How to solve a huge problem of e-mail marketing – blacklists?

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E-mail marketing today is very important for all of those who want to succeed in business. Although it seems not applicable for all kinds of business, e-mail marketing is important for majority of them. Here are some stats that I’ve found:

1. On average, subscribers receive 416 commercial messages a month.
2. There are more than 3.2 billion email accounts.
3. Email ad revenue reached $156 million in 2012.
4. 91% of consumers reported checking their email at least once a day.
5. US internet users will average 3.1 email addresses this year, according to a July 2013 survey conducted by Harris Interactive on behalf of MyLife.
6. According to eMarketer there will be around 236.8 million US email users by 2017.
7. Worldwide, market research firm The Radicati Group forecasts the email audience will grow from 2.42 billion this year to 2.76 billion by 2017.
8. Purpose of email marketing programs according to UK brand marketers? 78% said retention.
9. 64% of decision-makers read their email via mobile devices.
10. 89% percent of UK brand marketers polled by the UK’s Direct Marketing Association (DMA) in December 2012 said email was important to their business strategies.
11. For every $1 spent, $44.25 is the average return on email marketing investment.
12. 56% of businesses say they plan to increase their use of email marketing in 2013.
13. eMarketer estimates the US adult email audience will reach 188.3 million in 2013 and will continue to climb to 203.8 million by 2017.
14. 93% of consumers also get at least one permission-based email daily.
15. 44% of email receipients made at least one purchase last year based on a promotional email this year about 84% of all email traffic will be spam.
16. email ad revenue reached $156 million in 2012.
17. There are 3.6 billion email accounts in 2013.
18. Ebay made a study that if they don’t deliver 1% of their email, they loose 14 million dollars / yearly

144.8 Billion Emails Are Sent Every Day

1. 21% of email recipients report email as Spam, even if they know it isn’t
2. 43% of email recipients click the Spam button based on the email “from” name or email address
3. 69% of email recipients report email as Spam based solely on the subject line
4. IP addresses appearing on just one of the 12 major blacklists had email deliverability 25 points below those not listed on any blacklists
5. In 2010, the typical corporate user sends and receives about 110 messages daily.
Roughly 18% of emails received is spam, comprising both actual spam and
“graymail” (i.e. unwanted newsletters, alerts, etc.).
While users mostly see spam as an annoyance, for corporations it is a considerable expense. According to our projections, a typical 1,000-user organization can spend upwards of $3.0 million a year to fight and manage spam.

Despite that, there is one great problem with e-mail marketing and even the greatest experts are facing it: blacklists. You can’t even know that you’re there without checking it yourself. Most common reasons for getting there are:

1. Shared IP adress

If you don’t have your own SMTP server, you can easily end up at blacklist just because of shared IP adress. When you share IP adress with hundreds of web pages, any of those users can be the reason for finishing up at the blacklist.

2. Bad “hygiene”

There is a possibility that certain number of e-mail adresses on your mailing list are invalid. Nothing will happen if you send a few e-mails to those adresses, but if you do it frequently, you will probably end up blacklisted.

3. Recipient report

Believe it or not, many IP adresses end up blacklisted because of recipient’s reports of unwanted mail. It might be joke, accidentally or on purpose but ISP takes it very seriously so your IP comes to the blacklist.

4. Usage of the words that are commonly used in SPAM e-mails

If you market certain products or services like watches, medications, etc. which are often met in spam emails, you’re sentenced to be blacklisted and/or filtered. This makes it more important that you respect best e-mail marketing practices.

As I’ve already mention, you won’t be informed about blacklisting your IP adress so it is very important to use some of the methods for discovering it and responding.

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1. Follow your user’s complains about not getting e-mails

Your loyal subscribers will now something’s wrong if they don’t get the e-mail. They probably wouldn’t just ignore it but warn you about it.

2. Check e-mail system for security gaps

If you’re not using ESP and you’re sending e-malis directly from your company, spammers can use botnets and access your e-mail servers to use them for sending SPAM. Be sure your IT section knows how to react to this problem and eliminate it.

What to do once I’m blacklisted?

If you, despite precautions, end up blacklisted, it’s most inmportant to find it out on time. If you’re using ESP (email service provider) contact their customer support because in most cases they have good cooperation with ISP that put you to the blacklist so that can be fixed quickly. If you’re not using an ESP, make sure with your IT department that your servers haven’t been hacked.

