From Idea to Launch: Getting Your First Customers

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line outside of Apple

After deciding to build an unlimited backup service and developing our own storage platform, the next step was to get customers and feedback. Not all customers are created equal. Let’s talk about the types, and when and how to attract them.

How to Get Your First Customers

First Step – Don’t Launch Publicly
Launch when you’re ready for the judgments of people who don’t know you at all. Until then, don’t launch. Sign up users and customers either that you know, those you can trust to cut you some slack (while providing you feedback), or at minimum those for whom you can set expectations. For months the Backblaze website was a single page with no ability to get the product and minimal info on what it would be. This is not to counter the Lean Startup ‘iterate quickly with customer feedback’ advice. Rather, this is an acknowledgement that there are different types of feedback required based on your development stage.

Sign Up Your Friends
We knew all of our first customers; they were friends, family, and previous co-workers. Many knew what we were up to and were excited to help us. No magic marketing or tech savviness was required to reach them – we just asked that they try the service. We asked them to provide us feedback on their experience and collected it through email and conversations. While the feedback wasn’t unbiased, it was nonetheless wide-ranging, real, and often insightful. These people were willing to spend time carefully thinking about their feedback and delving deeper into the conversations.

Broaden to Beta
Unless you’re famous or your service costs $1 million per customer, you’ll probably need to expand quickly beyond your friends to build a business – and to get broader feedback. Our next step was to broaden the customer base to beta users.

Opening up the service in beta provides three benefits:

  1. Air cover for the early warts. There are going to be issues, bugs, unnecessarily complicated user flows, and poorly worded text. Beta tells people, “We don’t consider the product ‘done’ and you should expect some of these issues. Please be patient with us.”
  2. A request for feedback. Some people always provide feedback, but beta communicates that you want it.
  3. An awareness opportunity. Opening up in beta provides an early (but not only) opportunity to have an announcement and build awareness.

Pitching Beta to Press
Not all press cares about, or is even willing to cover, beta products. Much of the mainstream press wants to write about services that are fully live, have scale, and are important in the marketplace. However, there are a number of sites that like to cover the leading edge – and that means covering betas. Techcrunch, Ars Technica, and SimpleHelp covered our initial private beta launch. I’ll go into the details of how to work with the press to cover your announcements in a post next month.

Private vs. Public Beta
Both private and public beta provide all three of the benefits above. The difference between the two is that private betas are much more controlled, whereas public ones bring in more users. But this isn’t an either/or – I recommend doing both.

Private Beta
For our original beta in 2008, we decided that we were comfortable with about 1,000 users subscribing to our service. That would provide us with a healthy amount of feedback and get some early adoption, while not overwhelming us or our server capacity, and equally important not causing cash flow issues from having to buy more equipment. So we decided to limit the sign-up to only the first 1,000 people who signed up; then we would shut off sign-ups for a while.

But how do you even get 1,000 people to sign up for your service? In our case, get some major publications to write about our beta. (Note: In a future post I’ll explain exactly how to find and reach out to writers. Sign up to receive all of the entrepreneurial posts in this series.)

Public Beta
For our original service (computer backup), we did not have a public beta; but when we launched Backblaze B2, we had a private and then a public beta. The private beta allowed us to work out early kinks, while the public beta brought us a more varied set of use cases. In public beta, there is no cap on the number of users that may try the service.

While this is a first-class problem to have, if your service is flooded and stops working, it’s still a problem. Think through what you will do if that happens. In our early days, when our system could get overwhelmed by volume, we had a static web page hosted with a different registrar that wouldn’t let customers sign up but would tell them when our service would be open again. When we reached a critical volume level we would redirect to it in order to at least provide status for when we could accept more customers.

Collect Feedback
Since one of the goals of betas is to get feedback, we made sure that we had our email addresses clearly presented on the site so users could send us thoughts. We were most interested in broad qualitative feedback on users’ experience, so all emails went to an internal mailing list that would be read by everyone at Backblaze.

For our B2 public and private betas, we also added an optional short survey to the sign-up process. In order to be considered for the private beta you had to fill the survey out, though we found that 80% of users continued to fill out the survey even when it was not required. This survey had both closed-end questions (“how much data do you have”) and open-ended ones (“what do you want to use cloud storage for?”).

BTW, despite us getting a lot of feedback now via our support team, Twitter, and marketing surveys, we are always open to more – you can email me directly at gleb.budman {at} backblaze.com.

Don’t Throw Away Users
Initially our backup service was available only on Windows, but we had an email sign-up list for people who wanted it for their Mac. This provided us with a sense of market demand and a ready list of folks who could be beta users and early adopters when we had a Mac version. Have a service targeted at doctors but lawyers are expressing interest? Capture that.

Product Launch

When
The first question is “when” to launch. Presuming your service is in ‘public beta’, what is the advantage of moving out of beta and into a “version 1.0”, “gold”, or “public availability”? That depends on your service and customer base. Some services fly through public beta. Gmail, on the other hand, was (in)famous for being in beta for 5 years, despite having over 100 million users.

The term beta says to users, “give us some leeway, but feel free to use the service”. That’s fine for many consumer apps and will have near zero impact on them. However, services aimed at businesses and government will often not be adopted with a beta label as the enterprise customers want to know the company feels the service is ‘ready’. While Backblaze started out as a purely consumer service, because it was a data backup service, it was important for customers to trust that the service was ready.

No product is bug-free. But from a product readiness perspective, the nomenclature should also be a reflection of the quality of the product. You can launch a product with one feature that works well out of beta. But a product with fifty features on which half the users will bump into problems should likely stay in beta. The customer feedback, surveys, and your own internal testing should guide you in determining this quality during the beta. Be careful about “we’ve only seen that one time” or “I haven’t been able to reproduce that on my machine”; those issues are likely to scale with customers when you launch.

How
Launching out of beta can be as simple as removing the beta label from the website/product. However, this can be a great time to reach out to press, write a blog post, and send an email announcement to your customers.

