An overview on SMTP relays by an outsider - middle 2017

Do not feed the monkey!

Posted by snakers41 on July 13, 2017

You will give me all your money, right?

Was this a "no"?

Recently I did a bit of research into SMTP-relay market as a small consulting project, which I would like to share. Also later I may share some insights on the actual reality of working with said relays. Anyway I first had hands-on experience with SMTP (email services) market back in 2013-2014 when there was a big fuss about Mandrill (which was then de-facto standard and monopoly) raising their fees 3-5-10x.

Also as you know email communication is the best tool in the world, but it is also the most abused by the spammers.

This is what I found out recently (middle 2017):

  • SMTP relay business has always been really crowded and murky;
  • ESP (email service providers) wage war on spam and bulk emails;
  • Mailchimp is de-facto monopoly on marketing email automation market (it’s not just a relay, but also a service);
    • Just check out this link, this link (I guess these are "agency businesses");
  • Former Mailchimp people founded Mailjet, which is essentially Mandrill + Mailchimp + good documentation + online email building tools based on their open-source library mjml. The pricing is of course;
  • In late 2014 Mailchimp ditched Mandrill (it’s 10x cheaper API bulk sending service) to promote Mailchimp as its sole brand, which caused a public outburst. Now Mailchimp prices are typically 3x-5x of their competitors;
  • Most popular services on the market:
    • Mandrill - Mailchimp - first hand experience - they put VERY much emphasis on double opt-in and spam-fighting. Expensive. Essentially they claim to know what your clients want better than you. Your account is banned automatically for any signs of "suspicious behavior". Their support only cites their rules and actually cannot override their system;
    • Mailgun - you manage your reputation yourself - after some time they remove probation from your account. Cheap;
    • Sparkpost - high volume sending. Cheap;
    • Mailjet - copy of Mailchimp + visual email editor. Much focus on “double opt-in”. Also is expensive;
    • SendInBlue - cheaper copy of MailChimp. Much focus on “double opt-in”;
    • SendGrid, Amazon SES,  - used for high volume sending;
    • Good enough list of best SMTP relays for 2017;

Well, what to do if "double opt-in" is not an option for your business model and you do not want other people from first world countries to decide "what is the most suitable thing for your enterprise"?

Well the obvious approach is (ofc you can use something like Linux Postfix and do everything from scratch, but why?):

  1. Use 5-10 SMTP relays / APIs at the same time to share the load;
  2. Use tools like this one (Mailwhizz) that provide integration with most popular SMTP relays out of the box + ready made dashboards;
  3. I did some research on such software and did not really find any competitive option to Mailwhizz, which boasts:
    1. Cost US$50-100 for purchase and support;
    2. Self-served;
    3. Wiki ;
    4. Stellar reviews;
    5. Live support with tickets;
    6. Ca. ~5k installs on Codecanyon;
    7. There are people from India reselling this software + their service;

    There is an opinion that after Gmail implemented strong anti-spam filters (they use 200+ factor as far as I know) the spam is on the decline. On the other hand when I look at my email inbox I start to notice a few trends:

    • Very many companies from Russia and CIS sell email databases to each other (though it's a criminal offense - nobody cares);
    • In Russia it's common practice not to include unsubscribe button, or to include it, but a dummy, non-functioning one;
    • Gmail is really good in detecting spam based on your flags and its built-in ML models;
    • Most modern spam takes the shape of unsolicited marketing messages with beautiful / stock layouts offering some junk;
    • Gmail's anti-spam filters take 200+ features into consideration, and I believe that SMTP relays play a big part in that;
    • Indian emails are rare, they usually plague you if you register new domain names;


    Also when you encounter such charts you start to understand the strategies of the above companies to a certain extent:

    Well, that's all. I may continue this series, if I have more hands-on information. Your comments and experience are welcome below.