It is important to find out the reason you ended up blacklisted in the first place so you can avoid repeating your mistakes and getting to the blacklist which might get more difficult to solve next time.
Each blacklist has its own procedure for request.

Right now, you’re probably asking this question: how can you permanently protect yourself against being blacklisted. The answer is  simple - you can’t. Your sender reputation and authentication, whitelisting, and best email practices can only reduce the risk of being blacklisted but do not exclude it.

Author: Branimir Grabovac

Branimir founded a hosting company when he was 15 and sold it three years later to one of the biggest Croatian hosting companies. Branimir has 3+ years of experience in business development and more then 8 years of experience in web design and programming.

Tomislav Bilic insight to Inchoo’s ecommerce secrets

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You know how Donald Trump builds all those buildings, hotels, and shops? Well Tomislav does that in the online world.

There aren’t that many people that remember what spark ignited the Internet, but one thing is for sure, when Yahoo put those banners, and that changed someone’s business, the rest was history. E-commerce disrupted so many industries, and is continuing to do so like nothing else. You could say that people expected so much out if it, so early, that it may have caused the .com bust all together! Where ecommerce is going, and how it felt starting a company that pushed ecommerce, we asked a serial entrepreneur, and the founder of Inchoo.net, Tomislav Bilic. They are specialised in building web shops using Magento, the most flexible enterprise-class ecommerce platform to power your business. Magento was bought by Ebay in 2011 for $180 million, and Inchoo grew in 5 years to over 40 employees, and they are hiring as you read this.

Why are we writting this? Well it doesn’t make sense owning a website if it goes offline, it Alexa decreases, someone else owns your domain, or your email gets blacklisted. So we notify you when that happens with our Ultimate Domain Notifier.

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Goran: Can you tell me a little bit about yourself before May 2008 when you started Inchoo? What was the force that pushed you towards entrepreneurship? Or perhaps, was there a force that was pushing you away from something else?

Tomislav Bilic: During my faculty days I was building some internal projects like web based games. Back then I also started a couple of website development projects with two of my friends., Zorin Radovancevic and Damir Podhorski. After we developed a few websites for post graduate studies, local companies started contacting us to do some work for them as well.

That eventually grew from student contracts, to building a company called Escape in 2003. Which is now one of the leading digital agencies in Croatia, so you can say that company is also quite successful.  After some time, my personal expertise and interest were focused on ecommerce development.

Tomislav Bilic - Founder of Inchoo

Tomislav Bilic – Founder of Inchoo

E-commerce was something that was most fulfilling to me. That’s because only in ecommerce on the web you can see results immediately. When we built online stores, the actual results could be seen almost in real-time. So when the client increases it’s sales online with the website you built the communication, trust and co-operation skyrockets.

Because of this I wanted to be in a company that was focused in ecommerce because it is quite complex, and it had to be core business in order for the company to grow. Therefor I left Escape and founded Inchoo in 2008.

Goran: So it was your quality that attracted the clients to contact you to build their websites?

Tomislav Bilic: Yeah exactly. The first customers we got exclusively through word of mouth. The very first client recognized us as students who knew how to build great website, and our professors vouched for that because we build a few websites for them as well.

Goran: What was the most difficult period for Inchoo, and what is different today from then?

Tomislav Bilic: In 2008 when Inchoo was founded it was a company with 1 guy (me, self-employed). After that the company grew very quickly. In the end of 1st year there were 5 employees, 2nd there were 11, 3rd year there were 20, and now there are 35 employees.

This growth is quite challenging, since it brings a lot of fresh problems to the table every day. People have trouble to accommodate to the environment. For example, a junior developer works on a very serious project just after 2 months. After 6 months he is a project manager, and after a year he is a team leader, leading a team of 3-4 people.

During last 5 years, the company changed a lot. The most challenging time for the company, to be honest, is right now! The company is transforming from a small company to a medium one. When the company was smaller, there was no need for strictly defined processes, and there was no need for overhead. Everybody knew his job.

Tomislav with several Inchooers

Tomislav with several Inchooers

Now when the company is larger you have a lot of investments in defining the processes, but also people need to understand the mission and the vision of Inchoo. All this is even more challenging because we are living in a smaller city, Osijek, so you don’t have a large pool of qualified people. You need to invest a lot in internal education and finding the balance between fast growth and setting up a healthy working environment, is a hard path.

After Croatia entered the EU we had another challenge because many of the employees were swarmed with offers from abroad. Although our employees have great compensation for Osijek standards, we can’t financially compete with cities like London or Frankfurt.