Consider thanking your beta testers somehow; can they get some feature turned out for free, an extension of their trial, or premium support? If nothing else, remember to thank them for their feedback. Users that signed up during your beta are likely the ones who will propel your service. They had the need and interest to both be early adopters and deal with bugs. They are likely the key to getting 1,000 true fans.

The Beginning
The title of this post was “Getting your first customers”, because getting to launch may feel like the peak of your journey when you’re pre-launch, but it really is just the beginning. It’s a step along the journey of building your business. If your launch is wildly successful, enjoy it, work to build on the momentum, but don’t lose track of building your business. If your launch is a dud, go out for a coffee with your team, say “well that sucks”, and then get back to building your business. You can learn a tremendous amount from your early customers, and they can become your biggest fans, but the success of your business will depend on what you continue to do the months and years after your launch.

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Sync vs. Backup vs. Storage

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Cloud Sync vs. Cloud Backup vs. Cloud Storage

Google Drive recently announced their new Backup and Sync feature for Google Drive, which allows users to select folders on their computer that they want to back up to their Google Drive account (note: these files count against your Google Drive storage limit). Whenever new backup services are announced, we get a lot of questions so I thought we should take a minute to review the differences in cloud based services.

What is the Cloud? Sync Vs Backup Vs Storage

There is still a lot of confusion in the space about what exactly the “cloud” is and how different services interact with it. When folks use a syncing and sharing service like Dropbox, Box, Google Drive, OneDrive or any of the others, they often assume those are acting as a cloud backup solution as well. Adding to the confusion, cloud storage services are often the backend for backup and sync services as well as standalone services. To help sort this out, we’ll define some of the terms below as they apply to a traditional computer set-up with a bunch of apps and data.

Cloud Sync (ex. Dropbox, iCloud Drive, OneDrive, Box, Google Drive) – these services sync folders on your computer to folders on other machines or to the cloud – allowing users to work from a folder or directory across devices. Typically these services have tiered pricing, meaning you pay for the amount of data you store with the service. If there is data loss, sometimes these services even have a rollback feature, of course only files that are in the synced folders are available to be recovered.

Cloud Backup (ex. Backblaze Cloud Backup, Mozy, Carbonite) – these services work in the background automatically. The user does not need to take any action like setting up specific folders. Backup services typically back up any new or changed data on your computer to another location. Before the cloud took off, that location was primarily a CD or an external hard drive – but as cloud storage became more readily available it became the most popular storage medium. Typically these services have fixed pricing, and if there is a system crash or data loss, all backed up data is available for restore. In addition, these services have rollback features in case there is data loss / accidental file deletion.

Cloud Storage (ex. Backblaze B2, Amazon S3, Microsoft Azure) – these services are where many online backup and syncing and sharing services store data. Cloud storage providers typically serve as the endpoint for data storage. These services typically provide APIs, CLIs, and access points for individuals and developers to tie in their cloud storage offerings directly. These services are priced “per GB” meaning you pay for the amount of storage that you use. Since these services are designed for high-availability and durability, data can live solely on these services – though we still recommend having multiple copies of your data, just in case.

What Should You Use?

Backblaze strongly believes in a 3-2-1 Backup Strategy. A 3-2-1 strategy means having at least 3 total copies of your data, 2 of which are local but on different mediums (e.g. an external hard drive in addition to your computer’s local drive), and at least 1 copy offsite. The best setup is data on your computer, a copy on a hard drive that lives somewhere not inside your computer, and another copy with a cloud backup provider. Backblaze Cloud Backup is a great compliment to other services, like Time Machine, Dropbox, and even the free-tiers of cloud storage services.

What is The Difference Between Cloud Sync and Backup?

Let’s take a look at some sync setups that we see fairly frequently.

Example 1) Users have one folder on their computer that is designated for Dropbox, Google Drive, OneDrive, or one of the other syncing/sharing services. Users save or place data into those directories when they want them to appear on other devices. Often these users are using the free-tier of those syncing and sharing services and only have a few GB of data uploaded in them.

Example 2) Users are paying for extended storage for Dropbox, Google Drive, OneDrive, etc… and use those folders as the “Documents” folder – essentially working out of those directories. Files in that folder are available across devices, however, files outside of that folder (e.g. living on the computer’s desktop or anywhere else) are not synced or stored by the service.

What both examples are missing however is the backup of photos, movies, videos, and the rest of the data on their computer. That’s where cloud backup providers shine, by automatically backing up user data with little or no set-up, and no need for the dragging-and-dropping of files. Backblaze actually scans your hard drive to find all the data, regardless of where it might be hiding. The results are, all the user’s data is kept in the Backblaze cloud and the portion of the data that is synced is also kept in that provider’s cloud – giving the user another layer of redundancy. Best of all, Backblaze will actually back up your Dropbox, iCloud Drive, Google Drive, and OneDrive folders.

Data Recovery

The most important feature to think about is how easy it is to get your data back from all of these services. With sync and share services, retrieving a lot of data, especially if you are in a high-data tier, can be cumbersome and take awhile. Generally, the sync and share services only allow customers to download files over the Internet. If you are trying to download more than a couple gigabytes of data, the process can take time and can be fraught with errors.

With cloud storage services, you can usually only retrieve data over the Internet as well, and you pay for both the storage and the egress of the data, so retrieving a large amount of data can be both expensive and time consuming.

Cloud backup services will enable you to download files over the internet too and can also suffer from long download times. At Backblaze we never want our customers to feel like we’re holding their data hostage, which is why we have a lot of restore options, including our Restore Return Refund policy, which allows people to restore their data via a USB Hard Drive, and then return that drive to us for a refund. Cloud sync providers do not provide this capability.

One popular data recovery use case we’ve seen when a person has a lot of data to restore is to download just the files that are needed immediately, and then order a USB Hard Drive restore for the remaining files that are not as time sensitive. The user gets all their files back in a few days, and their network is spared the download charges.

