How SendGrid Uses AI To Deliver 1.5B Emails Every Single Day (And Kill The Spammers)

Email is 20 years old and everyone claims to hate it … but it still tops the charts as a leading marketing channel. Today’s email, however, is not your grandma’s “You’ve Got Mail.”

For one thing, there’s a lot of AI behind the message.

The reason: to protect the future viability of the medium.

“We have had to invest an incredible amount of time and people and process in protecting email as a channel,” SendGrid chief executive officer Sameer Dholakia told me today at Traction Conference in Vancouver, Canada. “We have numerous AI systems in place to determine are companies a good customer at sign-up, and 100 different variables that tell us if this mail is actually wanted.”

SendGrid has 74,000 paying customers — including Spotify, AirBnB, and and Uber — and sends 1.5 billion messages on an average day. That means the company touches more than three billion unique email recipients every quarter, Dholakia says.

At that scale, eliminating spam and improving email quality is beyond manual processes.

So the company has turned to artificial intelligence.

“It’s a business imperative to us to vet those users before they sign up,” Dholakia says, and the reason is obvious.

If too much spam gets sent from SendGrid servers, the big email conveyors of the world will start treating all email from SendGrid as spam. And that would impact all of its legitimate customers.

So the company uses AI at point of customer sign-up to vet new customers, using data the customers provided as well multiple other data sources. Bad actors tend to attempt multiple sign-ups, and letting even a few in could degrade the experience for other customers.

“Last quarter we signed up 5K new paying customers,” Dholakia says. “You can’t have a human being checking each new customer.”

Sendgrid mostly appeals to SMBs, although it clearly has enterprise-scale clients. 

The interesting thing the company has found is that many medium-sized to larger clients use between two and six email tools to do their marketing and support campaigns.

“Corporate marketing will be using one of the big marketing clouds,” he told me. “But the regional office in Detroit can’t get on the corporate promotion calendar … so they go online and find a small simple tool to help them get their campaigns out quickly.”

Sendgrid’s goal, Dholakia says, is to “to build the worlds most trusted customer communications platform.”

That’s going to move beyond email soon, with the company looking at expansions into other messaging methodologies like in-app, push, SMS, and likely others.

Each of them will likely require some expertise in AI to weed out the spammers.