HOWEVER, their entry-pricing is incredibly irritating. For $228/year you can't add any more than 5 invoices or reconcile more than 20 lines of bank statement per month. For the entire price of quickbooks every single year you should be able to at least use your accounting system.
I hate this argument. It's so narrowly focused (and for some reason, often regurgitated). Money adds up a lot quicker than that one hour of your time. If you save yourself 10 hours of work per month because of a couple services you pay for, but end up spending an extra $300/month while your startup isn't making any money -- is that actually smart time/money management?
There are more factors involved than simply how you value your time. The stage your business is in, how much money you're pulling in, how many other things you need to get done per day, is your startup bootstrapped, do you still have a day job, etc.
$228/year may be reasonable for a "limited" piece of software but it is too much for crippled software. Make it $60, make it work or take it away, it's an unnecessarily irritating package.
I'm planning to build an email subscription feature for swombat.com soon, and was looking at options like SendGrid, but I just can't justify the cost. When you send people a sign-up confirmation email, they expect it right now. If it's not there in a couple of minutes, in my experience, even the least tech-savvy have learned that they need to check their spam folder.
Getting high deliverability is actually incredibly complicated. You need a dedicated IP address to send mail from, which you need to be whitelisted by the big ESPs (E-mail Service Providers). To get it whitelisted, you need to "warm it up" before you start using it properly. You need to be very careful about setting the right headers. You need reverse DNS configured correctly, you need SPF and DomainKeys set up, you need to make sure the IP/domain you are sending from hasn't previously been used for spam... and even after all that, you probably need to set up a relationship with AOL/Gmail/Yahoo etc to make sure your stuff gets through. You also need to watch for their bounce / rate limit notifications and dial back your sending rates to match.
There's a whole lot more to it than just setting up an SMTP server.
As far as the ESPs are concerned, all of them appear to accept our emails just fine, except for Hotmail. We've largely given up on Hotmail, but then everyone who uses hotmail seems to be aware that it marks everything as spam and so they check their spam box as often as their inbox, from the looks of it.
It's a nice convincing argument. It just hasn't borne out in practice for us. Email is critical to us, and it gets delivered just fine the vast majority of the time. We've had about 2 cases in 3 years where we needed to intervene manually to talk to some kind of ESP to get us unblocked, because they'd randomly decided to blacklist our IP. That's not worth $80/m.
You need a dedicated IP address to send mail from, which you need to be whitelisted by the big ESPs
That is nonsense. Nobody reaches out to the ESPs to have their IPs "whitelisted" in advance. You reach out when, if and after you've been blacklisted, in order to get unlisted.
To get it whitelisted, you need to "warm it up" before you start using it properly.
You need to be very careful about setting the right headers. You need reverse DNS configured correctly, you need SPF and DomainKeys set up
Yes, there's a few things to watch out for, but it's all pretty well documented nowadays and you only have to do it once.
SPF is pretty easy with http://old.openspf.org/wizard.html
you need to make sure the IP/domain you are sending from hasn't previously been used for spam
A quick check at a few of the largest blacklists (spamhaus et al) takes all of 5 minutes.
Another 5 minutes that you have to spend exactly once.
[..further marketing pitch for MTA SaaS snipped..]
Well, to sum this up.
It seems many people have a strong misconception of what SendGrid, MailGun and friends actually do. You don't magically get higher deliverability only because your mail is passing through them. They don't have mythical "whitelist" slots at the ESPs. They're not even on the radar of the ESPs.
What you get from SendGrid et al is a (hopefully) properly configured MTA and DNS, to push your mail through. From there your outbound mail is suspect to all the usual blacklisting and scrutiny at the receiving endpoints.
And that's all - no black magic at work here.
That's nonsense, lots of people do that. Only you don't usually go direct to the service provider, see following links:
Lots of people also believe in astrology.
Anyone is free to do what they deem good for their karma, you just shouldn't expect a measurable impact towards your deliverability. The big ESPs don't look at these lists.
Some of them do.
AOL uses GoodMailSystems.
Hotmail uses ReturnPath.
Yahoo seems to run their own. I remember them using one of the big ones but I can't find any mention in their help pages now.
Google only asks for best practices, but it's possibly they look at some of the whitelists for more data.
Their sole purpose is to extract money from you. They're businesses, that is their business model.