Goran: How do you attract talent, and how do you keep the troops at home?

Tomislav Bilic: Most of the people we hired are from Osijek, where we also train them. We had previous experience with people moving from a bigger cities like Zagreb, would move back after a couple of years. So, we concluded there has to be some love story involved. Some of the best people we hired were from Osijek and we also invest a lot in our education and training.

That’s one of the strengths of Inchoo, that we are very efficient in training of developers. This is something that we can count on a long run.

Goran: So to sum it up. The bigger the company, the more money, the more problems you have right?

Tomislav Bilic: Exactly! When the company is young , everybody works mostly on enthusiasm and emotion. So you have a friendly, small, cozy environment. When the company grows, it gets harder to keep the family atmosphere. Later, when the number of teams increased, family spirit was moved to a team as a unit.

Most of the challenges are organisational ones, caused by the growth of the company.

Goran: How has the ecommerce landscape changed in the last 6 years? How did that impact Inchoo and your way of thinking? Do you think there will be a similar shift in the next 6 years?

Tomislav Bilic: E-commerce changed a lot in the last six years. On technology perspective we had a huge change with evolution of many platforms (Magento was one of them) and in impact of social media towards ecommerce. Also there was a huge challenge with the rise of mobile, so the actual devices where people are buying from also changed. People are buying from their desktop computers, their laptops, tablets, mobile phones, TV’s. We even had internal jokes that people are  buying from the fridge because Samsung had announced that one of their new refrigerators will have an Android with a display in front.

Al these elements made this ecosystem very dynamic. So when you look at the numbers, although the growth of new users of the Internet is decreasing, the ecommerce growth is actually increasing faster.

6 years ago you didn’t have many stores who were strictly online. This changed because now you have a large number of businesses that are strictly online! For example there were a lot of daily deal websites. Although they have their own up’s and down’s they had a huge role in popularization of ecommerce, especially in Croatia. Few years ago people were only talking about buying stuff online, but after Kolektiva this changed and ecommerce started to grow.

In the next 6 year we wont just have ecommerce on the web, but in many other places. To be honest, I don’t really know what will happen! This ecosystem is changing so rapidly. We might have holograms where we could try the jacket on before we buy it. Who knows?! Whatever does happen, Inchoo will be there.

Goran: What would you say which companies are at the forefront of the ecommerce innovation? You mentioned Samsung at one point, that proves ecommerce is going to go in many directions. The offline world will continue to go online, and now online world will start to go offline. Already you can pay with your mobile in brick and mortar stores. What are the 3 companies that are moving the ecommerce forward.

Tomislav Bilic: First I would have to mention Magento because Magento created the order in the ecommerce platforms out there. Before Magento there were a lot of low-quality platforms and Magento placed standards making it scalable, robust and ready for enterprise level.

As for the other two, that would be the leading merchants Amazon and Ebay. They have a lot of innovations on their websites. Having business this large makes it possible to invest in research and user experience and old types of research how the customers behave. They built a lot of innovations in the shopping system. The way search is done, related items, experience, and a lot of merchants are copying them. So I would name Magento, Amazon and Ebay.

Goran: Could you share with us 3 top advices you usually give to your clients, and explain how are they making money from the opportunities Internet presents?

Tomislav Bilic: Don’t copy your competitors. This goes especially for Croatian merchants. Create your own story, get to know your clients well. We see that a lot in our clients. When they are building a shop, they want to copy a little bit of everyone.  They are not really creating a story that is making sense for them. In the end, the customers don’t respond well to this.

Trust your solution provider. So when merchants are hiring an ecommerce provider, they shouldn’t just hire a company. They should hire a partner. They should have in mind that before this specific job, solution provider built dozens if not hundreds of online stores, and they know best practices.

Solution provider also knows the technology side, and what particular set of technologies is good for the client. Usually when the client doesn’t listen to the solution provider, the results aren’t the best. If the client doesn’t trust the solution provider, he should find a new one because there is no success in this story. So there should be a huge synergy between the client and the solution provider. The client knows his clients better than the solution provider, and he should focus on that area.

Change your perspective. This is mostly related to the companies who already have an offline business and they want to go online. In this type of scenarios we see that they often observe the customers the same way they do offline. However online customers do not behave the same way offline do. This is the reason why so many merchants need to change their perspective. The content and the message have to be changed and delivered differently.

