reinforce organizational clarity through human systems

Those four points sound as boring as bread, but the book is anything but.  The book’s style is easy and breezy — business fiction.  One of the most poignant moments for me was when the book’s “other CEO” (the one that doesn’t “get it”) reflects that he “didn’t go into business to referee executive team meetings and delivery employee orientation…he loved strategy and competition.”  Being a CEO is a dynamic job that changes tremendously as the organization grows.  This book is a great handbook for anyone transitioning out of the startup phase, or for anyone managing a larger organization.

I haven’t read the author’s other books (this is one in a series), but I will soon!

Filed under: Books, Business, Leadership

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