The bottom line is that all of these services have merit for different use-cases. Have questions about which is best for you? Sound off in the comments below!

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Balancing Convenience and Privacy

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balancing convenience and privacy

In early January of this year, in a conference room with a few other colleagues, we were at a point where we needed to decide how to balance convenience and privacy for our customers. The context being our team earnestly finalizing and prioritizing the launch features of our revamped Business Backup product. In the process, we introduced a piece of functionality that we call “Groups.” A Group is a mechanism that centralizes payment and simplifies management for multiple Backblaze users in a given organization or business. As with many services there were tradeoffs, but this one proved thornier than most.

The Trade-off Between Convenience and Privacy

The problem started as we considered the possibility of having a “Managed” Group. The concept is simple enough: Centralized billing is good, but there are clear use cases where a user would like to have someone act on their behalf. For instance, a business may want a System Administrator to create/manage restores on behalf of a group of employees. We have had many instances of someone from the home office ordering a hard drive restore for an employee in the field. Similarly, a Managed Service Provider (MSP) might provide, and potentially charge for, the service of creating/managing restores for their customers. In short, the idea of having an Administrator manage a defined collection of users (i.e. a Group) was compelling and added a level of convenience.

Great. It’s decided then, we need to introduce the concept of a Managed Group. And we’ll also have Unmanaged Groups. You can have infinite Groups of either kind, we’ll let the user decide!

Here’s the problem: The Managed Group feature could have easily been used for evil. For example, an overeager Administrator could restore an employee’s files, at anytime, for any reason – legitimate or nefarious. This felt wrong as we’re a backup company, not spyware company.

This is when the discussion got more interesting. By adding a convenience feature, we realized that there was potential for user privacy to be violated. As we worked through the use cases, we faced potential conflict between two of our guiding principles:

  • Make backup astonishingly easy. Whether you are a individual, family, or business (or some combination), we want to make your life easier.
  • Don’t be evil. With great data storage comes great responsibility. We are the custodians of sensitive data and take that seriously.

So how best to balance a feature that customers clearly want while enabling sane protections for all users? It was an interesting question internally – one where a fair amount of meetings, hallway conversations, and email exchanges were conducted in order to get it right.

Enabling Administration While Safeguarding Team Privacy

Management can be turned on for any Group at the time of Group Creation. As mentioned above, one Administrator can have as many Groups as desired and those Groups can be a mix of Managed and Unmanaged.

But there’s an interesting wrinkle – if Management is enabled, potential members of that Group are told that the feature is enabled before they join the Group.

Backblze for Business Group Invite

We’ve, in plain terms, disclosed what is happening before the person starts backing up. If you read that and choose to start backing up, then you have been armed with full information.

Unfortunately, life isn’t that cut and dry. What if your company selected Backblaze and insists that everyone join the Group? Sure, you were told there are Administrators. Fine, my Administrator is supposed to act in the constructive interest of the Group. But what if the Admin is, as the saying goes, “for badness”?

Our solution, while seemingly innocuous, felt like it introduced a level of transparency and auditability that made us comfortable moving forward. Before an Administrator can do a restore on a Group Member’s behalf, the Admin is presented with a pop up that looks like this:

Backblaze for Business Restore Notification

If the Admin is going to create a restore on a user’s behalf, then that user will be notified of the activity. A less than well intentioned Admin will have some reluctance if he knows the user will receive an email. Since permission for this type of activity was granted when the individual joined the Group, we do allow the Admin to proceed with the restore operation without further approval (convenience).

However, the user will get notified and can raise any questions or concerns as desired. There are no false positives, if the user gets an email, that means an Admin was going to restore data from the user’s account. In addition, because the mechanism is email, it creates an audit trail for the company. If there are users that don’t want the alerts, we recommend simply creating an email filter rule and putting them into a folder (in case some day you did want them).

Customer Adoption

The struggle for us was to strike the right balance between privacy and convenience. Specifically, we wanted to empower our users to set the mix where it is appropriate for them. In the case of Groups, it’s been interesting to see that 93% of Groups are of the “Managed” variety.

More importantly to us, we get consistently good feedback about the notification mechanisms in place. Even for organizations where one Admin may be taking a number of legitimate actions, we’re told that the notifications are appreciated in the spirit that they are intended. We’ll continue to solicit feedback and analyze usage to find ways to improve all of our features. But hearing and seeing customer satisfaction is a positive indicator that we’ve struck the appropriate balance between convenience and privacy.

The late 20th century philosopher, Judge Smails, once posited “the most important decision you can make right now is what do you stand for…? Goodness… or badness?”

We choose goodness. How do you think we did?

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An Open Letter To Microsoft: A 64-bit OS is Better Than a 32-bit OS

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Windows 32 Bit vs. 64 Bit

Editor’s Note: Our co-founder & CTO, Brian Wilson, was working on a few minor performance enhancements and bug fixes (Inherit Backup State is a lot faster now). We got a version of this note from him late one night and thought it was worth sharing.

There are a few absolutes in life – death, taxes, and that a 64-bit OS is better than a 32-bit OS. Moving over to a 64-bit OS allows your laptop to run BOTH the old compatible 32-bit processes and also the new 64-bit processes. In other words, there is zero downside (and there are gigantic upsides).

32-Bit vs. 64-Bit

The main gigantic upside of a 64-bit process is the ability to support more than 2 GBytes of RAM (pedantic people will say “4 GBytes”… but there are technicalities I don’t want to get into here). Since only 1.6% of Backblaze customers have 2 GBytes or less of RAM, the other 98.4% desperately need 64-bit support, period, end of story. And remember, there is no downside.

Because there is zero downside, the first time it could, Apple shipped with 64-bit OS support. Apple did not give customers the option of “turning off all 64-bit programs.” Apple first shipped 64-bit support in OS X 10.6 Tiger in 2009 (which also had 32-bit support, so there was zero downside to the decision).

This was so successful that Apple shipped all future Operating Systems configured to support both 64-bit and 32-bit processes. All of them. Customers no longer had an option to turn off 64-bit support.

