YouSendIt: They will get it.

By Subraya Mallya - January 2010 | Topics - SaaS

We all have had those moments where we run into this need to urgently mail documents to someone, overnight, international and on-time. Fred Smith revolutionized that industry by providing a reliable service that people bank on to have their documents delivered on-time to practically all the corners of the globe. That was 20 years ago.

Fast Forward 20 years. The world is now more interconnected and digital. Emerging communities and countries alike are increasingly relying on technologies to communicate, correspond, inform and share information. Does that mean those ad-hoc needs to deliver critical documents to people on time to conduct their business or meet personal obligations are no longer there? Not quite.

We all have run into that situation where we had a demo for a customer in another part of the country and just a couple of hours before that we realize we have the wrong slide deck. Or there is a critical demo in a conference and we have code for a bug fix that needs to be sent to the person doing the demo in a couple of hours.

As part of our technology solution review series, we had a chance to meet with Ranjith Kumaran (@ranjithkumaran), CTO and Co-Founder of YouSendIt and discuss about their on-demand Online File Sharing and Collaboration service. Here goes

SM: Hello Ranjith. You are the founder of the company. Tell us a little bit about yourself, the company, its genesis and the value proposition.

RK: My professional experience has spanned engineering, sales and marketing in environments where there were never enough hours in the day, starting at Red Hat where I wrote open source software, to a couple of Silicon Valley startups where I ran sales engineering teams and did product marketing for FPGA and ASIC design tools.  Eventually we would run into the need to send marketing slide decks, specs, and designs to colleagues that were in the field or remote offices, always under a tight deadline. The documents were large and sensitive in nature, and given all the limitations of email the primary tool we had available was FTP. We all know the challenges with FTP sites. For starters, we would have to hassle IT to create accounts and if you get past that, you now had to deal with the governance issues around maintaining that FTP site. Passwords, security of the document, cleanup etc. That’s when we came up with this idea of an easy, secure and reliable way for people to send large documents inside or outside the firewall. We always considered ourselves the digital equivalent of  FedEx, guaranteeing business class delivery.

SM: Good comparison and reference point in terms of service. Let us talk a little bit about your customers. Who is a typical buyer of this service? Small business or Large Enterprises? Is it a IT or a business buy?

RK: Our business is a continuum of business users and consumers. Using the FedEx analogy again, users may have both personal documents and work related documents they need to deliver. So our customers are individuals, small businesses and IT organizations of large enterprises. In fact, in most of the cases it has been employees of the company using it in an ad-hoc way and liking the service for its simplicity and reliability and referring it to their IT teams. So we have had IT contacting us saying – “this service is so simple and takes away a big headache for us”. The fact that we provide detailed metadata about each transaction including send, receipt and tracking history makes it invaluable for them. They now don’t to worry about setting up and maintaining FTP sites and governing them.

While small and medium businesses constitute the largest customer base now, we are seeing rapid adoption within large global companies that have multiple offices or partners operating in established and emerging economies.

SM: Tell me, who are your biggest competitors? Someone like Sharepoint, Documentum already installed in the company or Google Docs in cloud provides similar hosted solution which people can use to host these documents and share them. Why would someone use YouSendIt?

RK: We’ve been doing this for 5 years now, before a lot of the cloud content management solutions launched. Our view has always been that our solutions are designed for busy people. They want a simple workflow to send and track important documents. We didn’t want our user to have to contend with the complex access control challenges you would face in a content management system, especially when you are dealing with ad-hoc interactions with an external party. Ease-of-use is a key focus for YouSendIt and the biggest reason why 11 million people use our service. Another consideration about ease-of-use is the recipient experience. All they have to do is click a link that is in the email notification and they can get to the document.  This makes for strong viral distribution of our service. The positive first time experience for recipients helps us convert them into senders down the line when they have a document delivery need.

One more thing we do to different ourselves is we are not a storage service for stale content. We focus exclusively on the delivery and access of living documents that are important to you and your colleagues.

SM: I can vouch for that for having been a recipient. So tell me a little bit more about the product footprint. You have a website, where I can sign-up and upload documents, identify my recipients and send it.

RK: When we started the company, for the longest time our entire application was three pages; we spent a long time refining the core user experience. We realized early on that while the service was widely liked, we needed to close the gap between document creation and delivery. So we have built plug-ins for some of widely used document creation and collaboration tools like Office, Photoshop, and Outlook. We’ve continued to make the service a platform and make it available to as many places as possible and easy for users to access. We’ve allowed customers and partners to embed our service as part of their workflow and we’ll continue to explore all avenues to connect the point-of-need source and delivery destination wherever documents need to be shared. For example we recently released an iPhone App to help customers track documents on the go.

SM: Embedding yourself in to a business workflow seems like natural progression for a service like yours. I can think of this being a service being applicable to a contract approval workflow where the final signed version of the contract can automatically be send to the escrow company or in a Service case, send additional support artifacts to a field service person already on site.

RK: Yes. We are starting to look at vertical business workflows. In fact a customer of ours, a Fortune 1000 security company, uses us as part of their helpdesk process to retrieve log files from customer sites for analysis by their support team.

Another large oil & gas company uses as part of their sales process to share documents with customers from SalesForce.com.

