2005 has been a great year for our business so far. We’ve landed thousands of customers, hired a bunch of great people, released several valuable product enhancements, rolled out the first real version of our automated billing system, taken our customer service and support to the next level, and accomplished lots of other really awesome things. These successes helped us raise money from investors ($500,000—all private money and no venture funding, not that I’m totally against it, just being upfront), which helped us hire some of those people, which is helping our products and services continue to improve, etc. So the real question is...
What are we gonna do with the money we raised and the people we hired?
In a roundabout way, we’re asked that question all day, every day. So, I’m going to use this blog post to really make a bold move and do something we’ve never done before and something that most companies wouldn’t think of doing—I’m going to answer that question. I’m even going to give date ranges for product releases—something that would make most companies quiver. If this isn’t transparency, I don’t know what is. And lastly, in subsequent posts as I see fit, I will go into more detail about specific projects, especially the big ones.
Now, before I get into the details, let me briefly explain what we’re trying to do from a strategic standpoint. Our goal is to change the way businesses manage email by eliminating the need for businesses to mess with: email software (or appliances); hardware that runs the software; and security services (or appliances) that filter the spam, block the computer viruses and protect email users from fraudulent phishing attacks, among other things. We’re also developing a webmail client that can serve as a reliable alternative to desktop email software—yet everything we build, we build to integrate and interoperate with third party devices. In other words, businesses can outsource their email but still use the software they’re used to, like Microsoft Outlook, Thunderbird and Blackberry.
We believe wholeheartedly in “web services” and the “software as a service” business model and we’re betting everything we’ve got that this is the right approach to email and related services. The bottom line is that we don’t think it makes any sense for businesses, especially small, medium and geographically dispersed businesses, to be buying, installing and managing their own email ecosystem. The same goes for most service providers that sell back into these same business segments. Both need to be focusing on their core competencies and turning to someone that is 100% focused on email hosting. If we can do it better for less, doesn’t it just make sense? We’re currently signing up more than 400 businesses and resellers per month—so at least I’m not the only one who thinks so.
Now... if you’re interested in our roadmap as we move through the second half of 2005, keep reading:
Webmail Lite (beta) – launching tomorrow
This is a free service that allows users to access third party email accounts and aggregate RSS content feeds—all through our webmail interface. The service is completely free (and contains no third party ads). We developed and will continue to enhance Webmail Lite so that we can provide a valuable, but free service to any email user in the world who doesn’t have the luxury of checking their email on the web (or who simply prefers using our webmail client). Webmail Lite is perfect for businesses that have set up a POP/IMAP server but don’t provide their users with webmail... or those who provide their users with webmail that just plain sucks. It’s also perfect for those that want to manage their RSS feeds via the web (as opposed to downloading third party software onto their computer), but don’t want to mess with clunky, confusing aggregators on the market today (there are lots of them). Moving forward, we’ll also launch new features and services, like calendaring, on Webmail Lite first. In a sense it will be a breeding ground for market feedback and extended beta testing—which will allow us to improve our products and services before they’re provided to our paying customers and provide a free, but valuable service to everyone else.
RSS Reader – scheduled for launch next week
This provides our customers with the ability to subscribe to blogs and other RSS-enabled content via webmail while allowing them to access those subscriptions via webmail or any other email client, such as Microsoft Outlook or Thunderbird. As I’ve been saying for quite some time, we believe quite heavily in the convergence of email and RSS. People, especially business email users, live in their inbox. Why would they want to download third party software to manage RSS feeds? Likewise, we believe that by making RSS work just like email, it will reduce the learning curve and greatly increase the percentage of our customers that are able to harness the power of RSS. Since we provide email administrators with the ability to pre-subscribe feeds for their employees, many people will be reading RSS feeds without even knowing it—just like they’re reading emails without having a clue what POP3 is or what IMAP4 is all about. Who cares anyway?
Control Panel Version 2.0 – scheduled for launch in September
Every customer of ours is provided with a secure online control panel that allows email administrators to add/modify/delete email accounts, manage email aliases, edit billing information, download statistics, and pretty much do everything they need to do with regards to their email system—all from the web and all without needing a degree in computer science or a Microsoft certification (in other words, it’s easy). Version 2.0 of the control panel contains a wealth of new features, serious speed improvements and a better user interface for customers and resellers.
Email Hosting Infrastructure Upgrade – scheduled for launch in September
The latest infrastructure upgrade includes moving to a much more intelligent and robust infrastructure build-out. We’re in the process of deploying dozens of new servers at Rackspace facilities in Dulles, Virginia and Dallas, Texas that will strengthen our email hosting platform and allow us to scale more effectively. This upgrade will solve many of the infrastructure inefficiencies that we have periodically experienced over the last few months—some of which have affected the performance of our email hosting system.
Super-Fast Webmail – scheduled for a phased launch beginning in October
As part of the initiative to build webmail into a platform that can serve as an effective alternative to desktop email software, we are replacing the legacy webmail code with “Ajax.” Ajax is a new web development framework that can be used to create web applications that operate as fast as applications running on the desktop. From here forward, most everything we build will incorporate Ajax for optimal speed and performance. Ajax will be incorporated into everything we’ve already built, as well. Go here if you want to learn more about Ajax.
Calendaring – scheduled for launch in October
Version 1.0 of calendaring, codenamed “Apollo,” will seamlessly integrate with webmail. At first, we’ll be providing basic calendaring and task list functionality, but everything will be super-fast (Ajaxed), very intuitive and will incorporate the same “clean” design as does our webmail.
Company Directory – scheduled for launch in October
The company directory provides businesses with the ability to automatically input employee user data into each employee’s address book through the control panel. With the company directory, this data can all be manipulated at the email administrator level, providing each employee with “read-only” contact information for everyone in the company. For small businesses (like us), this will be huge. For example, as we’ve grown our business, one of my biggest pet peeves is hiring someone and not having their new contact information when I need to call or email them later on. Now that we’ll have a company directory, it will become part of our human resources function to keep this information up to date, thus eliminating this problem as we grow further. We believe our customers will see the same types of benefits.
Billing System Version 2.0 – no launch date has been identified yet
Version 2.0 of the billing system provides automation for common billing tasks, such as processing credit cards and sending payment reminders to customers. It also includes integration with Control Panel Version 2.0, which will provide customers with the ability to more effectively manage their account, download invoices, and purchase extra mailboxes, additional storage space and features, such as calendaring.
Mercury – no launch date has been identified yet
One of the biggest forward-thinking R&D projects we’re taking on right now is code-named Mercury. The Mercury project objective is to provide long-term solutions for three issues: (a) how to provide unlimited storage to our customers in a profitable way; (2) how to provide super-fast search of all email and related data; and (3) how to provide users with blazing-fast webmail speed, even when mailboxes have gigabytes of data. The goal is to achieve each of these objectives as our customer base and data storage rates grow exponentially.
One other thing I should mention... after being influenced by two other young companies, JotSpot and Feedburner, we’re going to have our first ever “Hackathon” this weekend. I’ll blog more about this during the Hackathon as I’ll need something to do anyways, but in a nutshell, we’re picking seven or eight small projects that can be coded, tested and uploaded in one day. It should produce some great results and I’m pumped to see how it works out. Thanks to blog posts from JotSpot and Feedburner for giving us the idea.
So... these are the “major” things that are keeping us busy on the products and services side of the business as we move through 2005. Looks easy, right?
I welcome any input or feedback, especially from customers. And, if you would like to be involved in some of our customer betas, please let me know.