August 31, 2007

Email marketer harnesses the power of Gentoo

Author: Tina Gasperson

Gold Lasso uses an open source infrastructure to power its email marketing business. Cofounders Elie Ashery and Michael Weisel say open source is the only way to keep prices down and "truly compete in the current marketplace." And, they say, Gentoo Linux is the only way to keep their system truly secure. But finding employees who can manage a system built on Gentoo has been a challenge.

Gold Lasso markets data collection and management tools and provides outbound messaging services. Ashery had cofounded another email service provider called, and "pioneered a lot of email marketing techniques" there, which inspired him to expand on those techniques in launching Gold Lasso. He called up his friend Weisel to help, and together the two bootstrapped the company.

"We were selling things on eBay to make enough money," Weisel says.

In order to keep costs down and to build the company on a more reliable base, Weisel and Ashery decided to build on a Linux infrastructure. "Before we laid out any of our own money, we looked at what we'd used in the past and tried not to make the same mistakes we made before," Weisel says. "My background was mostly Microsoft, but I looked at all the issues I'd had with Microsoft servers, stepped back, and said, 'What can we do to avoid that?' I saw open source as the biggest jump toward this. We knew we could keep the cost down with Linux, too."

"We didn't want to dilute ourselves," Ashery says, "And open source source afforded us the possibility of not raising venture money. Now, if we'd had to go down the Oracle or Microsoft route, we would have needed VC for licensing, for development, for all that, but open source allowed us to avoid that. There's no way we could have gotten where we are today without open source."

They tried a few different flavors of Linux before settling on Gentoo. "One of our previous employees was into Gentoo, and made us believe that it is one of the most secure distributions out there," Weisel says. "Yeah, it's hard to install and manage sometimes, but it has definitely given us an advantage. Back when we started moving toward Gentoo, our lead developer and I were sitting in my townhouse with an old server trying to get it loaded. It took two days to get it up and running -- but after we learned how it works, now he can put in a Gentoo server without even looking at it. We found other people, so now we have an arsenal of people who know the system. We knew the initial investment of time to get it configured properly and running was going to pay off in the future. It's very secure and stable."

For Ashery and Weisel, finding the right people to administer Gold Lasso's infrastructure has been elemental to building a successful company. "With the technology we use, sometimes it's very difficult to find people that know it," Weisel says. "It's easy to find people that want to learn it, but hard to find people who know it." Weisel recommends that others looking to launch businesses with open source technology make a special effort to find the right people. "If you don't know the technology, or you can't figure it out yourself, make sure you get the right person to do it. People that come from a Microsoft environment have a very hard time moving into a Linux environment. Now, people in Linux have no problem going into Microsoft. It's kind of interesting. But I would definitely look at universities. That's probably our best resource for people who will know open source technology."

Ashery says trust is a key element. "Make sure the person you're trusting is good. Really talk with them. If you have somebody at your disposal, someone you know that knows the operating system very well, have them sit in on the interview. One mistake we definitely made was choosing the wrong person. They knew Linux, but they didn't know Gentoo. That can create a mess."

Starting with the "right technology" from the beginning is something Ashery and Weisel wish they'd done. "Some of the technology we chose in the beginning is not the technology we're moving to now," Weisel says. "Some of that could have been avoided if we'd thought it out harder in the beginning. The mistakes we made, I wouldn't say they cost a lot, other than in terms of time. We would have been a little further ahead if we'd gone with the right stuff from the start."

"Now we have a good five years under our belt," says Ashery. "It's full steam ahead."


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