Welcome to Deliverability Week 2024!

This will be an awesome ride with incredible content from incredible people in this space.

Thanks to Al Iverson and Matthew Vernhout for putting this together and getting us all together to do this!

My Journey into Deliverability

The very beginning

I’ve been a computer geek since I first read about computers.

Don’t worry, I won’t bore you to tears with a whole book on my background, just some highlights …

My computer journey really started with my first ZX Spectrum 48k around 1987 or so. I have since worked on virtually every computer platform that ever existed, from ICL Mainframes to IBM Mainframes to Cray supercomputers to Raspberry Pi 5s and everything in between.

It’s been a JOURNEY.

What does any of this have to do with email and Deliverability?

BBS and international communications

I grew up in apartheid South Africa, which meant that we were, generally speaking, very isolated from the rest of the world. (Deservedly so!)

I had back then, and still today, an immense thirst for knowledge.

I needed to connect to the rest of the world and learn from it, which led me to bulletin board systems (BBS), which was kind of the forerunner to the commercial Internet.

I became a member of hundreds of BBSs and was fairly active in all of them. A BBS system included a messaging system where members could message each other.

I wasn’t yet working, so I had not yet been introduced to email, but these messaging systems on the BBSs gave me my very first introduction to spam. Imagine being a kid, living in an isolated country, being shown ways to become rich overnight by just paying the required $19.97 for shipping and handling ;-)

Thankfully for me, I had no credit card, and my parents refused to pay.

First steps into email

My second job out of high school was as an HP UNIX system administrator for the sole South African telephone provider. They migrated all their billing systems from ICL mainframes to these HP UNIX machines around 1993.

Fun side note … I was already working for this company as an ICL mainframe operator (my first job). I got the system admin job by hacking into the HP UNIX development server, getting full root privileges, and then writing a detailed report to senior management on how I was able to do it ;-) Told you I was a geek!

At the time, the company was running the Novell network operating system and using its proprietary email platform for email. I was already active in the fairly new Linux community at the time. I got hold of an old desktop computer lying around, and set it up as an email server. After a few months, this old desktop PC became the default email server for this huge national company.

Suddenly, over and above my normal system admin job on the HP UNIX system, I was also now the email system administrator for the Linux based email server.

Talk about being thrown into the DEEP end of fighting spam! Wow, did I learn QUICKLY what a big problem spam was, even back in the early 90’s!

Break from email

I stayed in the UNIX system administration space for a few more years, all the time running Linux based email servers.

I was first introduced to email marketing around 1997 as a way to make some extra money. Since there weren’t really any ESPs, I used personal email accounts. This was all part-time, low-volume, and low-income for me, as I was focusing on my actual job for the most part.

In the early 2000s, I moved out of the UNIX system administration space to large network-attached storage appliances. Email marketing had taken a back seat at this point.

Rediscovery and deep dive

By around 2006, living in the United Kingdom at this time, I really needed to make some extra money. The UK is expensive! ;-)

I returned to email marketing. By this time, there were a few ESPs, and we also had SPF for authentication, and there were some early forerunners to DKIM.

I dug deep into everything related to email, spam filtering, authentication requirements, etc., and learned a lot during the following years. It quickly became a passion and, to some extent, an obsession.

I also became frustrated by the very restrictive policies of the ESP I was using. All imported lists had to be confirmed by sending a confirmation message to every single subscriber, asking them to confirm they want to be added to my list (Confirmed opt-in). What do you mean I cannot import a purchased list?! ROFL.

I “knew I could do it better, so, set out to build my own ESP, that would NOT have such strict policies … Queue the laughter!

Own ESP

Just before launching my own ESP, we hit the economic collapse of 2008/2009, which led to me losing my job in the UK. As I had not been there long enough, I had to leave the country within 28 days. I had to pack up our whole house and move my wife and me, our two children, and our cat back to South Africa.

A few months after arriving back in South Africa, July 2009, my own ESP launched.

Within months of launching my own ESP, I learned exactly why the other ESPs had such strict policies.

Spammers will spam!

This ESP was now my sole source of income, and my savings was dwindling fast, so it was time to get serious about compliance and anti-spam, or my ESP would not survive for much longer.

Deliverability consulting

The ESP was doing well, and I was obsessed with learning more about getting to subscribers’ inboxes while keeping out the full-blown spammers and grey-area dwellers.

In early 2016, I was at a conference in San Diego when a long-time friend asked me to help him launch his own ESP. He wanted me to consult on all the back-end stuff, the compliance and anti-spam stuff, and most importantly, the deliverability stuff. (I still manage the email sending infrastructure and all things deliverability and compliance for this company ;-) )

Thus InboxJam was born.

I shut down my own ESP in late 2022, as I was just not keeping up with the rapid pace of development of the now hundreds of ESPs out there, and I wanted to focus on providing value by sharing my knowledge of deliverability, and helping good senders ensure that as far as possible, their messages were landing in the inboxes of their intended recipients.

What it means to me

At a personal level, deliverability is more than just a concept. It’s about ensuring that the messages I send reach the right people at the right time, directly to their inboxes.

On an economic level, deliverability gives me and my customers the income to live comfortable and productive lives.

The one thing I always say to anyone about email marketing and landing in the inbox is to send emails that people want and expect when they want and expect them.