SM: While the virtues of sharing information are enormous the necessary evil there is the governance requirements. There are companies like CodeGreen Network etc built to track outflow of information so an IT audit can be supported. What if any are customers asking you or you are doing to help customers with that?

RK: In addition to expanding our reach, we have also invested in building very deep tracking solutions for professional documents being shared. The sender is notified of each interaction with the document and he can see a trail of event history. Even if the documents themselves expire or are purged, the metadata about the document, its access information etc. is persisted and available to the customers if they so choose. Customers regularly use our tracking functions to make sure important documents reach the person on time and have been acted upon. Although we are not a public company, we conduct extensive internal audits. Considering that we manage critical information belonging to our customers we take that matter very seriously. Major compliance certifications like SOX and HIPPA are on our roadmap.

By the way the large security company that I mentioned earlier conducted a detailed audit of our premise, data centers and gave us the thumbs up as part of the RFP before signing the deal.  We maintain our own datacenters in North America and co-locate with Rackspace in Europe.

SM: Talking about Data Centers, Cloud Computing is the topic that is occupying all the board meetings (in addition to executive meetings). In my past job, I remember our board asking when we would move to cloud and reduce our DC cost. Do you guys have the same discussion? Do you support Amazon EC2 if customer already has an account?

RK: We are asked about it all the time. My response has been – considering the critical information we store for customers and the reliability that we need to provide we need solid SLAs and guarantees of service; it’s not that we’re trying to be difficult; it’s simply what our customers’ demand of us. This is one of the reasons we built out our own datacenters in the early days, to have complete control of this. Customers who are interested in a specific cloud storage solution or their own local datacenter for storage will be able to do so in the near future; we’ve been testing this internally. Again, something our customers have asked for.

SM: Also key decision point in terms of choosing a datacenter is the customer demographics. Are your customers primarily North America, Europe or you have presence in emerging economies as well? And do you have your data centers located accordingly to support them?

RK: In general we follow the money and customers when it comes to making infrastructure decisions. At this time, North America constitutes the largest chunk of our customers, followed by Europe and some in APAC. Our datacenters are based in San Jose and London and they seem to serve the demographics well for now. But as we see growth and needs in other parts of the world, we will expand our IT footprint accordingly to meet those needs.

SM: That brings up the all important licensing, pricing topic. I have already made investments in a corporate document management system and I have a corporate FedEx account, now what am I shelling out when signing up for YouSendIt? Are there payload/storage quotas?

RK: To stay true to our ease-of-use story there are many ways to adopt our services. As a customer you have four choices:

  1. FREE Lite account that is limited to 100MB documents
  2. Pay-per-use transactions that you can buy on demand
  3. Monthly subscriptions from $9.99 to $29.99 per month per seat
  4. Corporate IT deployments which start at 25 seats and scale to 10s of 1000s of seats

In general we don’t like to play the limits game for paid users and instead look to add value to the end user and IT organizations workflows and needs.

As for document size that is being transported, we allow up to 2GB file size for the paid accounts; we are testing unlimited file sizes as well.

SM: How big is your sales force? What percentage of your sales comes from online? Do you have a VAR channel?

RK: We are primarily a online sales model but have a very small sales force to support inside sales. 85% of our sales are through the online channel. Those large corporate deals where the terms are customized are usually deferred to our sales force. We also have partners who bundle our service as part of theirs and sell them to customers.

SM: How big is the team? Is this the only location you operate from?

RK: We have 90 employees. Most of us are in the Campbell office. We do have a small team in India and a handful around the world including Canada but have been growing quickly locally.

SM: So tell what are some of the key milestones coming up in your strategic roadmap for the company?

RK: Increasing the reach of our services into more vertical workflows and IT environments is important going forward. Governance initiatives like SAS-70 are in the works. Besides that we consider customer support  and customer experience as a key in building a larger business so we are making investments in that area. The bulk of our distribution is through word of mouth today.

SM: Thanks Ranjith for taking time to share the details around YouSendIt. Keep us posted on new and bigger things happening with the company.

PrudentCloud’s take: We think YouSendIt is a great service for adhoc secure document delivery needs that we run into. With recent announcement from Google expanding Google Docs into more of a global storage play, this could be a ideal tuck-in for Google to add as a feature for its Google Apps customers.

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  • Richard D

    I read the whole interview and I still don’t get it. How is this solution different from me using Google Docs and share it. It automatically sends the link to the person I am sharing thereby eliminating the email attachment size issue. Google Docs also provides versions and access information. Now with Google opening up the Docs to allow any kind of file, I am still trying to see what is value of a service like this. Maybe it is just me but I don’t see why I would use something like this.

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  • Hi Richard, thanks for the question. The answer boils down to user behavior, which is something we try hard not to change at YouSendIt. While many other collaborative platforms require both users (the sender and the recipient) to adopt a new system (often having to, say, manage new logins and respond to new types of event notifications) our most successful services are deeply embedded into existing workflows. For instance user adoption of YouSendIt services inside large enterprise is dominated by Outlook, Office, Acrobat, etc. These are environments that knowledge workers are already familiar with and are already using to manage ad-hoc projects and workflows. Similarly IT organizations already have processes to govern these systems for compliance, provisioning, and maintenance. A similar story can be told about our individual users who use us alongside webmail, IM, blogs and so forth. In our experience we see much more engagement when we don’t introduce changes in behavior.

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