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How This Man Is Revolutionizing the Email Industry by Solving Problems His Own Way (With a Hint of AI)

Nothing is as fundamental to the internet as email.

From the days of dial-up (you’ve got mail!) to now, email remains at the center of communication.

The business world, for example, would cease to exist overnight if email suddenly disappeared with no replacement.

It’s boring, sure, but it’s needed. We simply need it to keep our societies wheels turning.

So, naturally, it takes the right man for the job to keep those wheels turning.

Someone that can take something as boring and prehistoric as email and make it look effortlessly sexy while the product simply just works.

That man goes by the name Jarland Donnell.

I’d like to think Jarland didn’t choose to be the email guy, but rather email chose Jarland.

But, like most people, Jarland didn’t come out of the womb set on being the modern age pioneer of email.

He might have, though, it’s Jarland, so you never know.

Anyways, it only came later on in his career that all his life choices led him in the direction of running MXroute full-time.

He’s been around these parts of the internet a very long time all while actively working in the hosting industry.

A salted veteran, you could say. Even running our very own LowEndTalk at one point.

For the majority of that time, MXroute was bubbling upwards in various iterations.

While Jarland has already done a LEB interview in the past three years is a very, very long time.

A.I. hardly existed in 2020 when that interview was done. Now college professors are A.I. checking papers.

There’s been a significant amount of growth. Both for MXroute, and Jarland as a person.

It’s definitely time to catch up, so, I headed to the dragons den itself, MXroute’s discord in pursuit of some answers.

And, well… Jarland definitely delivered (as usual), so let’s dive in.

Everything begins with a catalyst.

It was important I started from the very beginning to get the full story, so I went all the way back to glory days: when Jarland ran a low-end host.

Q: You’ve been around these circles for a very, very long time. Your start in monetizing this industry was by starting your own host, right? What did that experience truly teach you? Why did you move on from it?

A: Ryan Arp and I started Catalyst Host, our entry into the market. I hate to do it like this, but that was the catalyst for our careers today. Who knew we named it so well? What I learned most from that had to be the basics of Linux administration. Had it not been for that, my life would have gone entirely different. At the time, though, I wasn’t making enough money to support the family I so desperately wanted to start. That’s why I moved on to HostGator.

So, the foundation was set.

Jarland had gotten familiar with Linux and being a sys admin (a pretty profitable skill to learn), but wanted to work for someone else rather than himself at the time to get a jumpstart in terms of income.

Then some gator, served with a side of chicken and waffles.

It was time to start making some real money with this Linux and system administration stuff for Jarland…

Q: After moving on from your host, you moved to HostGator, right? What was that experience like? Did you learn anything that you applied later on? For example, your experience doing support, do you apply any of that today in MXroute?

A: HostGator was my next stop, yes. It was a culture shock. Here I was, a country boy that grew up in and planned to spend his life working in the church, doing IT at a Christian school in the small town I grew up in, and the next thing I knew, I was in Houston working with a bunch of badass cowboy sysadmins.

What I learned at HostGator most definitely started as a thread that ran through everything else that I did and still runs through everything I am doing today. As I was answering support tickets, it was very apparent that I could find 15 or 20 tickets that I could answer all simultaneously with one quick action if I could. Our policies and processes didn’t let me do this, and it frustrated me to no end. Imagine if, instead of answering one ticket in 15 minutes, you could answer 20. When you can do it, obviously that’s what you should do. Since I couldn’t do that, I just focused on improving my Linux administration skills and kept trying to one-up myself in ticket response times.

That desire to be more efficient, to group things together and resolve them in bulk, continued to fuel my philosophies for support after HostGator. It has continued to be the foundation of how I look at scaling support.

I asked Jarland for a picture taken during his time at HostGator, he said he couldn’t find any, BUT…

Chicken from HostGator event.

(Chicken from HostGator event.)

He did provide me with this picture of chicken and waffles from a HostGator event that he was pretty insistent on sharing with you.

He hopes you’ll try some as good as them soon, too.

Leaving the gator at shore and swimming out deeper.

All good things come to an end, and eventually it was time for Jarland to move on to the next opportunity.

Q: After leaving HostGator you went to Digital Ocean. Did you enjoy it? What did they do differently? What was your biggest take away from DO, and how does it apply to you today?

