Joe Uhl is the VP of Operations at MailChimp. He leads the teams that support the entire company — operations, delivery, IT, facilities, and office management.
We sat down with Joe to chat about deliverability, infrastructure, and what sets MailChimp apart.
Joe, should agencies be concerned with an ESP’s infrastructure?
Yeah, I think it matters a lot, and there are a bunch of different pieces to it, too. Is the ESP reliable? How often do they experience downtime? Are they transparent about it when they do? Here at MailChimp, we try to be as transparent as possible. We have a status page that’s constantly updated with raw monitoring data, and we take uptime very seriously.
It helps that we’re as big as we are, because we’re able to identify a lot of good patterns. It’s provided the opportunity for us to develop the building blocks that we needed to be able to scale as we have. We have thousands of servers, our own fiber loops, we’re in several of the carrier hotels in Atlanta — we’ve built up a serious infrastructure that you couldn’t just go get if you were falling behind.
What sets MailChimp’s infrastructure apart from the other ESPs?
Infrastructure-wise, we actually do a lot of things differently. Many competitors use big, third-party vendors, but we buy our own servers, use open-source software, and keep all of the expertise in-house. It helps us move faster. I’d rather find an expert and hire them to work here at MailChimp than flush that money away on a consultant somewhereFor some companies, if they wanted to do a feature shift, for example, they would need to plan and coordinate with those third parties to make sure they had a big enough database. We don’t have that type of limitation. We’re unusual in the ESP market because we’re built more like a Facebook or a Google in terms of how we shard and stack. Our units of infrastructure are pretty small. There are no single points of failure in the way we build things because we’d rather spread everything out. If we want to iterate, or react, we can just order more servers and do it. We don’t need to go through anyone else.
How is MailChimp’s approach to delivery unique compared to other ESPs?
In many cases, when other ESPs talk about their delivery team, they’re really talking about account reps that work with customers and coach them on best practices. Our approach is different. It’s much more technical. It’s all about data. We’ve got good relationships with all the major mailbox operators. On the technical side, it’s a constant arms race — as the spammers’ tactics evolve, so do the rules and requirements across all of the different mailboxes. We’ve got to pay close attention to things like Reverse DNS, DKIM, and SPF Records. Our delivery team also has to track and maintain thousands of different provider rules too, things like how many IPs we can use, how many connections we can have per second, how many messages per connection, and how long a connection can be held open. It’s all constantly evolving, so you’ve got to have a really good team that stays on top of everything and is constantly monitoring for the slightest changes. I think we’re really good at that.