There are just different ways the client browses and purchases online. The advantage here is you are not limited to your local environment, and clients can purchase your goods from literally around the world. Therefore, you need to have a prepared strategy.

Goran: If clients are more and more going to be “from far and far away”, would you say that todays shipping companies such as UPS, Overseas and DHL are prepared for the task that is going to happen in the next 6 years in the ecommerce business?

Tomislav Bilic: I think they are. I don’t think it’s a problem of shipping; it’s more of a problem for merchants to organize themselves to be able to accommodate the needs. Lets say you want to ship to Japan, and you have a product that will be popular there. Maybe you don’t need to ship there every single order? Maybe you can find a drop shipper there who can have some sort of stock there, and then ship from the drop ship company. There are a lot of possibilities. You just need to be open to this type of possibilities.

The problem with the local merchants is that they think small. Don’t build your strategy like you will have only one order from Russia. Think like you are going to have thousand orders from Russia or Japan. Then you will not have to ship each order separately, and a drop shipper can take care of that. What you really need to focus on is your story, because not every product will work for everything and everywhere. Maybe your product is only local, so you just need a good local strategy.

Goran: Do you know any funny or educational stories from past client experiences?

Tomislav Bilic: There are many, and after speaking with a colleague we tried outlining some of them.

One of the most interesting for us is with a client keepshooting.com. We built an online store for a legal weapon dealer. You can basically go to a store and purchase guns, grenades, shotguns, and it’s totally legal in US. Since US has 50 states, and all of them have internal laws that are related to the weapon industry there was a lot work involved in customizing the store which products can be shipped to specific state. So for example, you can’t ship a slingshot to Maryland, but you can purchase a bazooka. Which was quite funny when we were developing it.

We haven’t really talked about this before, but I’d like to mention it. One of the Inchoo’s strengths is our marketing strategy. We can thank our growth of our marketing strategy of sharing knowledge. Right now our blog is the number one unofficial Magento website in the world. That’s because we have a lot of quality content and a couple hundred articles regarding various Magento topics.

So for example when we worked with one Magento client from Germany, we worked on-site with them for a couple of weeks in Berlin. We went there, and had to meet their development team. One of their developers even had something he called the Inchoo Bible. So we asked him what he meant by that. He actually printed out all our articles which was thick as a book. He waived at us and said that this is the Inchoo Bible, and that he learned most of the Magento from it.

This sort of education based marketing gave a lot of visibility to the individual qualities of our team. So for example there was this one time when I was talking with a client, and he mentioned some of our developers by name. He read everything we published and he distinguished one person from the other, and learned their writing styles. It was a great feeling, because I was talking with him for the first time, and already he knew everybody. Not only that but he was able to guess people’s personalities by their writing styles.

Goran: How did you get the name Inchoo?

Tomislav Bilic: I wanted the name to be short, memorable and to sound good. I also didn’t want any loan translations. I also wanted to stay away from generic “web something”, “IT something” names.

I also had to keep in mind the Croatian law so it had to be a Croatian, Latin or Ancient Greek word. I found the word Inchoo in the Latin dictionary and I liked it and it also had a cool meaning. Inchoo means “to begin”, “to commence”, “to be able”.

The only problem was that just few days after I selected the name, .com domain was registered so we registered inchoo.net. Today I think it’s obvious that didn’t stop us from succeeding.

Are brands and trademark owners ready for Internet in 2014?

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Back in May 2013 we posted on our Facebook page  about the growing threat of domain squatters. When you have someone impersonating your company online and making a lot of money it’s obvious you want to set in motion certain mechanisms, and protect your investment. In my opinion, bottom line is, it’s not fair either.

I contacted Daniel Greenberg who is the owner and managing director of Lexsynergy, a company that specialises in online brand protection and domain management. They have offices in London, Vienna and Johannesburg, and clients from around the world.

Lexsynergy

Lexsynergy

Goran: Can you go back to 2005 and think about the beginning of Lexsynergy? Was it just yourself or were there any partners?

Daniel: Well it was just myself, when we started in 2005. It was at the same time  when I had immigrated from South Africa to the UK.  I was in UK when I decided  to start  the company.

I was in a new country and thought it was a good opportunity to start something new. I always had the idea of bringing domain names and the law together by offering corporates and trademark owners the opportunity to protect their brand in a cost effective manner.

The majority of Lexsynergy competitors are expensive and tend to exploit the financial resources of trademark owners without  offerring comprehensive brand protection advice.