A: DigitalOcean will always be a name I remember fondly. I will continue to look back at it and point out things that we did there, things that I’m proud enough of that I would still list them in my life’s accomplishments. In many ways, HG made me feel restricted. Policies, access levels, and escalation procedures weighed me down and prevented me from maximizing my effectiveness in my role. When I was hired at DO, I no longer felt the hierarchy. I didn’t get permission to ask someone if they could make a change. I would ask someone to schedule a meeting and make my case. My limits were self-imposed, I was a team member, and that team was the company’s size.

Because I had so much freedom at DO, I would experiment with ways to be more successful in customer support. Often, those experiments would start with MXroute and graduate to DO. I would experiment with reducing ticket workload by better-utilizing auto-responses, better-exposing documentation up front, and answering common questions in public spaces that others would hopefully find before opening a ticket. All of that went from theory to implementation at MXroute, and ultimately to implementation at DO. I will never forget that everyone at DigitalOcean made me feel important and valued enough to feel like I could do all of that.

Today, I continue those experiments on improving customer support, but exclusively at MXroute.

Picture from a Digital Ocean event.

(Picture from a Digital Ocean event.)

Okay, now time for the actual catalyst for growth.

After talking with Jarland quite a bit for this interview, it was pretty apparent that massive growth occurred during this time period.

He doesn’t exactly say it word for word, but I feel as if the time period right after Digital Ocean is probably one of the most transformative periods for MXroute, and Jarland’s own personal growth.

Q: During this period of growth mentioned above between starting a host, HostGator, do, and planting the seed for MXroute, what was your personal life like? Stressed, etc?

A: It can be hard to differentiate between work and personal life when you love what you do. Of course, the lines are more apparent when working for someone else. Even still, I started MXroute while at HostGator and continued to run it while at each job that came after. So when I was off shift at these other companies, MXroute work would often flow naturally into my “personal life.” I’m sure it stressed out Christine (my wife) when I would have to drop whatever I was doing and rush to a terminal no matter where I was. I’m sure it still does every now and then, even today. However, she won’t let me see it because she has always supported my work. With a partner like that, the stress comes only from work rather than home.

Q: When you started MXroute you said in the past it was essentially all about solving the problem of getting an email from point A to point B, is it still about that?

A: A part of me wishes it was still about that because my entire business strategy was based on that focus. How long can I ignore the cries of people who want me to rescue them from Google by focusing heavily on everything else that people associate with email? My focus has widened to the degree I sometimes call unsustainable. That said, the wheels are still turning.

Q: At what point did the focus change from simply just getting email from point A to point B? Why?

A: A while back, word spread amongst Dreamhost customers that I could better deliver email for their users. Customers started pouring in with less technical expertise than the ones I had initially marketed to. As a result, my customer base majorly shifted toward people who desired what they considered a whole email experience. Most of that is what you call groupware. Calendars, contacts, to-do lists, much more comprehensive webmail solutions, all that jazz. They also wanted better spam filters, more freedom, etc. My focus inevitably began to split to meet these new customers’ needs.

Q: From the beginning to the MXroute.io saga with Mike, in your words, why did you break up? Did it work out for you? Did it create any kind of new drive or desire for growth? Did you learn anything from this you applied later on?

A: Mike had helped out quite a bit ago with MXroute, and I had limited funds to pay. Part of my compensation for his help was to allow him to use the brand to start MXroute.io. This was a transactional email provider that operated as a MailChannels reseller. It did well, and it was eventually acquired by MailChannels. We finally went our separate ways, and there’s no need to revisit all that, but he seems to be doing well now, and I’m happy for him and his family.

So, by this point the MXroute seed is firmly planted. Things are both changing and are in motion.

After working for two of the largest companies in the hosting industry, and starting to gain serious steam on MXroute you’d think Jarland would hit the gas right about now.

But, wait, one more quick stint…

Jarland wasn’t quite ready yet to go full-time 100% focus on MXroute, which was certainly needed to take the company to the next level and elevate the product.

He has one last quick stint left at another big hosting industry player.

Q: You had a brief stint at QuickPacket, which was the last actual job outside of MXroute you held. What did you learn there? What was the reason you finally decided to focus on MxRoute full-time?

A: QuickPacket deserves more attention from people who want quality and affordable hardware. Jeff is a brilliant shopper who leverages that at every level of the company. Jeff is a friend and an ally in the industry. We built an excellent support team together, which was what I set out to do there. He also bailed my family out of potential hardship when I left DO (another story for another time, perhaps). Ultimately, my work at QP had a limited scope and was meant to only last for a while. We did great things, got a great team going, and then it was time for me to move to my next challenge: MXroute.

