Ian White: Sailthru


Ian breaks down how to tackle worst-case scenarios and what it takes to scale a technical team from 0 to 20.


  • Cardinal sin is over-promising and under-delivering: start simple and build on top of that incrementally in order to overcome customers skeptical initially.

  • Can’t control macro: started Sailthru the week Lehman collapsed so instead of raising funding, bootstrapped to $20k per month. Persevere no matter what.

  • When EC2 crashed last April, prioritized getting operational again ASAP, even in a degraded state. Then communicating issues to customers & conducting post-mortem: how can we be resilient even for systemic failure.

  • In crisis: divide and concur. Technical team’s responsibility to identify problem and address it. Account team’s responsibility to communicate that to customers.

  • Early detection is crucial: 2 redundant external monitoring systems that are early warning alerts. Entire dev team receives automated text whenever an issue is detected.

  • Take responsibility for your mistakes, analyze root cause of issue- what is the process that lead this to happen. Focus on the process not the person.

  • When recruiting: passion & the desire to learn is the most important question.

  • Interviews: Ask how did you get into programming in the first place? Answer is telling to understand the candidate’s motivation. Is it passion for the work or just a salary?

  • When on-boarding new hires: initial assignments are internal facing, building unit tests or something that isn’t core to our functionality. Goal is to provide a quick win that’s motivating.

  • Keep new features ASAP: As Simple As Possible. Complexity is inevitable, but part of your job as an engineer is to build things in the simplest possible way.

About Ian:

Ian White is the co-founder and CTO of Sailthru, which provides true one-to-one targeting for publishers across both email and webpages. Prior to Sailthru, Ian served as lead developer for Business Insider. He also happens to be the Robert Parker of whiskeys…

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