Implementing Social Media’s Secret Weapon

Fred Wilson had an excellent post up this morning titled Social Media’s Secret Weapon – Email. I completely agree that email is the key communications channel for social media and have written about this before in posts like 100% Click Through RateEmail – The Original Social Graph and Email Is Still The Best Login.

I’ve been investing in email related stuff for over 15 years going back to Email Publishing, my very first Boulder-based investment which I believe was the very first email service provider (ESP) and was acquired by MessageMedia which was then bought by Doubleclick. Fred and I are both investors in Return Path which he calls out in his post as the category creator and market leader in email deliverability. I love Return Path as a company and am incredibly proud of what they’ve done as a business.

My partners and I have continued to invest aggressively in what we believe is social media’s secret weapon which we refer to as the comm channel in a hat tip to the TV show 24. In Fred’s post, the comm channel is email. Our investment here is in SendGrid, a company that came out of TechStars Boulder 2009 and is one of the white hot companies in Boulder. They directly address the problem Fred describes which every software developer knows is a pain in the ass, uninteresting, hard to do well, but needs to be done right. Every web app sends transactional email – rather than build all the code yourself, just let SendGrid to it. They are now doing it for over 24,000 companies, sending out over 60 million transactional emails a day, and just sent their 10 billionth transactional email.

But email isn’t the only comm channel. Everyone that uses apps on a mobile phone is likely experiencing push notifications as an increasingly important as a form of engagement. While mobile phones used to only really work effectively with SMS, you now have SMS, email, and push notifications. So we invested in Urban Airship who does for push notifications what SendGrid does for email. Like SendGrid, they are growing like crazy, are in use by over 10,000 customers and have sent over 3 billion push notifications.

My message to all web developers – if you are serious about what you are doing, focus on your app. Don’t waste precious development time on all the activities around the app. You likely no longer sit around with a screwdriver setting up a server in a datacenter – instead you are using a cloud provider like Rackspace or Amazon.  Don’t spent your time coding up an email notification infrastructure – use SendGrid. And if you are a mobile developer, don’t waste your time writing a bunch of code for push notifications – use Urban Airship.

Most importantly, don’t ignore the thing that will actually make your web app get adoption and retention – comm channels!

  •  And come to gluecon to see SendGrid, Urban Airship and a ton of other cloud/API driven startups and companies that can help you scale.

  •  great post brad

    another “comm channel” investment is our investment in Twilio that many developers use to power their sms delivery. as i said at the end of my post, i think sms and mobile push are going to be increasingly important. clearly you agree

    • Yup – Twillio is awesome. I wish we had invested in it – we just missed it. At least you and David Cohen / Bullet Time did so I get to have a tiny investment in it via y’all. 

      • i suspect you’ve got an investment in almost everything through one or more
        of your relationships!

        remember that you are an LP in USV too

        • Yup – I’ve never sat down and added them all up but it has become a very
          large number of companies. I’ve often thought I should reflect on that and
          what to do with it to be more effective at working across all of them and at
          least helping a tiny bit in the ones that I have a tiny investment in.

          • good luck with that

            as effective as you are with your time, i can’t imagine that would be
            possible for any human

          • Yeah – that’s why it never happens. The idea collapses on itself, forms a
            black hole, and swallows itself up.

  • Anonymous

    I tend to think mobile push will supplant SMS at some point, but I’ve thought SMS would die a few times and been wrong every time. Mobile push could blow the roof off if Apple ever figured out how to have better notification systems.  Apple’s poor notification system actually makes me long for the customizability of my old Blackberries. 

  • Irving Fain

    Just left a similar comment on Fred’s blog, but in order for email to be effective, the overarching application / service has to be compelling to a user. Goes without saying, but important nonetheless.

    Right now SMS & the phone seem to be the (relatively) sacred garden; free from the intense flow of 3rd party communication that has become our email inbox. While I do believe that’s going to change more in and more in the years to come I haven’t decided if that’s a good thing….

  •  “My message to all web developers – if you are serious about what you are doing, focus on your app. Don’t waste precious development time on all the activities around the app.”

    This can be extrapolated to business in general.  Focus on what you do best, and leave the rest to accountants, attorneys, and the like.  Unless, of course, you are an accountant or attorney.

    • Rich


      I’ve noticed there always seems to be a hidden “rule of thumb” in Brad’s blog posts.

      I think focusing on your “core business” is the hidden gem in this one. Outsourcing a non-core function is great. In the words of Forest Gump “…one less thing…”.

  • Excellent take. This world would be one hell of a great place if everyone stuck to their strengths and partnered for the rest. 

  •  This reminds me of a diagram I saw on Tumblr a few weeks back. It showed how Craig’s List had been cannibalized by a whole host of new services over the years bit by bit. If you think about it Twitter, Facebook, even blogs are an expanded inbox. 

  • A Moment Of Appreciating Disqus

  •  we’re one of their very tiny customers. great stuff, hepful, useful, and dead easy to set up through heroku. Checking out Urban Airship

    I’ll add in for invites/beta launching. 

  •  Perhaps you’ve already seen it, but the following article for an API called “Mr. Privacy” seems to have the right idea in terms of treating email as a platform for social media:

  • Anonymous

     Social media works as great way of adding value to your company as it allows you to quickly and easily get your business known. Another great idea entrepreneurs should consider as a great way of adding value to their companies is valuable design. You can read more about it here: