Walter Mossberg recommends SmugMug in last weeks Mossberg’s Mailbox. There’s a lot of pain with many online photo-sharing sites, especially because many of them will hold your original photos hostage and delete them with little-to-no notice. I’m honored that he would recommend us to anyone feeling the pain from sub-par photo-sharing sites.
You see, Walt Mossberg is the world’s premiere technology journalist because he’s different. Instead of approaching technology from a geek’s point of view, where the technical specs, the buzz, and what the technology is supposed to accomplish is king, he approaches it from a consumer’s point of view: how well does it work, how easy is it to use, and how reliable is it. And then he tells you how it really is, no holds barred.
Pillars of the tech world such as Steve Jobs and Bill Gates hang on his every word. AFAIK, he’s the only one to actually get them on stage together at the same conference. For the record, he doesn’t pull any punches at D, either – he asks the hard questions that actual consumers would ask if only they could get their hands on Steve or Bill for a few minutes.
I remember sitting in his office last year, watching him nod his head and resonate with much of what we had to say. It was thrilling. But the best part came when he asked us the really hard questions. The kind that make me want to rush back to the office and feverishly work on improvements right that second. The one I remember most was “Are my photos stored in multiple locations?” I was honest – we kept multiple copies of each photo, but only in one location. Clearly, he wasn’t buying it. And his point was a valid one – every year we have customers who are overjoyed to find out the photos they lost in the hurricane/earthquake/fire were safe and sound at SmugMug. Our data is extremely valuable to our customers.
We’re a customer-focused, customer-driven company. I’m afraid to say we don’t have much time to do competitive research because we’re too busy acting on customer suggestions and feedback. I wish I could say that I give every customer’s input the same weight I gave Walt’s, but it just isn’t true – the double-whammy of being a journalist I respect greatly and a customer gave him an edge. We put multiple locations high on the list, and we now have it – our photos are stored in multiple datacenters, in multiple states, at multiple companies. And one of those companies is worth billions.
For many other journalists, singling us out like he did would take courage. Afterall, we spend all of our time and energy answering customer emails and making the product better while our competitors are from huge companies with huge PR departments who go to all the trade shows, conventions, and call the journalists non-stop to sell their wares. But for Walt, I’m sure this didn’t pose a problem. He and his assistants actually use the products rather than just listening to the company’s pitch. His only criteria is the quality, reliability, and accessibility of the product, not the amount of PR dollars you spend.
We’re honored to be on his radar.
If you follow my father’s blog, you’ve probably already read these entries, but in case you haven’t, they’re great reads:
Chicken Soup – The SmugMug story has been published and we’d like you to have a copy! Our story is in the newly-released Chicken Soup for the Entrepreneur’s Soul and my father, the author of our chapter, has more info about it and how to get your copy.
Free photo sharing? – Not for us, and here’s why. It’s taken us awhile to really understand the difference between a pay site like ours and a free one like some of our competitors, but we get it now and thought we’d share. The short version? You get what you pay for. 🙂
Yahoo! Hack Day
SmugMug was in the house at Hack Day 2006, and we had a great time! Many thanks to Yahoo for putting on such a great event – we learned a lot about Yahoo technologies and put together a great demo. Anytime they want to throw another one, we’ll be there. Fantastic group of people over at Yahoo.
Best part about it is that our demo will shortly be a shipping product our customers will love and that’ll generate extra revenue for our company. Oh, and BigWebGuy got his official hazing there at Hack Day – he coded for 36 hours straight (no sleep!) his first week on the job even though he was sick! Welcome to the family, Lee!
The Sun T1000 is very much still on our radar. I don’t want to do an in-depth update until we’re absolutely sure about what’s going on, but here’s a short summary of where we are.
I spent 5 hours over at Sun a few days after our initial results were posted with some very intelligent people. They were as perplexed at the results as I was, and were determined to get to the bottom of it. The good news is we now have a T1000 running Solaris side-by-side with a T1000 running Ubuntu which is side-by-side with our dual dual-core Opteron running Red Hat. The bad news is the Sun guys weren’t able to coax any more performance (yet!) out of the T1000.
We have a theory that we might be saturating the GigE port with raw # of interrupts per second, so it’s getting throttled there and starving the CPUs. So we have a gameplan for what to attack next – I’ve just been too swamped to deal with it for the last few weeks. We’ll get to it, though, I promise and I’ll share all the details.
I still haven’t posted the in-depth technical details and code samples I promised about our use of Amazon S3, but fear not – I’m actively working on it and will post it as soon as it’s done.
Just wanted you to know I hadn’t forgotten about you. 🙂
Incidentally, Jeremy Zawodny is playing around with using it for his personal backup storage. Sounds sweet!
It ain’t so.
Bambi is a great journalist, and I’m flattered that we’re on her radar, but I’m afraid we’re not for sale.
We love our business, we love our customers, and we love the people we work with. Not only that, but it pays the bills – we’re profitable, with no debt and no investors! Why mess with a good thing?
Besides, I’m still trying to wrap my head around why anyone would want to invest in Shutterfly in the first place. Alan Meckler, CEO of JupiterMedia, has a write-up that resonated with me. Let’s take a quick look at their business (I’ll be the first to admit I haven’t really paid that much attention to the whole thing, being buried in our own business, so fact-check my stuff before quoting me):
- Devoured a massive (I believe >$100MM over multiple rounds) investment.
- Has trouble turning a profit ($24M of their $28M last year was apparently a one-time tax benefit)
- Incredibly competitive marketplace, complete with a nasty price war ($0.12 4×6 prints) and deep-pocketed competitors (Kodak and HP)
- First quarter loss increased by nearly 2.5X this year compared to last year
- HP’s Snapfish seems to have the best product, marketing, and awareness in the online photo printing space. (In other words, they seem to be winning)
We’re small, fun, happy, and profitable. Best of all, our customers love us. Does it get any better than this?