All gas, no brakes.

It was time. Jarland was officially ready to go full-time on MXroute and take things to the next level.

Q: After going full time on MXroute, what was your focus? Marketing? Development of the product? What did you spend most of your efforts doing?

A: My focus at MXroute has been very split. The idea was always to run a very lean operation, which meant that I would wear more hats than one person should wear. To keep my family afloat, I focus on revenue and sometimes marketing. To keep MXroute customers happy, I focus on product development and server management. Which one gets the focus today is as much related to need as my mood for the day.

Q: All of your work experiences mentioned so far must all start to come together by this point. How does this apply to MxRoute?

A: I can trace many little things to seemingly insignificant moments in my work history. I’ll tell you one. I printed out the manual for the Linux tool “sed” and held those papers in my hand while doing an interview for HostGator over the phone. The thing I did that day, in a terminal while the recruiter watched me remotely, became a permanent part of my system administration techniques, and I still do it the same way today. Every little piece connects together in some way. From system administration to management, every point of growth has a role in what I do today at MXroute. I know that’s pretty vague, but it is true.

I decided once I got to this point with the conversation with Jarland I needed to take things back for a second.

I wanted to get an insight on how Jarland felt about everything building up to this point.

Jarland reflecting on the growth.

Q: Let’s put the year at 2020 or so at this point. Are you impressed with the growth? What’s your biggest problem? What’s your focus set on?

A: I’m not just impressed with the growth. I’m completely mystified by it. In trying to make sense of it, Simon Sinek hit the nail on the head. People don’t buy what you do; they buy why you do it. This has drawn people in because I always focused on “why” I do what I do instead of “what” I do. Give “Start with Why” a read, especially if you’re a company founder.

My biggest problem is the other side of one of my biggest strengths. I’m challenging the market on the balance between pricing and features, which means other companies are making more profit than I am. More profit gives you more money for infrastructure, development staff, and support staff. Those problems challenge me to solve problems uniquely, but they also hold me back from being everything that I want to be from time to time. It would be easier to do what I want to do if I charged everyone $5/m per email user, but where’s the fun in that? I focus on that same note: I have to compete with what the other companies are doing and with a fraction of the budget.

(Keep in mind our last interview with Jarland was done in the year 2020.)

Here’s three huge key words in what Jarland just said:

“Solve problems uniquely” — it was at this point I realized, the entirety of MXroute is centered all around solving problems uniquely.

For example:

Customers will complain if they get more spam in their inbox than competitors. How do you solve that? Make your own custom spam list.

SMTP relays are super expensive and would pass on that cost to the customers. How do you solve that? Get your own infrastructure and IPs, take care of them, pass cost savings onto customer.

I could go on and on, but I won’t (because it isn’t sexy) but Jarland does many small optimizations that don’t seem like much, that add up to a huge improvement in experience. That’s where his edge comes from, and he passes those cost savings on to benefit that customer which has lead to his growth.

His ability to optimize key efforts and solve problems uniquely using different tools lead me to my next question:

How A.I. is shaping MXroute’s future.

Q: It’s a little bit later on, a lot has happened. A.I. is starting to come around, how are you using it and applying it to MXroute in specific? How do these past experiences connect to this?

A: AI is shaping up to be the answer to many of the problems I’ve created for myself by trying to compete with larger companies. AI is almost exclusively writing our blog at blog.mxroute.com (I can credit myself for writing prompts, of course), and it’s even co-writing code like this: https://github.com/mxroute/mxlookup and this: https://github.com/mxroute/controlpanel/blob/main/DirectAdminAPI.php.

My desire to do more as one person, more than one person should ever be able to do, is seeing heavy validation by using AI as a personal assistant.

Q: From the beginning of MXroute, one of your key focuses was essentially keeping everything simple. That’s how you kept costs down in comparison. Is that still a key focus? How has that worked out so far? Has that limited you on being able to grow?

A: Simplicity has almost entirely disappeared from MXroute. It’s plausible that this is a biased perspective, but from where I sit, the complexity of the stack grows nearly every day, as do customer requests. It does continue to add to the challenges of keeping down costs and being able to grow the company without excessive tech debt. Some of those problems I have to tackle one at a time as the solutions become apparent.

As businesses grow, complexity rises. That’s natural.

But when one of your central selling point is keeping costs down it becomes a game of balance.

How do you balance solving complex problems with efficient solutions that don’t raise costs?

The challenges of keeping costs low.

