Reimagining Email Infrastructure with Chief Product Officer Mike Hillyer

Total Runtime: 15:08

1:40 – Why Join the SocketLabs Team? 

4:47 – What Challenges is SocketLabs Addressing within the Email Landscape? Doesn’t Email just Work as it Is? 

8:29 – What is SocketLabs doing, Specifically in the Coming Months, that will Directly Address the Challenges you Described in Email delivery and Reporting? 

12:24 – How will these New Technologies Enable Businesses to get More from Their Email? 

(Keep scrolling for a full transcript of the conversation.)

Evolving the Way Businesses Use Email with Infrastructure Reimagined by SocketLabs 

Today we talk to SocketLabs’ Chief Product Officer, Mike Hillyer to hear a little bit more about how SocketLabs is optimizing the email infrastructure landscape to make email an even more powerful, productive, and profitable tool for businesses around the world.  

The Conversation 


Hi, everyone. And thanks for joining me. My name is Lauren Meyer, Chief Marketing Officer for SocketLabs. And today I’m sitting down for a conversation with our SocketLabs, Chief Product Officer, Mike Hillyer. Today, Mike and I will be digging into the challenges we’ve been seeing within the realm of email delivery, which are often tied to the sending infrastructure that you’re using. And in most cases, email senders don’t even think about their email infrastructure until something has gone seriously sideways. Mike and I will also discuss the future of email delivery and what SocketLabs is doing to make email easier and more profitable for our customers. 

So a little bit about Mike – Mike’s been working in technology for almost 20 years with roles spanning from developer to solutions architect, product manager, he’s led a global sales team. He’s been a business analyst, general manager, founder, CEO, entrepreneur. He’s kind of done a bit of everything, which is obviously exciting for us here at SocketLabs. He also spent more than 12 years at message systems, which later went on to be SparkPost before starting his own agency called EmailNinjas that specializes in the installation, configuration and support of on-premises MTAs. SocketLabs has very recently acquired EmailNinjas, and now I’m happy to say that Mike is working at SocketLabs as our chief product officer. Yay!  

So thanks so much for joining me today. Mike, what do you think? Should we kick this off?  


Let’s do it! 

With all your experience in email infrastructure and even founding your own business around it, what made you join the SocketLabs team?  


Great question. So, to me, email is essentially the beating heart of most of the businesses that we deal with. It’s not something that – kind of like your heart – you don’t really pay attention to it a lot, right? It’s there, you know, it’s going, boom, boom, boom. But you don’t really pay a lot of attention to what’s going on with it as long as it’s doing its job. And so many organizations depend heavily on email for some or all of their  revenue and all of their new customer acquisition and communications of all these things. But it’s a thing that’s been sitting there, kind of on the shelf, just doing its thing. It doesn’t get a lot of attention, but I’ve always been focused and interested and really wanting to take care of senders and how they take advantage of that infrastructure. It’s something that really hasn’t evolved a lot in the last several years. 


That makes so much sense. And this actually reminds me of the comment that our CEO, Tim Moore made when he said “email infrastructure has yet to be optimized”. And it sounds like that’s basically exactly what you’re talking about here.   


So when I started EmailNinjas, it was because I had seen where the industry was going and there was a strong move to “let’s go to the cloud for all email infrastructure”. And I recognized that there was a need in the market still for on-prem senders. Most of the mail that still goes out is going out through an on-prem server of some kind, because even if you use a third-party cloud provider or an email service provider to send your mail, they in turn have an on-prem mail server. And as I looked at the different vendors that were out there, I started talking to SocketLabs.  

I helped SocketLabs to look at essentially how their offerings fit into the marketplace. And the advantage that I saw is that SocketLabs was focused on optimizing email infrastructure. On building a better platform rather than yet another platform.  One that would be able to service not only those who wanted to do self-serve in the cloud, but also accommodate service providers, give them the ability to work on on-prem if they wanted to, cloud if they wanted to and really play to those strengths. And those aligned with the focus that I had at EmailNinjas, which is: how do we help senders essentially be as successful as possible, mostly on-prem, but also with whatever platform they chose. And that gets into when I would speak with Tim, he wanted to create an optimized platform and get away from yet another email solution.  And that really resonated with me.  


And I think that’s actually the reason that I’m here as well. We’re doing something that’s different. We’re doing something that’s new. We’ve all been in this industry for a long time, and this is something that we have experienced firsthand. 

What challenges is SocketLabs addressing within the email landscape? Doesn’t email just work as it is? 