As a result, less than 2/10ths of 1% of Backblaze Mac customers are running a computer that is so old that it can only run 32-bit programs. Despite those microscopic numbers we still loyally support this segment of our customers by providing a 32-bit only version of Backblaze’s backup client.

Apple vs. Microsoft

But let’s contrast the Apple approach with that of Microsoft. Microsoft offers a 64-bit OS in Windows 10 that runs all 64-bit and all 32-bit programs. This is a valid choice of an Operating System. The problem is Microsoft ALSO gives customers the option to install 32-bit Windows 10 which will not run 64-bit programs. That’s crazy.

Another advantage of the 64-bit version of Windows is security. There are a variety of security features such as ASLR (Address Space Layout Randomization) that work best in 64-bits. The 32-bit version is inherently less secure.

By choosing 32-bit Windows 10 a customer is literally choosing a lower performance, LOWER SECURITY, Operating System that is artificially hobbled to not run all software.

When one of our customers running 32-bit Windows 10 contacts Backblaze support, it is almost always a customer that did not realize the choice they were making when they installed 32-bit Windows 10. They did not have the information to understand what they are giving up. For example, we have seen customers that have purchased 8 GB of RAM, yet they had installed 32-bit Windows 10. Simply by their OS “choice”, they disabled about 3/4ths of the RAM that they paid for!

Let’s put some numbers around it: Approximately 4.3% of Backblaze customers with Windows machines are running a 32-bit version of Windows compared with just 2/10ths of 1% of our Apple customers. The Apple customers did not choose incorrectly, they just have not upgraded their operating system in the last 9 years. If we assume the same rate of “legitimate older computers not upgraded yet” for Microsoft users that means 4.1% of the Microsoft users made a fairly large mistake when they choose their Microsoft Operating System version.

Now some people would blame the customer because after all they made the OS selection. Microsoft offers the correct choice, which is 64-bit Windows 10. In fact, 95.7% of Backblaze customers running Windows made the correct choice. My issue is that Microsoft shouldn’t offer the 32-bit version at all.

And again, for the fifth time, you will not lose any 32-bit capabilities as the 64-bit operating system runs BOTH 32-bit applications and 64-bit applications. You only lose capabilities if you choose the 32-bit only Operating System.

This is how bad it is -> When Microsoft released Windows Vista in 2007 it was 64-bit and also ran all 32-bit programs flawlessly. So at that time I was baffled why Microsoft ALSO released Windows Vista in 32-bit only mode – a version that refused to run any 64-bit binaries. Then, again in Windows 7, they did the same thing and I thought I was losing my mind. And again with Windows 8! By Windows 10, I realized Microsoft may never stop doing this. No matter how much damage they cause, no matter what happens.

You might be asking -> why do I care? Why does Brian want Microsoft to stop shipping an Operating System that is likely only chosen by mistake? My problem is this: Backblaze, like any good technology vendor, wants to be easy to use and friendly. In this case, that means we need to quietly, invisibly, continue to support BOTH the 32-bit and the 64-bit versions of every Microsoft OS they release. And we’ll probably need to do this for at least 5 years AFTER Microsoft officially retires the 32-bit only version of their operating system.

Supporting both versions is complicated. The more data our customers have, the more momentarily RAM intensive some functions (like inheriting backup state) can be. The more data you have the bigger the problem. Backblaze customers who accidentally chose to disable 64-bit operations are then going to have problems. It means we have to explain to some customers that their operating system is the root cause of many performance issues in their technical lives. This is never a pleasant conversation.

I know this will probably fall on deaf ears, but Microsoft, for the sake of your customers and third party application developers like Backblaze, please stop shipping Operating Systems that disable 64-bit support. It is causing all of us a bunch of headaches we do not need.

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Preserving the Music of Austin City Limits

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Austin City Limits

KLRU-TV, Austin PBS created Austin City Limits 42 years ago and has produced it ever since. Austin City Limits is the longest-running music series in television history. Over the years, KLRU accumulated over 550 episodes and thousands of hours of unaired footage stored on videotape. When KLRU decided to preserve their collection they turned to Backblaze for help with uploading and storing this unparalleled musical anthology in the Backblaze B2 cloud.

Upload: Backblaze B2 Fireball

KLRU started their preservation efforts by digitizing their collection of videotapes. After some internal processing, they were ready to upload the files to Backblaze, but there was a problem – one facing many organizations with a stash of historical digital data – their network connection was “slow”. It was fine for daily work, but uploading terabytes of data was not going to work.

“We would not have been able to get this project off the ground without the B2 Fireball.” – James Cole, KLRU

Backblaze B2 Fireball to the rescue. The B2 Fireball is a secure, shippable, data ingest system capable of transporting up to 40 terabytes of data from your location to Backblaze where the data is ingested into your B2 account. Designed for those organizations that have large amounts of data locally that they want to store in the cloud, the Backblaze B2 Fireball was just what KLRU needed to get the project started.

Preserve: Live Archive with B2

The KLRU staff is working hard to digitize and restore their entire musical archive and they are committed to preserving their data by having both a local copy and a cloud copy of their files. By choosing Backblaze B2 Cloud Storage versus a near-line or off-line storage solution KLRU now has an affordable live archive of their data they can access without delay anytime they need.

You can download and read the entire Austin City Limits case study for more details on how KLRU used B2 as part of their strategy to preserve their entire catalog of Austin City Limits content for future generations.

Dave Grohl Austin City Limits performance

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Data Backup: Minimizing The Impact of Ransomware

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The old adage “Backing up your data is important to plan for, as hard drives inevitably fail.” is as true as ever, but equally true now is the need to backup your data to thwart the increasing frequency of ransomware attacks.

What is Ransomware?

Ransomware is malicious software that blocks access to your data, by encrypting files, until a ransom is paid. Once the ransom is paid, if you’re lucky, a decryption key is provided to the victim(s) to decrypt and access files.

How Does Ransomware Work?