Q: Do you ever worry about having to raise pricing, especially with current inflation? How do you keep your pricing so low?

A: My family is bringing in a fraction of what we were in my previous jobs, and nearly all our vendors are increasing prices to offset inflation. When I wasn’t sure that inflation would impact us, I was migrating our service into OVH, where their cloud features (especially their NAS, logs as a service, etc.) would hugely benefit MXroute. I didn’t even finish that migration when inflation hit so hard that I was stuck in a bad position. Once again, here came Jeff (QuickPacket) to offer me a way out. Almost every part of MXroute is now in the QuickPacket network, despite massive server migrations that should have caused more problematic transitions than they did. I tell you this short story to make two points clear:

1. Industry friends are vital to success. Try to think about their needs; they also have families to feed, but those relationships will determine your success.

2. I will do anything necessary to avoid increasing customer prices. I might raise prices for new orders. I will never increase prices on current services unless it’s the only alternative to a complete admission of defeat.

Very raw and transparent answers from Jarland, which lead to my next question:

Has A.I. helped keep down pricing?

Q: You’ve mentioned you’ve used A.I. for a couple of different things. One of them being writing knowledge base articles, other cases being programming key parts of a control panel and beyond. Has this helped you keep down pricing, and if so, how?

A: While you could list out my struggles along the way as an extensive list of bullet points, you would nest them all under one more significant problem: I chose to offer a low-price service that attacked an industry I considered to be incorrectly priced across the board. When issues arose that I didn’t know how to solve, I didn’t have the money to throw at it. AI is the answer to a lot of those individual points. In some ways, it’s like being able to digitally extend myself, which is exactly my vision of solving all my problems. If my arm could reach further. If my fingers could type faster. If my code could look better. If my automation could be more efficient. With AI, all of this is becoming true.

Q: So, realistically, you run an infrastructure that does one key thing: delivers emails. You charge a cheap price, and you sustain it by cutting fat whenever possible. How does A.I. Help you do this? Is it working?

A: AI is helping me to write more efficient automation. I know a way to do what I want to do, but when I present my method and problem statement to AI, it builds off of what I’ve done in ways that further improve it and reduce my workload. The more my workload is reduced on problems that can be narrowed down to a defined list of logic points, the more financially stable MXroute becomes. If I keep doing the same thing every day, and I’m only talented enough to automate half of it, AI automating the other half is a game changer.

There’s nothing that says solving problems uniquely more than using AI to:

  • Create knowledge bases.
  • Programming key parts of the control panel.
  • Retain human focus for parts that require human touch.
  • Do things faster, reduce workload.
  • Keep labor costs down, pass on those savings to the customer.

Once again, you see Jarland taking advantage of whatever opportunity he can find to solve problems uniquely, the core of how MXroute has continued to grow.

Rarely do you see other hosting providers, email providers, or MXroute competitors using AI or tools in a fashion like this to get an edge.

Now… time for politics.

The younger generation A.I. chat bots don’t even value work ethic.

Q: A lot of people are worried about A.I. stealing jobs. Are you?

A: When I was a kid, I used to imagine that I would wear a computer and that it would augment my life. I know it sounds funny, and I’m sure it’s the premise of more than a few movies, but that was my dream: I would bring technology into my life and use it to improve myself. You can still see that little kid in many places in my life. My smartwatch shelf is a great place to see a manifestation of it, as is my collection of smartphones and tablets. When ChatGPT hit public access, the light at the end of the tunnel finally became visible to me. The path to being a better version of myself is extending myself digitally. To be anything less than incredibly excited about it is an entirely foreign concept. I can’t bring myself to feel a shred of fear over it.

But it’s not just about that. There’s a whole philosophy behind this, and many overlook alternate perspectives. The car created the auto mechanic. The computer created the IT industry. The internet created the data center staff. All of these cost someone their job, but all of these created new jobs. We don’t know what we don’t know, and some of what we don’t know is what new jobs will exist in 10 years. I want to be part of creating some of those jobs.

By running a lean operation focusing on low prices, I’m allowing other people to leverage my work to create their own startups that run at a fraction of the cost they otherwise would. This opens up more capital for them to hire more team members and grow their companies. Just because I’m using AI to prevent myself from having to hire a farm of support technicians, that doesn’t mean I’m interested in seeing humans run out of work. I want to be a different part of how humans find their next job. Rather than my customer paying for me to hire someone, I want to be the reason that my customer can hire someone.