It kind of does, and yet at the same time, it kind of doesn’t. It’s funny in a way, because when you think about it, SMTP is simple mail transfer protocol. At its core, it’s a very simple set of plain English commands that that one server sends to another to say, “Hey, I’ve got a message. Can you take the message?” At that level, everything just kind of works. The problem is that we’ve built up so much around it, right? All of these foundational concepts around email and SMTP all come from a very bygone era at this point, based around saying, “Well, we have number of universities. Those universities just want to send some email back and forth. It’s not in high volume. We trust everyone that they are who they say they are and that it’s going to deliver.” And then somebody had to come along and go, “Hey, all you guys at the universities, I’ve got some stuff I could sell you if you want it.” And lo and behold, spam becomes a thing. And so that kind of Cold War between spam and anti-spam has a bunch of legitimate senders caught in the middle. And as this is all consolidated together, you wind up with now where we’re dealing with essentially email service providers, marketing service providers that are trying to send large volumes of email on infrastructure that historically, is not really built for their needs. There’s been commercial solutions come along, but those commercial solutions were built around performance and maybe getting some deliverability automation, but they were never really tooled to these large, multi-tenant environments. They’re used by them, but what happens is that each of these large service providers winds up reinventing certain wheels.  

And so what happens is, they have a bunch of tenants over here. They feed them into a system that has a bunch of IPS, which they’re trying to map to these tenants as best they can. If they have shared pools, this server has no idea really who these tenants are. They wind up putting headers and markers and everything  in, and then it goes in here, and it comes out in a log and they try to extract the markers back out and translate that back into their multi-tenant concept. But it’s not truly multi-tenant in that infrastructure itself. And so, all of that was really built around direct senders. 

They keep rebuilding, reinventing certain components to try to put scaffolding around these servers. And there’s a real challenge, that you’ll look at these organizations and email is the core and the fundamental of how they make their money. And yet there’s maybe one guy running it at the bottom, keeping the servers alive, a few other people helping with deliverability. But this key critical component of their infrastructure requires a lot of skill, monitoring, discovery and investigation when things don’t go right. And yet there’s not a lot of tools built into this box to help them to do that.  

I’ve seen this, I’ve helped customers out. We’ve had to build, again, scaffolding to take the logs, add a little search tool, make that searchable and give them that information. And there are solutions coming out now where they say, “Hey, if you push your data to our cloud, we’ll give you the reporting for an extra fee.” But that’s kind of the beginning and end of a lot of hybrid solutions, is to say, “we’ll make it easy for you to move to our cloud. So you can pay us to send in our cloud rather than sending in your own infrastructure.” 


And it is so funny because I have seen all of these issues myself over the years and it’s one of those – it almost feels like, well, “here’s our house and it’s protected. You can’t knock it down, but like, oh, we need this. Oh, we need that.” So yeah, the scaffolding really kind of nailed it for me when it’s just like, you’re just, you’re just putting stuff over here with sticky tape. And you’ve got something over here with some glue, and it’s working, but it’s so not efficient. So that’s really cool. 

What is SocketLabs doing, specifically in the coming months, that will directly address the challenges you described in email delivery and reporting? 


So what we’re doing is we’re being pretty ambitious. We’re looking at essentially, how do we architect a platform that addresses exactly what people are looking for, which is in the service provider space, something that is truly multi-tenant. 

The other thing we want to be able to do with this platform is create something that works much more proactively. You’ve got a lot of experience. We’ve both done this a lot. I go into organizations back when I was running EmailNinjas, and I’d say, “how do you know when something’s wrong?” What do you think the most common answer is?  

Support has been complained to, and reaches out to Operations and Deliverability to say “the customer is upset that X has occurred”. Our goal is to reach out to the customer and say, “you had a problem and we fixed it.” And the only way you can do that is by getting better reporting and analytics, that actually has enough intelligence to say, “we see a problem is occurring”, and we alert our Operations team or your Operations team before your customer alerts your Support team. And that requires really focusing on: what do users really need from analytics? If you look at a lot of the solutions that are out there, they’ve been out for years, nobody’s reinvented that wheel.  

We’re seeing, you know, more effort to try to be more intelligent around certain things, but at the same time, it really all still comes down to “here’s some data”, right? We need to get past data. We need to get from data to intelligence and from intelligence to action. What we’re looking to do is to give people that intelligent platform that makes it easy to take action.  