Ransomware comes in two not-so-fun flavors: Encryptors and lockers. Encryptors incorporate advanced encryption algorithms to block system files until a ransom is paid. Lockers do as the name implies, locking victims out of their operating system. This makes it impossible to access applications, files and even the desktop until a ransom is paid. Encryptors, also known as crypto-ransomware, are the most widespread type of ransomware.

One of the more frustrating aspects of ransomware is that even if you’re careful to avoid it by not clicking on suspicious attachments, someone else’s infected computer might spread the malware to your computer over a shared network. WannaCry, a cryptoworm, spread in this fashion during the May 2017 ransomware attack.

How Backblaze Can Help Against Ransomware

“The best way to combat against ransomware is to backup your data.”

If you’re a current subscriber of Backblaze, there’s good news: Since Backblaze is continuously running online backup of your data, you can circumvent the need to pay a ransom by accessing and restore your files from your Backblaze backup.

If you’re new to Backblaze there is no time like the present to backup. Over the past 10 years, through our annual backup survey, we’ve consistently found that most people fail to regularly backup their data. 25% never backup and nearly 67% have not backed up in the last year. With so few people backing up, it is no wonder that ransomware is so effective.

Protecting Data Against Ransomware with Backblaze
Protecting yourself against ransomware, and malware in general, with Backblaze is quite easy. We previously highlighted one instance of how Backblaze provided a solution to one of our customers to circumvent a ransomware attack and, ultimately, restoring their data. In short, these are the steps you should take to safeguard yourself with Backblaze:

  1. Install Backblaze, if you haven’t already, on your computer.
  2. Make sure your Backblaze client is running and backing up your drive(s).
  3. At first notice of ransomware infecting your computer disable the Backblaze client temporarily.
  4. Login to Backblaze.com, “turn back time” for up to 30 days before the attack happened, access individual or all your files online, and/or request a full data restore via our Restore By Mail service.

Now that you’re armed with this knowledge, don’t let ransomware get the best of you.

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Backup Awareness Survey, Our 10th Year

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Backup Awareness

This is the 10th year Backblaze has designated June as Backup Awareness Month. It is also the 10th year of our annual Backup Awareness Survey. Each year, the survey has asked the question; “How often do you backup all of the data on your computer?” As they have done since the beginning, the good folks at Harris Interactive have conducted the survey, captured and tabulated the answers, and provided us with the results. Let’s take a look at what 10 years worth of surveys can tell us about computer backup.

Backup Awareness Survey

Let’s start with 2017 and see how computer owners answered our question.

Backup Frequency

The most popular answer is “Yearly” at 26.3%. The least popular choice was “Daily” at just 9.3%. The difference between those two extremes can be easily calculated in days, but consider how much more data would be lost if you had backed up 364 days ago versus just 23 hours ago. How many photos, videos, spreadsheets, tax documents, and more would be lost when your computer crashed, or was stolen, or was attacked by ransomware like Wannacry or Cryptolocker. The longer the time between backups, the higher the risk of losing data.

Trends Over the Last 10 Years

With 10 years worth of data, we have the opportunity to see if attitudes, or more appropriately actions, have changed with regards to how often people backup their data.

In general, more people seem to be backing up as all of the individual backup periods; daily, weekly, monthly, etc., are either the same or increasing their individual percentages over time. The chart below highlights the good news.

Backup Trends

We are winning! Over the 10-year period, more people are backing up all the data on their computer, at least once. From a low of 62% in 2008, the percentage of people who have backed up their computer has risen to 79% in 2017, a 27% increase over 10 years. OK, so its not amazing growth, but we’ll take it.

Facts and Figures and History

Each survey provides interesting insights into the attributes of backup fiends and backup slackers. Here are a few facts from the 2017 survey.

  • 91% of Americans don’t backup their computers at least once a day.
  • 21% of Americans have never backed up all the data on their computers.
  • 17% of American males have never backed up all the data on their computers.
  • 25% of American females have never backed up all the data on their computers.
  • 97% of American students (18+) that have a computer, don’t back it up daily.
  • 87% of American college graduates that have a computer, don’t back it up daily – I guess that 10% of them learned something in college.

As we get older we backup more often…

Age Range Backup Daily
18 – 34 6%
35 – 44 8%
45 – 54 11%
55 – 64 11%
65 plus 12%

Here are links to our previous blog posts on our annual Backup Awareness Survey:

Backup Awareness Month

Why a whole month for backup awareness? There’s a theory in human behavior that says in order for something to become a habit, you have to do it consistently for at least three weeks. To make backing up your computer a habit, remind yourself each day in June to backup your computer. Tie a string around your finger or set a reminder on your phone, whatever it takes so that you remember to backup your computer each day in June. Of course, the three-week theory is considered unproven and “your mileage may vary”, but at least you’ll be backed up during the month of June.

Maybe, instead of trying to create a new daily backup habit, perhaps you could use a computer application. I’ll bet if you looked hard enough, you could find a computer program for your Mac or PC that would automatically remember to backup your computer each day – or even more often. That would awesome, right? Yes it would.

Survey Methodology
The surveys were conducted online within the United States by Harris Interactive on behalf of Backblaze as follows: May 19-23, 2017 among 2048 U.S. adults, May 13-17, 2016 among 2,012 U.S. adults, May 15-19, 2015 among 2,090 U.S. adults, June 2-4, 2014 among 2,037 U.S. adults, June 13–17, 2013 among 2,021 U.S. adults, May 31–June 4, 2012 among 2,209 U.S. adults, June 28–30, 2011 among 2,257 U.S. adults, June 3–7, 2010 among 2,071 U.S. adults, May 13–14, 2009 among 2,185 U.S. adults, and May 27–29, 2008 among 2,761 U.S. adults. In all surveys, respondents consisted of U.S. adult computer users (aged 18+), weighted to the U.S. adult population of computer users. These online surveys are not based on a probability sample and therefore no estimate of theoretical sampling error can be calculated.

