The story of how "The Hippo" came to be.
Rowland O'Connor - CEO, Email Hippo Ltd
Getting to the point of the first baby steps of "Email Hippo" is an incredible journey that started way back in 2000 (yes, it really was 17 years ago!). The story starts as "me" (apologies for the early self indulgences in our story) and evolves into "us" (i.e. the team of enthusiastic professionals that we now have in place in 2017 at Email Hippo). Here's the time-line:
Broadband-Help.Com - Happy Days
broadband-help.com was an information site on UK broadband topics. Started back in 2000, it was originally created to provide helpful resources to early adopters of xDSL and cable technology. In 2000, the predominant method for getting online was dial up modems with a maximum speed of just 56kbps. With the rapid adoption of fast internet connections by consumers came an equally fast consumer dissatisfaction with connection speeds, poor availability in rural areas and sharp commercial and technical practices of various ISPs.
As an early adopter of a cable broadband connection (it was NTL at the time), I experienced my fair share of technical frustration with intermittent connection as well as what can only be described as equally intermittent customer service from NTL. broadband-help.com was created to share my experiences and hard found resolutions to problems with the wider community.
The site quickly became one of the few go-to resources for UK broadband topics. I have fond memories of SEO competitiveness with ThinkBroadband (formerley ADSL Guide) in those early days where our sites jostled for rankings on Google page 1. At its peak in 2005, broadband-help.com received an average visitor footfall 3,000 daily users on the site.
The site paid its way with affiliate marketing (i.e. revenue share on any click through referrals to various well reputed ISPs that performed well in our user ISP reviews section).
In an effort to boost site visitor numbers, broadband-help.com provided a number of interesting online tools and apps loosely related to broadband / networking technology. One of these tools was a simple input text box that performed email address validation. I didn't notice the popularity of the email address tool until much (several years) later in 2009.
Broadband-Help.Com - The Fall
The great financial crisis of 2007–08 hit Affiliate Marketers hard (very hard in my case).
Between the three months of September and December 2008, I witnessed revenue that was equivalent to a decent living wage dwindle to almost nothing. This demise in revenue was further compounded by my (foolish in hindsight) decision to embark on a business arrangement with a well known affiliate brand (money****rt.com, hint and nod as I think I'm still under NDA) for a long term lease (on to possible acquisition) of broadband-help.com.
(Un)helpfully money****rt.com's first task on taking lease of the site was embark on some black hat SEO on broadband-help.com in an effort to boost search rankings (the site was already page 1 in Google - not sure to this day what the thinking was?). The effect of this SEO was immediate and devastating. Within a week of money****rt.com SEO activities, Google picked up on it and immediately removed broadband-help.com entitrely from search results (fair enough Google, of course). Traffic went from > 3,000 users per day to just a few dozen.
The site never recovered. money****rt.com, having decimated the SEO on the site, walked away from the lease deal. As far as I heard, the guy at money****rt.com responsible for putting together the deal was sacked (I was genuinely sorry to hear about this - not his fault!).
Ouch! No hard feelings, it just "is" (now ancient history). Lessons learned though.
Interestingly, and several years later, money****rt.com went on to become one of our customers for email validation services in eVerify. Not that the people concerened would have recognised or remembered that we already had "history" but it was somewhat amusing that our paths crossed once again. It is a small world indeed.
Having realized that the affiliate marketing party was over, it was time to get serious about other ways to earn a living wage. In searching through the web logs of broadband-help.com to see if there was anything worth salvaging, I spotted some fairly major traffic still going on to our email validation page (the page created way back in 2005 to attract additional site visitors). Email validation? An opportunity perhaps?
Next phase to assessing the opportunity was to check out the existing service providers. In 2009, there were no providers of online services - none at all. The only solutions in existence were desktop based programs. I knew that these solutions had one inherent weakness - email (SMTP) operations cannot be done effectively on desktop computers as mail servers don't trust the dynamic IP addresses of home or small business ISP networks. Sure enough, the support forums of the vendors making the desktop systems were filled with complaints from customers about accuracy and IP blocks etc. Bingo - there's the opportunity to make a positive difference to customer experience of this technology! I knew that the answer to the accuracy problems experienced in desktop based systems was to put the service into a server / cloud based infrastructure where a better level of trust between mail servers and IP addresses existed.
