Jun 292010

Automated Love

Automated Love

Return Path is launching a new mini feature sometime this week to our clients.  Normally I wouldn’t blog about this — I think this is mini enough that we’re probably not even saying much about it publicly at the company.  But it’s an interesting concept that I thought I’d riff on a little bit.

I forget what we’re calling the program officially — probably something like “Client Status Emails” or “Performance Summary Alerts” — but a bunch of us have been calling it by the more colorful term “Automated Love” for a while now.

The art of account management or client services for an on-demand software company is complex and has evolved significantly from the old days of relationship management.  Great account management now means a whole slew of new things, like Being The Subject Matter Expert, and Training the Client.  It’s less about the “hey, how are things going?” phone call and more about driving usage and value for clients.

As web services have taken off, particularly for small businesses or “prosumers,” most have built in this concept of Automated Love.  The weekly email from the service to its user with charts, stats, benchmarks, and links to the web site, occasionally with some content or blog posts.  It’s relatively easy (most of the content is database driven), it reminds customers that you’re there, working on their behalf in the background, it tells them what happened on their account or how they’re doing, it alerts them to current or looming problems, and it drives usage of your service.  As a bonus for you internally, usually the same database queries that produce a good bit of Automated Love can also alert your account management team when a client’s usage pattern of your service changes or stops entirely.

While some businesses with low values of any single customer value can probably get away with having a client service function based ENTIRELY on Automated Love, I think any business with a web service MUST have Automated Love as a component of its client service effort.

Jun 282010

The Greatest Minds in Email

I recently returned from a six-week sabbatical. It was fantastic. I blogged about it here if you’re curious about the experience. It turned out that, while I was gone, we had probably the most successful, least dramatic six weeks in our 10 year history. I had assumed that’s because the team buckled down while I was out, and so did our Board.

Little did we know what really happened during that six week stretch. It’s often said that when the cat’s away, the mice play. The short video below is what greeted me today at an all-hands meeting. If the team can crank out such great work and have this much fun while I’m out, well, I guess I should take more time off!

Jun 232010

I Don’t Want to Be Your Friend (Today), part II

I think Facebook is starting to get out of control from a usability perspective.  This doesn’t mean it’s not a great platform and that it doesn’t have utility.  But if the platform continues on its current path, the core system runs the risk of going sideways like its various predecessors:  GeoCities, MySpace, etc.  Maybe I’ll go in there to look for something or someone, but it won’t be a place I scroll through as part of a daily or semi-daily routine.

I wrote about this a year ago now, and while the site has some better tools to assign friends to groups, it doesn’t do any better job than it did a year ago about segregating information flow, either by group or by some kind of intelligence.

I don’t know why my home page, news feed, RSS feed, and iPhone app can’t easily show me posts from people I care about, but if it can’t do that soon enough, I will almost entirely stop using it.  Can’t Facebook measure the strength of my connections?  Can’t it at least put my wife’s posts at the top?  My usage is already way down, and the trend is clear.

And I won’t really comment on Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg’s inane remark last week that “email is dead because young people don’t use it” other than to paraphrase two things I read on a discussion list I’m on:  “Just checked, and you still need an email address to sign-up for a Facebook account,” and “Most teens don’t buy stocks so Wall Street has no future.”  More entertaining analogies from Loren McDonald of Silverpop are listed here.

Filed under: Email, Technology

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Jun 092010

Why I Love Our New Product

Why I Love Our New Product

 

Return Path officially announced a new product today called Domain Assurance, which I blogged a little bit about here.  It’s a very exciting product that will help reduce and ultimately eliminate phishing emails – spam’s even more evil cousin that leads to identity theft, malware, further propagation of spam through botnets, and all sorts of other goodies.  The product is in beta now with a bunch of top ISPs and brands.

Those are a lot of reasons to love our new product.  But for me, there’s more.

For starters, this is the first new product (entirely new product, not just a feature or extension) that we’ve launched in years.  While we’ve made some acquisitions and done a ton of product development, they’ve always been right in our strike zone of deliverability.  This is a nice, deeply interrelated adjacency.  It’s fun to branch out a little bit and do something new.