Our company name says what we do. Lex is Latin for law and synergy which is the combination of the individual component working together to create a greater force or greater cooperation. And that’s what really Lexsynergy is all about.

Bringing the law together with domain names to assist trademark owners.

Goran: In the beginning you said that when you moved to the UK you got the idea for funding the company. So it wasn’t the other way around? You didn’t move there so you could open the company?

Daniel: No I didn’t, but the UK gave me the means to open the company. The nature of the market in the UK is  entrepreneurial. If you have an idea, it’s very easy to launch the foundation. I saved and used my own capital to start the company.

Goran: Have you noticed any major differences between 2005 and 2014. Could the solutions you were offering back then, solve the problems you are solving today?

Daniel: It really depends on what market you are looking at. If you are looking at US or Europe which are very sophisticated markets, things have changed. A lot of corporates and trademark owners are well versed and they know what to do. So it has made our job slightly easier.

In less sophisticated markets not much has changed  in the industry and we spend a lot  of time educating people about domain names. This forms a large part of our business .

Domain names have advanced especially in sophisticated markets such as cities like Vienna.

If people go to your website and see an old website, it could affect your brand. Gone are the days when your website was just a brochure on the Internet.

Goran: At the beginning you said that you wanted to bring together the law and domains and when providing your services  emphasize the knowledge of the law. So was your experience, in the legal profession that attracted you to domains?

Daniel: I was training as an attorney at a South African  Intellectual Property law firm when a domain name issues arose. An ISP forgot to renew a domain for one of the law firm’s clients and was  re-registered by someone in Australia whose surname was identical to the trademark owner. It is for this reason  they couldn’t get it back. As a result they lost the client. They then realized they had to get their domain names in order and since I was the youngest and most tech-savvy, I was given the responsibility for setting up their domain department.

Eventually I co-authored a cyberlaw textbook, contributing the chapter on domain names and trademarks. While working as an attorney I  utilized the services  of a corporate domain management company. It was then that I realized it could be a simpler with an easy to use interface because at the end of the day non-technical people are going to use the servicet. It needed to have a logical flow  and then later you could add complex functionality.

I was young so I didn’t have the technical knowledge or the financial resource to commercialise my idea so from 2002 to 2005 it just remained an idea.

Domain names now a form of online trademark. Trademarks have moved from the offline environment to the online environment.

A young child can now take your logo and create a website to divert traffic potentially bringing a company to its knees.

You have to make sure that you are adequately protected and that mechanisms are put into place so that you can protect your trademarks. If someone infringes upon your trademark, for a week, on the internet that’s almost equivalent of 2-5 years of infringement in the bricks and mortar world. The amount of traffic that can be diverted in the matter of days is astronomical.

Goran: Would you say jour job is fun, or is it too serious to be fun?

Daniel: I really enjoy it! I think it’s very important to enjoy what you do.

It is stressful at times but does have its joyous moments. So when you balance it out I would say it is enjoyable. I enjoy being at the forefront of technology and advising brand owners. To know that you are a part of launching a new brand or protecting it is rewarding.

Goran: What is your main point that you focus on  then recruiting individuals?

Daniel: Everyone that works at Lexsynergy is young and energetic.. We look for people who would treat Lexsynergy as if it was their own business. Even if you are a person who is answering the phone, we bring you in and you have the opportunity to say what would make your job easier or how you could improve our services.

By way of  example one of our young staff members had an idea for a charity event to coincide with Nelson Mandela day. We took her idea and made an event out of it. If you listen to your staff you create an atmosphere so they see themselves as having a career rather  than  a 9-5 job.

Goran: Since you mentioned Nelson Mandela, and that you are registering a lot of African domains, Do have a strong presence there? Could you share a little more about the hidden potential and the risk in Africa for domain name owners and doing business there in general?

Daniel: I am South African so I have a goof understanding how the economy works in that region. After setting up our office in London we set one up in Joburg.  Our local presence has allowed us to gain a large customer base in South Africa, as well as in other parts of Africa.. Not many of our competitors have entered the African market because it does not make commercial sense.

If you look at the population of Africa it far exceeds that of Europe or North America. Internet penetration is at around 10%, so if it increases by %5 that is a large number of  individuals that could potentially use our service.

The other part of it is that many businesses want to invest in Africa and need protect their brand, which can be difficult. For example registering a domain in Swaziland, Chad or Niger is virtually impossible.