And one of the ways we’re doing that is by implementing a decision engine. We have scripting and rules available. And again, not only are we adding a rule engine, but we’re adding an on multi-tenant basis, even in our cloud solution. And that means that we can create rules. We can create intelligence that applies not just server-wide, not just platform-wide, but can also be implemented at the individual tenant level. 

In addition to that, what we’re looking at is producing something that is truly hybrid. If you look out in the marketplace today, you’ll see hybrid mentioned here or there, but a lot of times hybrid means one of two things: we’ll sell you an on-prem server or, and/or we’ll sell you a cloud server. Would you like both? Would you like one? Would you like the other? Or it’s, “we have introduced new technologies that make it possible, make it easier for you to pay us on a per-message basis by moving to our cloud servers.” There hasn’t really been anything that is truly hybrid. And yet at this point, a lot of our senders that we work with and that we talk to are hybrid environments. 

I have many consulting clients that I go into and I say, “so how do you send it?” “Well, we’ve got a couple of IPs over at this transactional mail provider. We’ve got a couple over here. We’ve got a couple of servers onsite. We’re using this vendor for campaign generation to move in. At the same time, we have these internal systems that are hitting our internal MTAs to send transactional messages out to some of our users.” The answer is they’re using all of the above. And the only way to do all of the above right now is to individually work with each of the, all of the above systems.  

And that’s how we take advantage of being a hybrid platform is to say that it really is hybrid. It’s not about saying, “Hey, we want you to use this”. Or “we want you to use that”. It’s about going to our customers and saying, “what are you looking to achieve? And what are your resources, and how can we glue them all together and give you one place to manage it, one place to see the reports, one place to configure.”  


I love that. And it’s so funny because even just within DMARC reporting, right? How many times has somebody kind of implemented DMARC, they get the reporting and they’re like, “wait, whoa, wait, we’re sending from here? And wait, what? What’s that server over there?” 

And “I didn’t even know we were running that program in marketing… what’s going on?” And you do, you realize all of these different layers and all these different little groups that are using all of this different infrastructure. So bringing it together, it really sounds exciting. I love it.  

How will these new technologies enable businesses to get more from their email? 


One of the things we wanted to change from kind of the status quo that we’re seeing now is currently, if an email infrastructure has its own web UI, a root-level admin UI, you log in and you’ve got keys to the kingdom. You can change things. You can modify things. You can see everything. Part of multi-tenancy is also talking about just multiple user types. And so not only do we want to potentially make it possible for our service providers to white label it and give people access to the system, we want to do it in a way that isn’t just, “here’s all the keys to the kingdom. Here’s everything you want to see.”  

Kind of like I was mentioning before, you’ve got these different layers that different people work at. You have your Ops people who are running these servers. They want to make sure it’s operational. In a hybrid environment, they want to be able to say, “here’s my servers, here’s my external resources. Here’s how they all kind of talk to each other and how I get all the data back together.” But then you have additional layers that people need to work with. So you’d go up a level, and now you’re talking to your deliverability people. And they don’t really need to know “where are the servers, how do they all talk to each other? How does it all route?” That’s not really the concern. It’s “what are my IPs? What are my sending domains? How am I doing? Are there problems? Can you show me what my current problems are?” Not – I mean, line graphs are great. I do want to  know what my volume and everything looks like. It shows trending, but can you show me what I need to pay attention to right now? Hey, I’ve got a tenant that doesn’t have proper DKIM signing going on. I have a tenant that is seeing way too many bounces right now. Bring that to the top of my view and show me that.  

And then on top of that, you have personas. Like, for example, I mentioned before: Customer Service. I don’t need to know about IPs. I don’t need to know about servers. What I need to know is “what happened to Mr. Johnson’s email about his prescription being ready? Why didn’t he get?” 

So I want to just search his email address and see the events that occurred so I can tell him, “Hey, we made the delivery. You need to talk to your inbox provider”, for example. And that’s a very common use case. And again, most of the time that’s scaffolding that winds up built outside the platform because it’s provided out-of-the-box. So we’re looking at and seeing and working on user experience to say, “how do we not only create an interface that works at these different levels, but that works for the expectations of these different user types?” 


All right, email nerds. We’ve made it to the end of yet another episode! Thanks to you, Mike, for sharing your insights and inspirations on the future of email. Speaking on behalf of the entire team here at SocketLabs, we are just beyond excited to have you here and can’t wait to see what you’re going to do with what’s coming next for email. So thanks to all of you for tuning in. See you next time.  


Thank you!

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