In the fall of 2009, having identified a need in the market for accurate, online email address verification, Rolosoft (well actually just me as Rolosoft is a company of one i.e. yours truly) set out to create the worlds first, self service online email validation platform. By early December 2009, the first prototype web based platform for email validation was ready for beta testing.
Beta testing completed and in January 2010, the service launched under a new brand *****-*******.com.
*****-*******.com* went live in January 2010 trading under its owner company, Rolosoft Ltd. In the first two months of go-live, the service attracted several hundred new accounts including several coprorate clients (some of whom are still with us in 2017).
The system was running on a single server running just four IP addresses. As demand increased, the infrastructure struggled to keep up with demand. I struggled to keep up with working a seperate day job, coming home and then doing everything required in *****-*******.com* including support, enquiries, infrastructure and software development, accounting and book keeping and so on. I kept the service running but this was not a sustainable position - I needed help.
Edit update: October 6th, 2016 - What's with the ***** [redacted stuff]?
It's been just over one year since demerger. Our former brand *****-*******.com was handed over to our former colleagues as part of our corporate re-structure (see 'eVerify Ltd' below).
As Email Hippo, we have been successful in establishing our core value proposition and continue to strengthen our brand identity. A critical component of this success is the building of trust and respect with everyone that we deal with. Email Hippo is 100% committed to fair and honest treatment of customers, staff, suppliers and the wider data community in general. Part of establishing and maintaining this trust is to be as honest as we can in all things, not only our own company and service but also the state of the data cleansing market in general.
Quality, Privacy and Professional Engineering Standards
One of the issues in our industry that concerns Email Hippo greatly is the increasing number of providers entering the sector with shaky service offerings in terms of quality. We're absolutely fine with fair competition and welcome the positive effects that competition brings to the marketplace because everyone benefits: Customers get wider choice, providers are forced to innovate (something that we love at Email Hippo!) and the industry as a whole moves forward. In other words, we believe that 'a rising tide raises all ships' and this is absolutely a good thing.
Based on increasing levels of pre-sales feedback from potential customers over the year (2016) regarding quality of email verification services in our sector, we took the initiative and committed resources to regularly measuring the overall quality of services being offered to customers by providers (ourselves included). The way that this works is that we 'Mystery Shop' competitors and use a known list as a baseline for comparison. The comparisons can be found here .
After three runs of the competitor analysis, we were shocked at the wide variance in results from providers. Based on our findings, we conclude that, as a customer shopping around, it will inevitably be incredibly difficult to achieve a satisfactory quality result from many providers in the marketplace today (as of October '16). We now completely understand the reasons behind the increasing levels of skepticism (regarding email verification services in general) from clients over the last few months.
In our report dated Sept '16, we monitored our former colleagues (*****-*******.com) service offering. It did not fair well - clearly there are some fundamental technical issues still being worked on. Based on the particularly low quality score and the incorrect and misleading claims on Yahoo! accuracy, we feel it incumbent on us to redact our former relationship with (*****-*******.com). This is necessary to unequivocally clarify that the (*****-*******.com) service as it stands today is in no way associated with Email Hippo products, services, technology and business ethics / practices.
Email Hippo believes in delivering quality services at affordable rates. To achieve this, we commit to understanding the needs of our customers (privacy, reliability, speed, functionality, support) and deliver on these requirements. Delivering on these key aspects is not easy - it takes the right combination of people, processes, infrastructure, business practices, quality procedures, R&D and so the list goes on. This is why Email Hippo has robust data privacy policies (we are embarked on ISO27001:2013 and will be fully certified by Jan '17). Our R&D and product development team follow best Engineering Practices such as documenting requirements, proving concepts, implementing software using Test Driven Development (TDD), performing pre-production testing, defining and documenting change management procedures etc. All of this is part of how we promise on and deliver our 99.9% SLA.
Unfortunately, not all of our competitors are so committed to their customers and seem to be more focused on profit than delivering on their marketing promises. This approach of 'over promising and under delivering' inevitably results not only in customer dissatisfaction but also in painting a dim picture of the data cleansing industry in general. We completely understand this view and, with the research of the last few months, the reasons behind the perceptions.