The post Backup Awareness Survey, Our 10th Year appeared first on Backblaze Blog | Cloud Storage & Cloud Backup.

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Managing a Remote Workforce

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working in an airport
While Backblaze has customers all around the globe, the company itself is a pretty small enterprise with just over 50 employees. Many of those employees are actually remote. 75% of Backblaze employees work from the main Backblaze office (San Mateo), 15% are datacenter employees, and 10% working remotely full-time.

Many companies that were the pioneers with flexible work arrangements are now pulling back and asking their employees to report into an office. Why? Some part of that is due to not knowing how to manage these types of employees and belief that having an employee in the office, will improve work performance.

At Backblaze, we think that managing our diverse workforce is certainly a challenge… but, as the saying goes, the juice is worth the squeeze.

Communication is Key

When Backblaze first started, everyone worked out of the same room. Being 5’ away from someone tends to make communication easy (sometimes too easy). The first datacenter was just a few miles away, so if we needed to do something in it, we’d just hop in a car and drive over – calling co-workers from our cell-phones if we needed some help or guidance. Now, things have changed slightly and we use a lot of different tools to talk amongst ourselves.

It started with emails, then morphed into Gchat, then to Google Hangouts, and now we have a whole suite of communication tools. We use Hangouts and Slack to chat internally, Meet for video conferencing to bridge remote employees, , and good old fashioned telephones when the need arises. Tools like Trello, Redbooth, and Jira can help project manage as well – making sure that everyone stays on the same page.
For HR related needs, we use a variety of tools/perks to simplify employees lives whether they are at the office or at home enjoying time with their families. These tools include an Human Resource Information System (“HRIS”) called Namely, Expensify (expenses), Eshares (stock), Fond (perks) and Heal.

The most popular tool we use is Slack. Each department, location, product, and support group have their own Channel. We also have social channels where all the GIFs and news links live. Slack also has the added benefit of allowing us to limit what information is discussed where. For example, contract employees do not have access to channels that go beyond their scope and focus areas.

Solve for Culture, not Offsite v Onsite

One of the keys to managing a remote workforce is realizing that you’re solving for overall culture. It’s not about whether any group of employees are in office X or Y. The real question is: Are we creating an environment where we remove the friction from people performing their roles? There are follow-up questions like “do we have the right roles defined?” and “do we have people in roles where they will succeed?”. But by looking at managing our workforce from that point of view, it makes it easier to identify what tools and resources we need to be successful.

There’s no right way to manage remote employees. Every work environment is different and the culture, available technology, and financial capability affects how employees can interact. Backblaze went through a ton of iterations before we found the right tools for what we were trying to accomplish, and we’re constantly evolving and experimenting. But we have found some consistent patterns…

    • Nothing Beats Human Interaction

Even with all of the communication tools at our disposal, getting together in person is still the best way to get through projects and make sure everyone is on the same page. While having group meetings via Slack and Meet are great for planning, inevitably something will fall through the cracks or get lost in cyberspace due to poor connections. We combat this by having all of our remote employees come to the main office once every two months. When we hired our first remote engineers this was a once-a-month visit, but as we got more accustomed to working together and over the web, we scaled it back.

These visits allow our engineers to be in the office, be part of meetings that they’d otherwise miss, and meet any new employees we’ve hired. We think it’s important for people to know who they’re working with, and we love that everyone at Backblaze knows (or at least recognizes) each other. We also plan our company outings around these visits, and this brings about a great company culture since we get a chance to be out of the office together and interact socially – which is a lot more fun than interacting professionally.

    • Don’t Fear HR

When you have a small workforce, duties can sometimes be divided amongst a variety of people – even if those duties don’t pertain to their ‘day job’. Having a full-time HR person allowed folks to jettison some of their duties, and allowed them to get back to their primary job functions. It also allowed HR to handle delicate matters, many of which were amongst the most dreaded for folks who were covering some of the responsibilities.

What we’ve found in creating the full-time HR role for our remote workforce was that we finally had an expert on all HR-related things. This meant that we had someone who knew the laws of the land inside and out and could figure out how the different healthcare systems worked in the states where our employees reside (no small feat).

But Why Bother?

There is a principle question that we haven’t yet addressed: Why do we even have remote employees? This gets back to the idea of looking at the culture and environment first. At Backblaze, we look to hire the right person. There are costs to having remote employees, but if they are the right person for the role (when accounting for the “costs”), then that’s the right thing to do. Backblaze is performance driven, not based off of attendance and how long you stay at the office. I believe the you need a balance of both office work as well as remote to allow the employee to be most productive. But every company and setting is different; so experiments need to take place to figure out what would be the perfect blend for your team atmosphere.

The post Managing a Remote Workforce appeared first on Backblaze Blog | Cloud Storage & Cloud Backup.

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Building a Competitive Moat: Turning Challenges Into Advantages

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castle on top of a storage pod

In my previous post on how Backblaze got started, I mentioned that “just because we knew the right solution, didn’t mean that it was possible.” I’ll dig into that here. The right solution was to offer unlimited backup for $5 per month. The price of storage at the time, however, would have likely forced us to price our unlimited backup service at 2x – 5x that.

We were faced with a difficult challenge – compromise a fundamental feature of our product by removing the unlimited storage element, increase our price point in order to cover our costs but likely limit our potential customer base, seek funding in order to run at a loss while we built market share with a hope/prayer we could make a profit in the future, or find another way (huge unknown that might not have a solution). Below I’ll dig into the options that were available, the paths we tried, and how this challenge completely transformed our company and ended up being our greatest technological advantage.

Available Options:

Use a Storage Service

Originally we intended to build the backup application, but leave the back-end storage to others; likely Amazon S3. This had many advantages:

  1. We would not have to worry about the storage at all
  2. It would scale up or down as we needed it
  3. We would pay only for what we used

Especially as a small, bootstrapped company with limited resources – these were incredible benefits.