We picked some countries that we thought have potential such as , Ghana, Nigeria, Tanzania, Kenya, Chad, Ruwanda, Zambia andSouth Africa. As a result a lot of our competitors started using our services to register domain names in those countries.

In some cases you need local presence or fill out paper application. These regulations and manual processes have created a niche for us in the African market. Africa is not a saturated market like the US or Europe.

We work with one of the biggest telecom companies in the world who mainly offers its  services to countries in Africa and the Middle East. Clearly, there is volume in Africa especially services that flow from mobile Internet services. It’s a big market but those who don’t understand it ignore it.

Goran: Do you have an interesting story of client problem?

Daniel: A major African medical insurance company that now has a presence in Europe allowed a domain name linked to the management of its domain names to lapse and be deleted. Since co.za (South African Top Level Extension) domain names were then managed via sending emails to the registry  it was possible for any person who controlled the deleted domain name to transfer, update and/or delete any domain name connected to that domain name. .

We identified this issue and re-registered the domain name to protect this company. If another party had registered the domain name they could have shut down the company’s website and emails.

We informed the companies’ security officer about the issue and risk and explained that they needed to get their domains in order..

Goran: What would be the best free advice that you usually share with your clients? Anything that you usually go through with potential client?

Daniel: I usually advise them to secure their trade mark as a domain name in every country in which they trade or intend to trade. Also to register it in all the generic top level domains (com, net, org, info, biz, tel).

First register the .com domain, check on Google for that name if there’s no conflict then register the trademark. What normally happens is that companies pay a lot of money they get their trademark without securing a matching domain name only realizing later that they can’t register it, forsing them, to then, register an odd domain name such as  mytrademarkbusiness.com It makes no sense spending money on trademark, and not having a matching domain name.

Goran: You spend a lot of time speaking about brand protection. Is it really that important?

Daniel: Just to give you an indication how important it is  our  brand protection department mainly recovers domain names. When we started we opened 1 case per week, now we have 5-6 cases a day. We file 3-4 domain name complaints a month..

The amount of infringement has increased exponentially.

Goran: I left out the last part of the interview with Daniel because he explained to me how squatters virtually extort money from trademark owners, so I don’t want to give anyone any “bright” ideas. Suffice it to say you should register domains in the countries you think are important for your business, and the few most known generic top level domains, and especially if you paid to get your trademark.

Fast Growing DigitalOcean Is Fueled By Customer Love

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BornLuna: Best company on earth! I love my vps with them! I have a few.

Corndogcomputer: I absolutely love my new server! It’s freakin fast and affordable!

Applerebel: I LOVE YOU! <3

Ydnar: Signed up with @digitalocean and had ghost running in less than 15 mins. no wonder the community loves these guys.

Tpkit: Love my new super-easy-to-setup server from @digitalocean awesome guys

There’s no point in me going on. You get the picture. Definitely got my attention, and I wanted to know more about this company that people love so much, and I heard about them only a couple of months ago. But let’s rewind a little bit.

Roughly 10 months ago it was 500 startups demo day, and I was pitching WhoAPI at Twitter hq in San Fracsico. There I met Rob Delwo VP Market Development at Pivot Desk. They were at Techstars Boulder where they met John Ives (a prominent angel investor). He doesn’t have to do anything with Apple’s Jony Ive.

I spoke with John on several ocasions, and on the first one he told me about DigitalOcean. We tried their service, along side with our other partners, AWS, Azure, Rackspace, Softlayer, Google and Hetzner. Yes, we use all of them. We loved DigitalOcean, and their service. So I asked John if he could introduce me to one of their co-founders.

Mitch Wainer

Mitch Wainer

Mitch Wainer II is one of the co-founders and CMO of DigitalOcean. He and DigitalOcean are in New York, so we talked over Skype. Since I am from Croatia, I’ve never met anyone called Mitch, and the only Mitch I knew was from Baywatch. So I was really enthusiastic about this call, at least I would change my association to the Mitch – Ocean connection.

After working 5 years in the digital agency world where he consulted Fortune 500 companies, Mitch is now in charge of all the DigitalOcean’s marketing efforts. In addition he designed the website, the control panel so he has a lot of responsibility in terms of the product design.

Mitch joined the other two co-founders Ben Uretsky and Moisey Uretsky who started their first business in the infrastructure industry, called Serverstack. Serverstack was focused on managed hosting, but they lost a lot of clients to a competitor because of competitor’s name and credibility. Because of this problem, all three of them dived into DigitalOcean and focused on developers.