The value they provide in return is rather minimal - unless getting e-mail out is at the very core of your business and you need to pull every last string to absolutely maximize it.
Otherwise there are cheaper ways to get reasonable deliverability even at AOL and Hotmail. The default deliverability is already quite good, which is what services like SendGrid largely bargain on. I firmly doubt SendGrid signs each of their customers up for the aforementioned whitelists. They probably offer "assistance" with the process, which probably amounts to sending you a link to a nice HowTo document, and which probably yields them a small affiliate kickback when you actually follow through.
You made a few points.
First is that nobody reaches out to get themselves whitelisted in advance. Lots of people do that and some ESPs even offer their own whitelist request forms.
Second is that none of the big ESPs look at third-party whitelists. AOL and Hotmail say they do.
Third is that even if the above is true, the impact on deliverability is minimal. I would guess you are right about that but I'd love to look at some data.
Intermediaries like SendGrid would be well within reason to be paying for such services. I don't think they have to signup their individual customers on the whitelists. They just say they are intermediaries and promise to vet their customers.
I think anyone sending low volumes of email is much better off using an intermediary. They get to use well-configured mail servers, IPs with good reputation, etc. Doing it yourself, IMHO, is not worth all the trouble compared to paying $20/month.
That's absolutely right, you don't. But email deliverability turned from a massive mystery and headache for us, into a sure-fire deal, the day after we implemented SendGrid. We develop translation/localization related apps, not email apps. So for us that's cool :)
I didn't mean to say they have no value proposition at all; the API and stats they provide can sure be useful for some.
All I was saying is that their raw deliverability is no different to running your own server. And your own server doesn't charge a few pennies per mail...
ISPs have lots of arbitrary policies. For periods of time my emails have been blocked from AOL and AT&T accounts, which make for a lot of headaches and support emails to deal with. (I'm just sending out forum registration, activation and thread subscription emails. no mass mailings.) For a while, we just told people to use non-AOL addresses.
Also, I haven't noticed a delay in email deliverability. It seems to deliver quickly.
Edit: If it matters, for reference, my forum sends out 6000-7000 emails a day.
In the future it may be the case that we move that in house, but right now it's working out really well.
We're using PostMark  which amounts to $1.50 per 1000 emails, which is cheap enough for our uses. It's one less thing to worry about so we can focus on more important tasks such as finishing the v2 we're about to launch!
 - http://spreedly.com/
 - http://postmarkapp.com
one of the points of SendGrid is that you pay them to worry about that, so you can concentrate on your core competency.
Where are you getting that from?
I see nothing on the SendGrid page to suggest they track your blacklist status or feel obliged to help with unlisting when it happens.
In there they admit that mails sent through Postmark still end up in Spam-folders or black holes. That was basically the only added value I'd get from using them.
I guess my responses are:
We needed a good system, not really outsourcing of support. So, we do our support in-house but we use the Zendesk SaaS system to manage it.
Email deliverability was not a piece of expertise we had in-house, especially when we were 2-3 people. Now we're 10-ish, our sysadmin guys STILL don't want to do this stuff.
Hand-coding HTML emails more than once was boring.
This is something we were on the fence about. The metrics visualization probably swung it.
Still a bit of friction in the decision between self-coding or using EE. But it's the 'annoying' stuff that swings it like plugin availability for new functionality, rather than do-it-yourself.
Couldn't do this ourselves.
Could do this ourselves, too cheap to bother.
Industry standard, makes sense to outsiders, reliable.
Awesome. No point building ourselves. Legal worries too if we did.
Yeah no way we want to build this.
The non-enterprise stuff we do is billed through our own app. But Xero makes sense for invoicing and proper accounts. Risk is, if you build it yourself, you need to know GAAP inside-and-out AND still it's a concern for outside auditors I think.
Yeah no way.
BONUS: Office Glico
Well, we could get an intern to go to the mom&pop store every week. But no.
That is the most underwhelming endorsement of salesforce.com I've ever seen.
They both solve a problem that is otherwise quite complicated and boring to solve, in a very simple, hassle-free way.
The killer feature for me is a very low false positive rate. Very few legitimate emails get blocked, based on the way they are filtered.
Does sendgrid allow this? I've signed up to SocketLabs which seems to do it but haven't been able to get SMTP sending working correctly yet, haven't spent much time on it though.
For the record, the amount of hassles I've had with SMTP servers these services are very handy, especially for logs etc like postmark has