Getting The Mail Through

On this snowy morning in NYC, I am reminded of the US Post Office’s motto, “neither rain, nor sleet, nor snow will stop the mail from getting through”. I am sure I bastardized this motto, but you know what I mean.

In the email business, its not rain, sleet, or snow that’s the problem, its the spam filters that have gone up everywhere.

Consumers are now being protected by AOL, Yahoo, Microsoft, Earthlink, and others. Corporations are being protected by BrightMail, Postini, and many others. And that’s a good thing. See all my posts on Spam and you’ll know that I hate spam and have had terrible problems with it.

The point I am making is that there is this new business opportunity in email that’s probably going to be as big as the sending business is today. The market for email sending services for legitimate commercial marketers (your bank, your utility, your retailer, your newspaper, your car company, etc) is somwhere between $300 million and $500 million today and continues to grow. I have an investment in one of the largest email service providers (ESPs) called Bigfoot Interactive so I know a bit about this business. The ESP business has to date been all about composing the mail, buildig the list, segmenting it, and then sending the mail.

But that’s changing. Sending the mail doesn’t mean much these days if it doesn’t get through. And it’s a lot of work to get it through. You have to make sure the content of the mail doesn’t have anything in it that could get it caught in a filter. You have to make sure the subject line is “clean”. And you have to make sure you are on everyone’s “white list”. This last one’s a big one. And its where the next battle will be fought in the email business.

Every spam filter has a white list. It’s a list of “good” senders. If you are on the white list, your mail gets through as long as the content isn’t problematic. AOL has a huge white list. Yahoo has one. Earthlink and Microsoft have them. Bright Mail, Postini, and all the commercial filters have white lists. Every white list is a dynamic list, it changes all the time depending on the activity, the complaints, etc.

So managing these white lists and making sure you are on them is going to be a huge business. The ESPs like Bigfoot Interactive are in this business now and that’s why they are on a growth spurt. They’ve got a new product to offer their customers.

But what if you are a company that sends email in-house and doesn’t use an ESP? Then you have this new problem and don’t have the resources to deal with it. There are companies that can help. I’ve got an investment in a company called Return Path that offers “assured delivery” services. I think they are the best company in the assured delivery business that’s not an ESP.

So if you are worried that the electronic equivalent of rain, sleet, and snow is going to stop your email from getting through, call Bigfoot Interactive or Return Path.

#VC & Technology