Since they released the SSD plans and doubled the memory in January, their growth has skyrocketed. Now they are close to 150 000 developers using their platform.

Goran Duskic: Can you identify 3 biggest shifts in your company since you and Ben started the company back in 2011? I guess one was joining the Techstars, second getting the funding on my birthday July 15 2013, $3.21M. Can you talk a little bit what led you to those biggest shifts?

Mitch Wainer II: After the company was started in the summer of 2011, we started working on our MVP (Minimum Viable Product). We launched our beta in January 2012. We didn’t charge our clients until March 2012, and then we had only 50-60 clients. With that, we applied at Techstars NYC and our first aplication was rejected. However, with a little help from Jason Seats, they managed to get into the Techstars Boulder program. Jason was the co-founder of Slicehost (acquired by Rackspace), and they were also a developer focused hosting company.

When we moved to Boulder it was like living in a college dorm room. I got the coutch, Ben (our CEO) got the top bunk bed. We stayed in Boulder for three months. The program was very fulfiling, we’ve met a lot of mentors, and met a lot of succesful entrepreneurs. At the end, we had our demo in front of a large audience of investors. We asked for $500k, however, the Techstars NYC syndrom was evident. We weren’t approached by any investors because they didn’t understand our clear differentiator against other companies like Amazon and Rackspace.

Fast forward to January 14th 2013, we released our all SSD plans, doubled the memory and kept the same price point – $5 per month. I managed to get us a Techcrunch article, which in return catapulted our signup growth rate. With that we went from 2000 clients in January, to nearly 150 000 now in December. With our compeling growth story we were able to prove our clear diferentiator, and we managed to raise a seed round in July 2013, from IA ventures. We were in touch for a while, and they actually introduced us to the Techstars program in Boulder.

Because of our growth we need to instal new racks of servers as fast as possible. Each rack of servers is essentially 250,000 dollars, to give you a rough idea of our costs. As a matter a fact, we are in the process of raising our Series A, somewhere in the range of $20M to $30 million dollars. This will help us fuel our growth even more! We have plans for opening up to Latin America, UK and Singapore since the Asia-Pacific is the fastest growing developer market in the World.

Goran Duskic: What was your first hint that “this cloud thing that you are doing” is actually going to grow into a great company, that’s providing awesome service. 

Mitch Wainer II:  After our customer growth literally “10x’ed” after the launch of new “all SSD, double memmory” plans that were announced on Techrunch, we knew we hit something interesting. Also, another really important note that I want to make. When we started seing customers tweeting at us, using the word “Love” we knew we are doing something right. We knew that we fulfield a need, and solved a pain point that was experienced by developers for a long long time. That basically snowballed, because now 60% new customers come over word of mouth, refferals.

Goran Duskic: What about domains? Do you guys have any plans in offering domain registration, or are you in any way taking advantage of the new gTLD era?

Mitch Wainer II: I love when everything you need is packaged together, and we will probably incorporate domains into our services somewhere in 2015. Next year we are focusing on building more scalable features such as load balancing, object storage, CDN. We know that there are several new gTLD’s more and more popular, and we would certainly love to ride that train. However we need to be focused on building our more scalable features, that are closer to our core business.

You can see on our feature request forum that not that many people are actually looking for this specific feature, and that there are so many other.

Goran Duskic: How did you come up with the name DigitalOcean? I hear a lot of people complaining how they can’t find anymore good free .com domains.

Mitch Wainer II: Well for us it was quite easy and simple. Clouds are formed from Droplets, which is what we call our cloud server. And clouds originate from the ocean. So it made sense we incorporate the ocean into our brand, and that eventually lead us to digital ocean. We have a cute company shark named Sammy, you can find him on our 404 page. We were able to do a lot of fun stuff with our name and brand. For example, one of our recent tag lines at conferences was “Dive into DigitalOcean”, and “Dive In” was used in our promo codes.

DigitalOcean

DigitalOcean

Goran Duskic: Tell us something from everyday office stuff? What coffee do you drink there, what’s it like to work at DigitalOcean? Tell us something that’s not on your website, that you guys know, and other people outside don’t.

Mitch Wainer II: We actually just expanded our office space. We were in a 3500 square foot space, and we just broke down the wall, and now we are in 5500 square foot. We are hiring like mad men, adding 2 people per week.  We have a ping-pong table here, so we have some pretty competitive games.

