SendGrid Co-Founder & President Isaac Saldana Talks Growth and Company Culture

Isaac Saldana

Isaac Saldana, Co-Founder, SendGrid

Isaac Saldana conceived the idea behind SendGrid while attending UC Riverside alongside classmates Tim Jenkins and Jose Lopez. The cloud based service provides an email delivery solution that has delivered over 100 billion emails to date, with clients ranging from Pinterest to Spotify. As Graduates of the TechStars Boulder accelerator program, SendGrid has completed two rounds of funding, with offices in Boulder, Denver and Orange County. We had the pleasure of catching up with Isaac to talk growth, as well as the importance of building a strong company culture. Isaac has been a FoundersCard Member since 2012.

1. What was the inspiration behind SendGrid?

SendGrid was really inspired by me just trying to fix a problem. After college, I realized that every app that I was building had an email component. I also realized that the emails that I was generating from those apps weren’t getting delivered. That was really frustrating. I talked to some of my developer friends about it and they said they were having the same issues, but none of them wanted to take on the challenge of fixing it. So I decided that I would. With the help of my co-founders and friends from UC Riverside, Tim Jenkins and Jose Lopez, we turned that initial problem into a solution at SendGrid.

2. You are a TechStars graduate. What were some of the key lessons that you took from that experience?

TechStars was an invaluable experience for SendGrid and for Tim, Jose, and me. It taught us a lot about the importance of strong presentation skills and about the benefits of dedication. But most of all, it taught us about the power of mentorship. TechStars helped provide us with the relationship building skills and the guidance we needed to be successful. Without that guidance, we wouldn’t be where we are today. Most of our mentors from TechStars became investors in SendGrid and also sit on our board. We are so thankful for their continued support and try to pay our good fortune forward by providing mentorship to others when we can.

3. Email deliverability wasn’t on anyone’s radar 10 years ago. How were you able to focus on solving that one problem and build a company around it?

It’s interesting, when I originally started working on email, I didn’t have an idea of how big the market was for email deliverability. Like I mentioned before, I just really wanted to solve a problem that I was facing—that problem just ended up being one that a lot of other developers also had. SendGrid has always been a really developer focused company—we’re built for developers, by developers. I think by staying true to that we’ve been able to stay really motivated.

4. SendGrid has experienced exponential growth since its inception 2009. What do you think has driven the company’s growth?

We feel very fortunate to have experienced the growth that we’ve had over the past four years. I think a lot of that growth is due to us filling a need and us striving to do it well. We’re really passionate about email and we want to keep improving. Also, bringing in our CEO, Jim Franklin, in 2011 was a big step for us. It helped us to continue to focus on what we do best—coding and innovating—and allowed Jim to focus on growing the business. It’s been a great balance for us.

5. Yahoo recently reported that SendGrid delivers 1% of the world’s non-spam emails.  What does that accomplishment mean to both you and the SendGrid team?

When we started SendGrid in 2009 we never imagined we could send 1% of the world’s non-spam email. It really seemed impossible. But, with the right people on your team, you can do the impossible. I am so proud of the people I work with—they’ve all been carefully chosen to do a really hard thing and they all do it with so much energy and skill. Everyone in the company makes a difference on a daily basis and I am so happy that we could all share in this milestone together. But this is only the beginning!

6. You are a huge proponent of company culture. How important is strong company culture, and how does it resonate in the workplace?

Culture is one of the biggest assets a company can have. At SendGrid, our company values are the 4 H’s—humble, honest, hungry, happy—and I usually add a 5th for health. With these core values, it’s easy to love coming to work everyday. We also have a lot of fun benefits that help keep our energy strong. We have company lunches every Friday so we can all spend time together and we have an annual kickoff trip to Mexico that gets us all excited for the year ahead. A bunch of us are also big CrossFit fans, so we’ll all go to the gym together before work to encourage each other. It’s a really supportive environment.

SendGrid Crossfit Team Workout

The SendGrid team works out to stay in optimal email deliverability shape.

7. With offices in Boulder, Denver and Orange County, how many days a month (or year) do you spend traveling?

I try to find a balance. My travel really varies depending on different meeting schedules and speaking opportunities. I try to visit the different offices when I can, especially now that there are so many new faces at the company. But with my family in CA I try not to travel too much. It’s nice that my SendGrid family knows how important my family is to me.

8. What sort of side projects are you working on outside of SendGrid?

I’m really excited about the research and development projects we are working on through our new internal initiative, SendGrid Labs. We just released a new free load testing application called a few months ago. Initiatives like aim to eliminate major pain points that developers are facing (like load testing) so they can focus on their core products instead of these obstacles. It’s really satisfying to be able to help make developers’ lives easier.

9. Whom do you admire?

All startup founders who are working hard to make their passions a reality. Yoda said it best “Do or do not. There is no try.” I really admire everyone out there who is a “doer.”

10. What is one app that FoundersCard members should be using right now?

We’re all big fans of GroupMe at SendGrid. The app makes it really easy for our teams to connect while on the road at conferences and events and helps keep us all on the same page.

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