In other words, if Jarland continues to provide a good email service at an affordable price, he’s helping jumpstart growth for other people, other startups at a fraction of the price.

By doing all of the various small optimizations he does and adding up to that bigger picture all while keeping an affordable price? That’s major.

Especially when you consider almost everyone has an email, it’s a huge ocean.

Capable of a lot of growth, and a lot of influence.

How Jarland is influencing the world for good with MXroute.

Q: You provide the infrastructure that’s mandatory to operate a lot of different businesses. You can’t really run a business without email regardless if it’s prehistoric or not. It’s built into modern society and the internet. You need it. By doing that well for an affordable price, do you think you benefit the market as a whole regardless of the fact you might skip hiring and opt for A.I. to trim the fat?

A: I am working as a force of good to empower others to do more with less overhead while shattering the almost fixed pricing of my market. I absolutely believe that to benefit the market as a whole.

Q: How exactly are you creating more jobs, specifically? Just enabling more businesses to do more transactions because their email simply works for a good price (enabled by automation)?

A: You have to think about the small business. The one with 1-5 employees. They’re not all US citizens; some live in places where a dollar goes a lot further. They don’t always work in large numbers, either. Every dollar matters. A few well-placed service providers like MXroute could mean the difference between them being able to pursue their dream or working a second job.

I may not provide enough savings for the company with 100 employees to hire an extra person by reducing their email budget. Still, I feel ethically obligated to take what I need from them, not a dollar more. I understand this isn’t in line with everyone else’s ethics, and I’m not calling anyone out for disagreeing, but I have my values and try to live by them.

Q: Think of your biggest hater in regards to this context and this topic. Think of what they would say in response to your answer. What would you reply?

A: My vision for a better world may differ from yours. You may believe I am misguided, naive, or just plain wrong in my philosophies. At the end of our lives, it’s unlikely that our contributions will be equivalent. You’ll have made your impression on the world around you, and I’ll have made mine. If yours ends up causing more prosperity for more people, making more people’s lives better than before, and if my results are tiny in comparison: I am so glad for what you accomplished, and I am thrilled that you proved me wrong. It would be a boring life if we were always in agreement, and I expect everyone to work hard to do what they think is best. That includes you.

It’s true, though, something as small as email does have a huge impact on the world.

It might not be sexy, but it’s one of those things that’s needed.

By this point I feel pretty satisfied I have the whole picture of what fuels MXroute.

But, I had one last important question to ask Jarland.

The future of MXroute…

Q: What’s your goal for the future of MXroute, and how do you plan to get there? Does A.I. help?

A: MXroute will continue to grow and gain influence through its users. We don’t want massive corporations controlling the internet and deciding who can speak, when, and what they can say. You already see that Google rejects emails from perfectly good senders or puts things in spam folders that shouldn’t be there. Sure, it may be entirely innocent, but what about that one time it isn’t? What about that one time someone at Google slips in a bit of code that “accidentally” drops their competitor into a spam folder? I don’t want to live in that world. I don’t think you do, either. We can’t prevent that as individuals, but as a group, we can. We do that by being “too big to block” and by not mirroring their policies or philosophies.

We will use AI and whatever new tools may appear throughout the years, whatever it takes to make sure our customers are treated fairly and their emails delivered to the people that want them. We’ll use those tools to help customers with the front end features they want as well.

So, there you have it.

MXroute has been bubbling upwards for years, and if you ask me? It seems to be likely to keep trending upwards.

Quite truly an underdog story. We’ll see what the future presents for Jarland and MXroute!

Did you think that was the end?

Because it wasn’t.

This is LowEndBox, the number one source for the best hosting industry and tech deals.

Jarland decided he wanted to hook you up for getting to the end of this article.

The picture Jarland provided when asked for a new picture, "best I have is me and the bunny."

(The picture Jarland provided when asked for a new picture, “best I have is me and the bunny.”)

Yes, you.

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That (even from a biased perspective) is truly an insane deal you’d be ludicrous not to take him up on.

The only catch?

The coupon is only valid for the first 250 uses (we get A LOT of visits here, by the way), so you’ll want to act ASAP.

Click here to save 50% on almost all MXroute offers today (limited offer).

It won’t be back again :)

Alrighty… now this is the end.

Sir Foxy

1 Comment

  1. Roxer:

    We love you jar, you are always kind to people, share a lot of technical details in an open way and provide an amazing service since years!
    You are part of the reason i like low end communities :). THANK YOU!

    June 14, 2023 @ 10:55 am | Reply

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