CloudSponge: Soaking Up Your Contacts to Connect You Anywhere | Street Fight

CloudSponge: Soaking Up Your Contacts to Connect You Anywhere

CloudSponge: Soaking Up Your Contacts to Connect You Anywhere

We’ve all been there — asked to open our address books so a software tool could swipe our contacts and email friends or neighbors to help spread the word about something of interest, or include them in the cool new app we just discovered.  These days lots of services step up to help you do just that, and with the simplicity of a few clicks of approval.

But do some do it better? Maybe.

One startup is touting tremendous success for at least one company using their service: the (under radar) giant, Nextdoor, has seen a significant uptick in growth since deploying CloudSponge’s technology. How? We talked with Jay Gibb, CEO of CloudSponge (founded in 2009 by his agency Arizona Bay and now with four full-timers) to find out how their tools draw in contacts simpler than the others.

The company was “building, launching and scaling web-based businesses for entrepreneurs at Arizona Bay,” he said. Then they found themselves “building a totally different product that needed to be able to access its users’ address books.”

What exactly was it that got you on the path to CloudSponge?
It was a service that we were calling “Cloud Copy” that was supposed to provide a simple way for consumers to make a local copy of their cloud-hosted data. (This was back before everyone trusted “the cloud” like they do today.)

We started out building a feature for downloading and making a local copy of address books. While building that one feature we became intimately familiar with all of the contact importing solutions on the market (because we tried all of them) and we realized that there was an opportunity to build something better and sell it as a service.

So what did you build better?
CloudSponge provides a service that makes it easy for people to share contacts from their address books with our clients.

A common use case is when a client wants their users to input friends’ email addresses into a referral form or invitation form and they don’t want to make users leave their website to a different tab or window to find email addresses one-by-one. Our JavaScript address book widget lets their users select and share contact records from their address books without leaving our client’s Website.

Another common use case is when a client wants to populate their users’ accounts with all of their contacts for find-a-friend features like you see in popular social networks like Facebook and Yelp.

How has the product changed since the very early days?
Originally we had only a REST API that was targeting developers. Once we had a few dozen customers, some pretty obvious patterns formed that enabled us to expand the product in a direction that we knew would have traction, which is why we built the JavaScript address book widget.

Since its original version, the address book widget has evolved into a power tool with dozens of features and customization options and perfect usability on all screen sizes and device types. Nowadays we have a lot of marketing folks and other non-developers buying our service because it’s easy to install and configure without coding.

What sets you apart from the other contacts importers?
The main difference is that we’re a stable company with software that always works. We have very sophisticated monitoring bots that notify us the moment any of our address book providers change their data formats or APIs. Our full time, dedicated team rectifies those issues immediately so that our clients don’t have to deal with any surprises. Since our service is in the cloud our clients don’t have to apply patches or update their software to stay up to date with what the address book providers are doing.

How many address book providers do you integrate with?
It depends on how you count them. About 25 if you only count the parent companies, several hundred if you count all of their sub-brands and their white-labeled installations with ISPs.

Can CloudSponge pull contacts from native contact lists and non-Web-based address books?
We don’t have native libraries for iOS or Android at this time, so we’re not able to access the locally-stored contacts. Each of those, however, generally store their contacts online (iCloud and Google, respectively) so most of our clients are satisfied with our current implementation.

What are your biggest challenges today?
Growth. We’re focused on finding more customers and distribution channels. In particular, we want to find more ways to educate growth managers, engineers and marketers about how effective address book importing is for various use cases such as new-user on-boarding, finding friends on a platform, improving the usability of referral forms and a bunch of other common use cases.

Our pedigree is in software development, so getting good at marketing and sales has been a challenge for us.

How many customers utilize the product? Please talk about a couple, including Nextdoor.
We’re installed on well over one hundred thousand domains at this time and we have thousands of paying customers. We’re very proud of some of the household names that use our service such as Nextdoor, Airbnb, Yelp, Lyft, GoFundMe, Patreon and SurveyMonkey.

Regarding Nextdoor, how did you get connected with them? Are they your largest client?
[Nextdoor is a social networking service for neighborhoods and allows users to connect with people who live in their own neighborhood and nearby areas.] Nextdoor found us in Google’s organic search results back in 2012 and they’ve been a customer ever since. It has been a fascinating rocketship to watch and we’re proud to have played a tiny part in their success. They’re certainly one of the clients that gets the most value out of CloudSponge.

You mention address book imports have increased 300% for Nextdoor — over what period of time?
The Nextdoor story is really a viral growth story, so the explosion of CloudSponge usage happened in a matter of a few months once their viral coefficient (K) went above 1. They discovered that one of the best ways to get more neighborhoods on the platform was by allowing existing users to send email invitations to neighbors around them.

CloudSponge was an essential part of the process because it allowed users to send invitations to neighbors that were stored in their address books without leaving the Nextdoor site or manually typing email addresses. Removing that friction allowed users to send email invitations to neighbors in bulk which resulted in a substantial amount of invitations and increase in new users.

CloudSponge’s own case study, drawing input from Nextdoor’s Alex Karweit, head of growth engineering details more of their perspective:

One of the added benefits of integrating with CloudSponge has been the speed with which Nextdoor has been able to integrate several address book sources and the reduction in maintenance costs that comes with maintaining several different APIs and authentication streams.

Nextdoor is able to rapidly add new contact sources based on country and region due to their integration with CloudSponge.

“For us, it’s all about integration time, so CloudSponge basically knocked out a dozen major webmail providers in one fell swoop. If we had to do it ourselves, it probably would have been a decent amount of work it wouldn’t make sense to do it. Without being unsexy about it, the CloudSponge software just works and it saves our team a lot of time and allowed us to have leverage to grow more quickly. “

This phenomenon, however is not limited to address book importing for platform invitations. Karweit reflects, almost philosophically, about the power of outsourcing specific application functionality to third-party software vendors with a focused product strategy.

“In the mid-90s, the cost to get a company off the ground and do things was 10x of what it is now because you didn’t have AWS, you didn’t have all these 3rd party plug and play software packages that allow you to get leverage to go fast. CloudSponge and applications like it have allowed us to go fast, and it may not be on the scale of something like AWS, but they certainly all add up.”

Do you find more usage on desktop or mobile?
Mobile is definitely on a steady incline, but desktop is still at about 70% of the overall traffic to our address book widget.

What are the pricing plans?
There are four pricing plans ranging from $50 per month to $30,000 plus a year. Different sized companies have dramatically different needs and our plans are tailored in a way that allows us to be a good fit for any company that invests in their growth and user engagement metrics.

What plans have you got to expand the service?
Our expansion methodology is the same now as it was in 2010. We’re constantly watching what our clients are doing with our product and looking for patterns that inspire iterations that will have guaranteed traction. Our CTO and I do all of the customer support and onboarding personally so that we have perfect visibility into the technology that’s being built on the clients’ side to integrate with our service.

RickRRick Robinson is SVP of Product for on-demand roadside assistance startup Urgent.ly. He is also an advisor to Street Fight. Follow him at @itsrickrobinson