Goran Duskic: What would you say that the secret ingredient was in wining the hearts of hundreds of thousands of users, on a crowded hosting/vps market?

Mitch Wainer II: 1 click away from configuring and 1 click away from installing. With us, everything is pretty much within 1 or 2 clicks. We are trying to keep things as simple as possible to save developers time and money. Compared to other companies, even our pricing page is extremely simple.

We understand our customers really well, and we know what they want.

Author: Goran Duskic

Goran Duskic co-founded a game development team Generation Stars when he was a teenager, and he co-founded hosting and web develpoment company GEM Studio (which was sold in 2011). He co-founded tech startup WhoAPI and has 10+ experience in business development, online marketing strategy and PR.

I know who Googled you last summer – Interview with Patrick Ambron

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Well not really, but you can know who Googled you! Is personal brand important for your business? For your job? Did you know that 75% of HR departments have to lookup job applicants online, meaning they have to Google them.

Come on, admit it! Even you were curious what are the first results on Google when you put your name in. What if it’s a really bad picture of you doing something stupid, or your ex-boyfriend trashing you, or worse, your crazy ex-employer!? What would you do if the first result is a news article about a criminal that’s not you, but has the same name?

This also isn’t as much about Googleing as it is to first impressions. Researchers from NYU found that we make eleven major decisions about one another in the first seven seconds of meeting. In the online world it’s probably down to 3 seconds, and you know where the first impressions are online. Google search results page.

After hearing that BrandYourself got 60 000 users in 60 hours (catchy line), I figured they solved the problems I’ve stated before. It took me a second to hook up with their CEO Patrick Ambon, and here’s what he said in a brief interview over Skype.

Patrick Ambron

Patrick Ambron

60 000 signups in 60 hours, 16 signups per minute. Unexpectedly? What happened?

Patrick Ambron: Our product helps people see what Google puts out there when other people Google their name. BrandYourself was up for a while, and growing pretty well, and then we struck a goldmine with a new feature we released. Some of our customers were requesting to know when and where they were being looked up. After releasing the feature, we pitched Mashable, and they published a story that happened to be really popular. It was on top of Mashable all day and because of that Huffington post, Index.hr, and many other international portals picked up the news. We published a lot of features that month, but we focused on putting the most compelling story with the best feature we had.

But not only that we are getting traffic, we are converting them to signups. As much as 30% percent of that traffic converted to signups. We worked a lot on the snowball effect with sharing, easy signups, and sharing new profiles.

Is the problem of personal branding on the Internet really that serious?
Patrick Ambron: Yeah definitely! In worst case scenario you could have up there something that you don’t want people to see, or you could be mistaken for someone else. But also there are a lot of people who just say: “Hey, I know I am being Googled because 75% of the HR departments are required to. I want to make a good first impression, I want to make it edged.” Some people want to be proactive, and they want the control.

Do you have any plans in becoming a domain registrar and offering people to register their own domain names? Domains such as lastname.com or firstnamelastname.com?
Patrick Ambron: Actually premium members, which is a $100 a year, one of the features you get is domain name with your last name, or first name last name .com. It definitely does help.

BrandYourself logo

BrandYourself

How long did it take for you to build a working service so that those 60 000 signups could actually become a happy clients?
Patrick Ambron: Uh, it took us years, 2 years actually to get it right. We are still constantly improving. I mean that’s the point. Getting press and reviews is great, but the fastest way to kill a bad product is good advertising. The most important thing is to: a) have something people want, and b)work really hard to make sure it works, and that it’s easy to use.

Can you tell me how are you making Internet awesome with BrandYourself?
Patrick Ambron: Simply put, you your Google results are becoming more and more important of your first impression. But it’s getting harder and harder to control that. Our lives are more and more online, and it’s more important to put your best foot forward, but it’s also getting harder to do that. Before us people had no one to turn to, because they didn’t understand how to do that. And traditional reputation companies charge literally thousands of dollars. We are helping people control their first impression, just to make sure there’s an accurate representation about them on the web, and that it’s a good one. I think that’s really important.

 

If you like the interview, and you end up signing up for the service at BrandYourself, why not monitor that page or your website for changes in uptime, Alexa, PageRank, nameservers, blacklist, and other domain data.

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Author: Goran Duskic

Goran Duskic co-founded a game development team Generation Stars when he was a teenager, and he co-founded hosting and web develpoment company GEM Studio (which was sold in 2011). He co-founded tech startup WhoAPI and has 10+ experience in business development, online marketing strategy and PR.