There was just one problem. At S3’s then current pricing ($0.15/GB/month), a customer storing just 33 GB would cost us 100% of the $5 per month we would collect. Additionally, we would need to pay S3 transaction and download charges, along with our engineering/support/marketing and other expenses.. The conclusion, even if the average customer stored just 33 GB, it would cost us at least $10/month for a customer that we were charging just $5/month.

In 2007, when we were getting started, there were a few other storage services available. But all were more expensive. Despite the fantastic benefits of using such a service, it simply didn’t work for us.

Buy Storage Systems

Buying storage systems didn’t have all the benefits of using a storage service – we would have to forecast need, buy in big blocks up front, manage data centers, etc. – but it seemed the second-best option. Companies such as EMC, NetApp, Dell, and others sold hundreds of petabytes of storage systems where they provide the servers, software, and support.

Alas, there were two problems: One temporary, the other permanent (and fatal). The temporary problem was that these systems were hundreds of thousands of dollars just to get started. This was challenging for us from a cash-flow perspective, but it was just a question of coming up with the cash. The permanent problem was that these systems cost ~$1,000/TB of storage. Hard drives were selling for ~$100/TB, so there was a 10x markup for the storage system. That markup eliminated pursuing this path. What if the the average customer had 100 GB to store? It would take us 20 months to pay off the purchase. We weren’t sure how much data the average customer would have, but the scenarios we were running made it seem like a $5/month price point was unsustainable.

Our Choices Where:

Don’t Offer the Right Solution

If it’s impossible to offer unlimited backup for $5/month, there are certainly choices. We could have raised the price to $10/month, not make the backup unlimited, or close-up shop altogether. All doable, none ideal.

Raise Funding

Plenty of companies raise funding before they can be self-sustaining, and it can work out great for everyone. We had raised funding for a previous company and believed we could have done it for Backblaze. And raising funding would have taken care of the cash-flow issue if we chose to buy storage systems.

However, it would have left us with a business with negative unit economics – we would lose money on every customer, and the faster we grew, the more money we would lose. VCs do fund these types of companies often (many of the delivery companies today fall in this realm) with the idea that, at scale, you improve your cost structure and possibly also charge more. But it’s a dangerous game since not only is the business not self-sustaining, it inevitably must be significantly altered in order to survive.

Find a Way to Store Data for Less

If there were some way to store data for less, significantly less, it could all work. We had a tiny glimmer of hope that it would be possible: Since hard drives only cost ~$100/TB, if we could somehow use those drives without adding much overhead, that would be quite affordable.

“we wanted to build a sustainable business from day one and build a culture that believes dollars come from customers.”

Our first decision was to not compromise our product by restricting the amount of storage. Although this would have been a much easier solution, it violated our core mission: Create a simple and inexpensive solution to backup all of your important data.

We had previously also decided not to raise funding to get started because we wanted to build a sustainable business from day one and build a culture that believes dollars come from customers. With those decisions made, we moved onto finding the best solution to fulfill our mission and create a viable company.

Experimentation

All we wanted was to attach hard drives to the Internet. If we could do that inexpensively, our backup application could store the data there and we could offer our unlimited backup service.

A hard drive needs to be connected to a server to be available on the Internet. It certainly wouldn’t be very cost effective to have one server for every hard drive, as the server costs would dominate the equation. Alternatively, trying to attach a lot of drives to a server resulted in needing expensive “enterprise” servers. The goal then became cost-efficiently attaching as many hard drives as possible to one server. According to its spec, USB is supposed to allow for 127 devices to be daisy-chained to a single port. We tried; it didn’t work. We considered Firewire, which could connect 63 devices, but the connectors are aimed at graphic designers and ended up too expensive on a unit-basis. Our next thought was to use small consumer-grade DAS (Direct-attached storage) devices and connect those to a server. We managed to attach 8 DAS devices with 4 drives each for a total of 32 hard drives connected to one server.

DAS units attached to a server
This worked well, but it was operationally challenging as none of these devices were meant to fit in a data center rack. Further complicating matters was that moving one of these setups required cabling 10 power cords, and separately moving 9 boxes. Fine at small scale, but very hard to scale up.

We realized that we didn’t need all the boxes, we just needed backplanes to connect the drives from the DAS boxes to the motherboard from the server. We found a different DAS box that supports port multipliers and took that backplane. How did we decide on that DAS box? Tim, co-founder & Chief Cloud Officer, remembers going to Fry’s and picking the box that looked “about right”.

That all laid the path for our eventual 45 drive design. The next thought was: If we could put all that in one box, it might be the solution we were looking for. The first iteration of this was a plywood box.

the first wooden storage pod

That eventually evolved into a steel server and what we refer to as a Storage Pod.

steel storage pod chassis

Building a Storage Platform

The Storage Pod became our key building block, but was just a tiny component of the ‘storage platform’. We had to write software that would run on each Storage Pod, software that would create redundancy between the Storage Pods, and central software and systems that would coordinate other aspects of the system to accept/load balance/validate/clean-up data. We had to find and train contract manufacturers to build the Storage Pods, find and negotiate data center space and bandwidth, setup processes to buy drives and track their reliability, hire people to maintain the systems, and setup the business processes to do all of this and more at scale.

All of this ended up taking tremendous technical effort, management engagement, and work from all corners of Backblaze. But it has also paid enormous dividends.

The Transformation

We started Backblaze thinking of ourselves as a backup company. In reality, we became a storage company with ‘backup’ as the first service we offered on our storage platform. Our backup service relies on the storage platform as, without the storage platform, we couldn’t offer unlimited backup. To enable the backup service, storage became the foundation of our company and is still what we live and breathe every day.

It didn’t just change how we built the service, it changed the fundamental DNA of the company.

Dividends

Creating our own storage platform was certainly hard. But it enabled us to offer our unlimited backup for a low price and do that while running a sustainable business.

“It didn’t just change how we built the service, it changed the fundamental DNA of the company.”

