Dec 6 2009

A Perfect Ten

A Perfect Ten

Return Path turns 10 years old today.  We are in the midst of a fun week of internal celebrations, combined with our holiday parties in each office as well as year-end all-hands meetings.  I thought I would share some of my reflections on being 10 in the blog as I’ve shared them with our team. What being 10 means to me – and what’s enabled us to make it this long:

  • It means we’ve beaten the odds.  Two major global economic meltdowns.  The fact that 90% of new small businesses fail before they get to this point.  Probably a higher percentage of venture backed startups fail before they get to 10 as well
  • We’ve gotten here because we’ve been nimble and flexible.  Over our 10 years, we’ve seen lots of companies come and go, clinging to a model that doesn’t work.  We may have taken a while and a few iterations to get to this point, but as one of my Board members says, “we’re an overnight success, ten years in the making!”
  • We’ve also made it this long because we have had an amazing track record with our three core constituencies – employees, clients, and investors – including navigating the sometimes difficult boundaries or conflicts between the three

What I’m most proud of from our first decade:

  • We’ve built a great culture.  Yes, it’s still a job.  But for most of our team members most of the time, they like work, they like their colleagues, and they have a fun and engaging time at work.  That’s worth its weight in gold to me
  • We’ve built a great brand and have been hawkish about protecting our reputation in the marketplace.  That’s also the kind of thing that can’t be bought
  • We haven’t sacrificed our core principles.  We’ve always, going back to our founding and the ECOA business, had a consumer-first philosophy that runs deep.  This core principle continues to serve us well in deliverability (a non-consumer-facing business) and is clearly the right thing to do in the email ecosystem

What I most regret or would do differently if given the chance:

  • We have not raised capital as efficiently as possible – mostly because our company has shifted business models a couple of times.  Investors who participated in multiple rounds of financing will do very well with their investments.  First or second round angel investors who didn’t or couldn’t invest in later rounds will lose money in the end
  • I wish we were in one location, not five.  We are embracing our geographic diversity and using it to our advantage in the marketplace, but we pay a penalty for that in terms of travel and communication overhead
  • We have at times spread ourselves a little too thin in pursuit of a fairly complex agenda out of a relatively small company.  I think we’re doing a good job of reigning that in now (or growing into it), but our eyes have historically been bigger than our stomachs

Thanks to all our investors and Board members, especially Greg Sands from Sutter Hill Ventures, Fred Wilson from Flatiron Partners and Union Square Ventures, Brad Feld from Mobius Venture Capital, and Scott Weiss for their unwavering support and for constantly challenging us to do better all these years.  Thanks to our many customers and partners for making our business work and for driving us to innovate and solve their problems.  Thanks to our many alumni for their past efforts, often with nothing more to show for it than a line item on their resume.  And most of all, thanks to our hardworking and loyal team of nearly 200 for a great 2009 and many more exciting years ahead!