At Email Hippo, we are doing what we can to clean up the perception of email verification providers. We do this because we believe that all customers deserve the right information with which to make an informed choice.
eVerify Ltd was created as a company and registered in Autumn of 2011. It consisted of two directors; myself and another UK based entrepreneur.
Between September 2011 and October 2013, together we extended the capabilities of the business to meet the ongoing demand for cloud based email data cleansing services.
October 2013, it became apparent that the scope of our business activities had exceeded the capacity that the two of us could provide. Things needed to evolve and we needed more help.
November 2013 we took on our first full time employee. In the following months, we added to our team employing additional technical, support, sales and business administration staff.
The eVerify team continued to grow the business over the coming years until summer 2015. We also scaled up our software and cloud infrastructure to cope with increasing customer demand for better accuracy and speed of results.
summer 2015, it became apparent that there were fundamental differences in the two director's (of which I am one) visions for the strategic plans for the business (product development and commercial growth targets) moving forward. Unfortunately, and after a significant effort from both directors to reconcile these differing strategic visions, it was agreed that the best way forward for both parties was to de-merge the corporate interests fairly to both directors. The corporate de-merger completed on September 30th, 2015.
In our time in eVerify Ltd, we created a fantastic team of enthusiastic professionals. For me, this is the enduring legacy and fond memory of eVerify Ltd. This team goes on, some go with *****-*******, some come with me. It's important to note that, in the de-merger process, it's business as usual (continuity) for *****-*******.com clients. As our de-merger went largely unnoticed by clients is a testimony to the tremendous professionalism by everyone involved in the day-to-day tasks of executing the de-merger.
The *****-*******.com brand continues and is now owned and operated by my former business partner from eVerify. I wish all of the team (some old faces, some new) at *****-*******.com the very best.
Hippos' First Steps
emailhippo.com has a fantasic team consisting of the original developers responsible for creating the *****-*******.com and Rolosoft email validation technologies, first prototyped in 2009 and serving customers for over five years.
We also have carried forward the back end infrastructure developed in our eVerify Ltd days. As of October 2015, this server infrastructure consists of more than 30 servers and numerous cloud based platforms (thank you Azure and AWS) dispersed across three continents that ensures that we maintain good uptime, email checking coverage / accuracy and fast response times wherever our customers are based in the world.
Our technology literally has validated / cleaned hundreds of millions of email addresses over the years.
We've also fixed / improved on many of the "niggles" that we had in eVerify Ltd such as billing and invoicing. For billing, we now have a powerful, customer friendly solution in place for customers of Email Hippo or its VARs. This new billing platform is both strategic for us (simplifies our administration) and great for customers too in that you can now manage your own upgrades, downgrades and cancellations.
Another big change in emailhippo.com from a customer perspective is the fantastic new customer portal that we've developed. This new web based portal focuses on delivering our customers a pleasing, modern experience across a wide range of mobile and desktop devices. In this third iteration of customer portal (since 2009), we've applied the lessons learned over the years. The technical team responsible for the development of this portal is very proud of this new system and we hope that you enjoy it. The team will continue to improve and enhance the capabilities of the portal over the coming weeks and months.
Strategically, emailhippo.com has a clear mission for the future. It is simply this:
With the team that we are fortunate enough to have in place, I know that we can deliver on this promise.
Hippo marches forward but always with our core values ("affordable excellence") in mind in everything we do. Our technology and service are driven by enthusiastic professionalism (otherwise known as "passion") for what we do.
emailhippo.com takes your data privacy seriously.
As a cloud based company, we know that we ask for a huge amount of trust from you, our customer, when you send us your valuable data from processing.
Since offering this service way back in 2010 as Rolosoft, we have always appreciated the faith and trust that our customers have placed with us to look after their data.
We have gone to the effort of demonstrating our commitment to your data privacy by achieving ISO27001:2013 certifcation.
Thank you for taking time to read our history. I think you can see that our journey to the the current point in our business has been exciting.
If you have any questions or comments on this please do get in touch using the contact us or post in the comments section below.
I am especially keen to hear from those customers that have been with us since the early "Rolosoft" days. What are your thoughts on your own journey with us so far?
Rowland has previously had careers as an electical engineer, project manager, IT consultant, affiliate marketer, software and infrastructure architect and SCUBA diving instructor. Currenty roles are: dad, husband. Works as CEO at Email Hippo Ltd.