STOP using Gmail. I don’t mean, literally. But definitely stop using @gmail.com email addresses for your business. I mean, really. It’s like a grown man wearing shorts, you know, all the time. Ok, since most of you read this because I blasted this to all 618 Facebook friends and 1728 LinkedIn contacts (I hope that proves to you, ex-boss, that I spend way more time at work than fun), you’re probably already tech savvy and asking if it’s necessary for me to… gasp… write a blog about how to get your own custom email domain, like, LeaveMeAlone@Extroverts.com.
I’d rather be smelling flowers like the guy below than have to go through the ordeal of working with custom email addresses, Google Apps and Microsoft Office 365 again.
Truth is, if you’re a tech startup, you get that you need to have your own email address, i.e. an address like firstname.lastname@example.org. However, many business owners start with – and stay with – emails like MolokaiStaycations@gmail.com. My dad is a good example – he owns the best known Indian restaurant in the Baltics (to get there, start in Helsinki, Finland, take the ferry over to Tallinn, Estonia, where Skype was started, then drive what feels like hundreds of miles of flat terrain to Riga, Latvia, and then Vilnius, Lithuania). In fact, Nik Zennstrom and his Skype team would often eat at his Tallinn restaurant. The business is Sue’s Indian Raja, and has a website, but check out the email address – it’s a Gmail email. As it turns out, dad’s visiting us this week, and we’re going to change his email to email@example.com.
So that should be pretty easy, right? Wrong. It’s pretty difficult to do for your average business owner, or even her fledgling IT staff, which usually happens to be a high-school student recruited to keep things running for the tech-challenged owners. Getting a professional email setup is similar to setting up a business phone system – you could buy a home phone from Best Buy and put it in your office, but soon you will run up against its limitations and wish you had gotten a business phone. Need to have call forwarding when you travel outside the office? Send voicemail messages as email? You can’t do that with a home answering machine. Similarly, with email, you need to do it right to establish credibility with your customers and efficiency in your team.
So here’s how we did it at Onboardify, our startup that’s on Day 21 today. We wanted our web site and our email to be hosted by two different service providers. Our website – still in “stealth” mode – is hosted at Linode. Our email is hosted by Microsoft Office 365. For my wife’s company, Indian Bento, the email is hosted at Google Apps for Business. I’ll provide step-by-step instructions on how you can do the same thing, so that you can send and receive email at a custom email address such as firstname.lastname@example.org.
The next step for us was to separate church and state – our web site would be hosted by Linode, and our email would be hosted by Microsoft Office 365.
Set Up Web Hosting on Linode
This may be obvious, but if you haven’t already, you must register a domain name, e.g., onboardify.com. GoDaddy makes it really easy, so I recommend getting started here. Then, you should sign up for a trial account with Google Apps for Business, or Microsoft Office 365. Next, you want to setup your web site to point to your web hosting provider. The web hosting provider can be GoDaddy, and that’s the easiest thing to do if you are non-technical. Since we’re techies, we decided to setup our web site on Linode, which I do not recommend for anyone who wants their next three evenings free. To tell GoDaddy to translate the address http://www.onboardify.com to fetch the content from Linode’s servers, we need to configure DNS name servers in GoDaddy.
- Go to Godaddy and click on Log In on the right hand side of the page.
- Right where it says “Hi, <your name>”, click on the down arrow.
- Click on the Visit My Account button.
- Click on the Launch button on the right hand side of Domains.
- Click on your domain name and scroll down to the Name Servers section.
- Click on Manage, and then enter Custom values as shown below.
Set Up Email on Microsoft Office 365
Microsoft Office 365 can manage your entire web site including email, but we didn’t try that. We explicitly wanted our web site hosting and our email hosting companies to be separate. For one, we didn’t want our web site to be hosted on Microsoft technologies like Sharepoint, preferring to use our own – this makes our technology choices more flexible. For example, if we decide to scale the ability of our web site to handle traffic, we could use cloud services like Amazon Web Services. Keeping our web and email hosting providers separate made sense for us, at this stage.
- Log in to Microsoft Office 365.
- Click on Admin and then on Domains.
- Add a domain name, such as onboardify.com.
Next, login to your web site hosting provider, Linode in our case, and go to the DNS Manager for your domain. Create MX, TXT and SRV records exactly as you see it in the examples below, except where it says “onboardify” replace it with your domain – e.g., if your web site is http://www.mysite.com, then the domain would be “mysite”.
Once you make these changes, wait about 15 minutes or so. Sometimes, the process of DNS changes takes a little longer. If you have set up email addresses such as email@example.com, test that emails sent from/to it are received/sent. With any luck, your brand new, custom, email domain should be working fine in Microsoft Office 365.
Microsoft Office 365 email addresses cost $6/mo, and a little less if you sign up for an annual subscription. One of the advantages of Microsoft Office 365 over Google Apps for Business is that with Microsoft, you can create shared mailboxes such as firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com, and you are not charged $6/mo extra for such mailboxes. These are extremely handy when you want your customers to email you at these corporate email addresses, but you want the mail to be received by a number of people.
If you are interested in having a similar set of instructions for setting up custom email in Google Apps for Business, let me know, and I would be happy to rustle up some instructions.
Day in a Startup series
The chronicle of our Silicon Valley startup:
Day #1 in a Startup – Always Be Hiring
Day #7 in a Startup – Share Your Idea To Acquire Customers Faster
Day #14 in a Startup – Making Friends
Day #21 in a Startup – Separation of Church (Web Site) and State (Email)