We felt that we had a service and price point that customers wanted, and we “unlocked” the way to let us build it. Having our storage platform also provides us with a deep connection to our customers and the storage community – we share how we build Storage Pods and how reliable hard drives in our environment have been. That content, in turns, helps brings awareness to Backblaze; the awareness helps establish the company as a tech leader; that reputation helps us recruit to our growing team and earns customers who are evaluating our solutions vs Storage Company X.

And after years of being a storage company with a backup service, and being asked all the time to just offer our storage directly, we launched our Backblaze B2 Cloud Storage service. We offer this raw storage at a price of $0.005/GB/month – that’s less than 1/4th of the price of S3.

If we had built our backup service on one of the existing storage services or storage systems, it would have been easier – but none of this would have been possible. This challenge, which we have spent a decade working to overcome, has also transformed our company and became our greatest technological advantage.

The post Building a Competitive Moat: Turning Challenges Into Advantages appeared first on Backblaze Blog | Cloud Storage & Cloud Backup.

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Hiring a Content Director

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Backblaze is looking to hire a full time Content Director. This role is an essential piece of our team, reporting directly to our VP of Marketing. As the hiring manager, I’d like to tell you a little bit more about the role, how I’m thinking about the collaboration, and why I believe this to be a great opportunity.

A Little About Backblaze and the Role

Since 2007, Backblaze has earned a strong reputation as a leader in data storage. Our products are astonishingly easy to use and affordable to purchase. We have engaged customers and an involved community that helps drive our brand. Our audience numbers in the millions and our primary interaction point is the Backblaze blog. We publish content for engineers (data infrastructure, topics in the data storage world), consumers (how to’s, merits of backing up), and entrepreneurs (business insights). In all categories, our Content Director drives our earned positioned as leaders.

Backblaze has a culture focused on being fair and good (to each other and our customers). We have created a sustainable business that is profitable and growing. Our team places a premium on open communication, being cleverly unconventional, and helping each other out. The Content Director, specifically, balances our needs as a commercial enterprise (at the end of the day, we want to sell our products) with the custodianship of our blog (and the trust of our audience).

There’s a lot of ground to be covered at Backblaze. We have three discreet business lines:

  • Computer Backup -> a 10 year old business focusing on backing up consumer computers.
  • B2 Cloud Storage -> Competing with Amazon, Google, and Microsoft… just at ¼ of the price (but with the same performance characteristics).
  • Business Backup -> Both Computer Backup and B2 Cloud Storage, but focused on SMBs and enterprise.

The Best Candidate Is…

An excellent writer – possessing a solid academic understanding of writing, the creative process, and delivering against deadlines. You know how to write with multiple voices for multiple audiences. We do not expect our Content Director to be a storage infrastructure expert; we do expect a facility with researching topics, accessing our engineering and infrastructure team for guidance, and generally translating the technical into something easy to understand. The best Content Director must be an active participant in the business/ strategy / and editorial debates and then must execute with ruthless precision.

Our Content Director’s “day job” is making sure the blog is running smoothly and the sales team has compelling collateral (emails, case studies, white papers).

Specifically, the Perfect Content Director Excels at:

  • Creating well researched, elegantly constructed content on deadline. For example, each week, 2 articles should be published on our blog. Blog posts should rotate to address the constituencies for our 3 business lines – not all blog posts will appeal to everyone, but over the course of a month, we want multiple compelling pieces for each segment of our audience. Similarly, case studies (and outbound emails) should be tailored to our sales team’s proposed campaigns / audiences. The Content Director creates ~75% of all content but is responsible for editing 100%.
  • Understanding organic methods for weaving business needs into compelling content. The majority of our content (but not EVERY piece) must tie to some business strategy. We hate fluff and hold our promotional content to a standard of being worth someone’s time to read. To be effective, the Content Director must understand the target customer segments and use cases for our products.
  • Straddling both Consumer & SaaS mechanics. A key part of the job will be working to augment the collateral used by our sales team for both B2 Cloud Storage and Business Backup. This content should be compelling and optimized for converting leads. And our foundational business line, Computer Backup, deserves to be nurtured and grown.
  • Product marketing. The Content Director “owns” the blog. But also assists in writing cases studies / white papers, creating collateral (email, trade show). Each of these things has a variety of call to action(s) and audiences. Direct experience is a plus, experience that will plausibly translate to these areas is a requirement.
  • Articulating views on storage, backup, and cloud infrastructure. Not everyone has experience with this. That’s fine, but if you do, it’s strongly beneficial.

A Thursday In The Life:

  • Coordinate Collaborators – We are deliverables driven culture, not a meeting driven one. We expect you to collaborate with internal blog authors and the occasional guest poster.
  • Collaborate with Design – Ensure imagery for upcoming posts / collateral are on track.
  • Augment Sales team – Lock content for next week’s outbound campaign.
  • Self directed blog agenda – Feedback for next Tuesday’s post is addressed, next Thursday’s post is circulated to marketing team for feedback & SEO polish.
  • Review Editorial calendar, make any changes.

Oh! And We Have Great Perks:

  • Competitive healthcare plans
  • Competitive compensation and 401k
  • All employees receive Option grants
  • Unlimited vacation days
  • Strong coffee & fully stocked Micro kitchen
  • Catered breakfast and lunches
  • Awesome people who work on awesome projects
  • Childcare bonus
  • Normal work hours
  • Get to bring your pets into the office
  • San Mateo Office – located near Caltrain and Highways 101 & 280.

Interested in Joining Our Team?

Send us an email to jobscontact@backblaze.com with the subject “Content Director”. Please include your resume and 3 brief abstracts for content pieces.
Some hints for each of your three abstracts:

  • Create a compelling headline
  • Write clearly and concisely
  • Be brief, each abstract should be 100 words or less – no longer
  • Target each abstract to a different specific audience that is relevant to our business lines

Thank you for taking the time to read and consider all this. I hope it sounds like a great opportunity for you or someone you know. Principles only need apply.

The post Hiring a Content Director appeared first on Backblaze Blog | Cloud Storage & Cloud Backup.

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