Second, this product is a great example of operating leverage.  Many of the necessary ingredients for it were already in house – most notably customers and partners, but also a lot of data.  That’s what adjacencies should be about.  Building it, while a significant effort (and one that’s not completely done yet) was significantly easier than building, say, the original deliverability tool set or reputation database.  Let’s hear it for scale!

Finally, the product showcases Return Path’s commitment to open standards, which is fundamental to the Internet’s success.  We hope our new Domain Assurance product encourages more and more mailers to authenticate all of their outbound mail, and we hope the product also encourages the use of ADSP and ultimately some productive enhancements to both ADSP and DKIM.  Authentication does not equal reputation, but we’ve said for years it’s the fundamental underpinning of it.

Jun 082010

Getting Good Inc., Part II

Getting Good Inc., Part II

It was a nice honor to be noted as one of America’s fastest growing companies as an Inc. 500 company two years in a row in 2006 and 2007 (one of them here), but it is an even nicer honor to be noted as one of the Top 20 small/medium sized businesses to work for in America by Winning Workplaces and Inc. Magazine.  In addition to the award, we were featured in this month’s issue of Inc. with a specific article about transparency, and important element of our corporate culture, on p72 and online here.

Why a nicer honor?  Simply put, because we pride ourselves on being a great place to work — and we work hard at it.  My colleague Angela Baldonero, our SVP People, talks about this in more depth here. Congratulations to all of our employees, past and present, for this award, and a special thanks to Angela and the rest of the exec team for being such awesome stewards of our culture!

Jun 042010

I Love My Job

I Love My Job

The picture below is a picture of my dress shoes in my closet at home.  You may note that they all have dust on them.  That's because I didn't put them on once for six weeks.

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When we started Return Path back in 1999, we sat down to write our employee handbook, and all I could think was "what things can we add in here that will make this company a unique place to work?"  And one of them was a six week paid sabbatical after 7 years.  It didn't occur to me that we'd even exist after 7 years.  Then for good measure, we said, "7 years and every 5 years after that."

I'm happy to report that everyone who has hit their 7 year anniversary has taken the time off.  Some have traveled around the world, some have rented a house or villa somewhere, others (like me) did a "stay-cation."  Although my sabbatical was delayed (and quite hard to schedule), it was a fantastic experience.  I completely unplugged from work.  Cold turkey.  No email, no calls.  Spending time with Mariquita and my kids, which I never get to do much of, was completely refreshing and energizing.  And everything went fine at work, as I expected.  Business is in the best shape it's ever been in, and my amazingly talented executive team and assistant handled everything without missing a beat.

But back to the subject line of this post.  I figured a few things out while I was away.  One was that I haven't actually become a workaholic over the years despite working hard.  I *could* unplug without feeling aimless.  Another was that it's really nice to be untethered from the Internet, but it's near impossible to go through life now without some minor usage of the web and messaging.  But by far my biggest insight is plain and simple:  I love my job.  It's not that I didn't know that before, but I had more thoughtful time to break that down while I was away:

1. I love what I do:  I consider myself extremely fortunate to love the substance of my job.  The diversity of experiences that I have within a given week or day as a general manager, the interactions with people, shaping the business strategy, travel — it's all right up my alley. So many people out there don't have that match between interest, passion, skill, and reality. 

2. I love who I work with:  I have to admit that I stack the deck here since I do the hiring and firing, but the reality is that my colleagues at work are also my friends.  Not working was one thing.  Not talking to one particular subset of my life for six weeks was something else and just plain weird.  I just missed them and the interactions we have, which always blend the professional with the social. 

3. I love what we are working on:  We have an incredibly interesting business at Return Path.  It's very intellectually engaging, sometimes to a fault.  The spam problem is incredibly complex, and we're coming up with some extremely innovative approaches to reduce its impacts and hopefully someday eradicate it.  We're not curing cancer as I always say internally, but we're also engaged in some high impact problem solving that I just love.

So there you have it.  My work shoes are now dusted off and back in action.  It's great to be back.  We'll see how long I can stay in "mental vacation" mode, how much more time I can try to make for my family now that I'm back in my work routine, and whether the fresh perspective translates into any new actions or decisions at work.  But the best thought of all is that my 12 year anniversary is only another year and a half away!

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