I continue to be obsessed about email – it’s by far the most significant comm channel I use. And – it’s accelerating, not decelerating, especially as it proliferates across devices as well as other comm channels.
I’ve watched as many of the companies we’ve invested in use email and CRM systems (such as Salesforce) as though they existed in separate parallel universes. I’ve listened to the endless complaints about the complete and total lack of real integration between the two. I’ve watched the workflow, even from very disciplined sales people, and shaken my head in total bafflement at the lack of integration and the perverse contortions the sales person goes through to try to make the two systems work together. And – as I’ve continued to manage the enormous flow of email I get in Gmail, I’ve been searching for more efficient (and effective) ways to deal with it, besides just ignoring it which, while efficient, wouldn’t be very effective.
To address this, we’ve invested in a new company called Yesware.
At the beginning of the year I was kicking around some ideas with my long time friend Raj Bhargava. Raj and I have done a bunch of companies together since we met in 1994. He acutely felt this problem in his most recent company StillSecure as he dealt with the garbage in / garbage out problem of his CRM system. Over a few months we bounced some ideas around until one day he mentioned to me that he’d run into two entrepreneurs in Boston – Matthew Bellows and Cashman Andrus – who were working on something similar. Over a few weeks everyone connected, Matthew, Cashman, and Raj decided to merge efforts, and I agreed, along with Rich Miner at Google Ventures, to provide a seed financing.
A few weeks later we had our first board meeting in Google’s NY office where I discovered Zico Coconut Water. Matthew and Cashman showed us a detailed product road map along with the MVP they were working on and planning to ship in 30 or so days. We spent the entire meeting talking about the product (I’m sure Matthew had other slides but I don’t remember them.) While the first MVP was interesting and an extension of the ideas they had started with, it didn’t feel right to anyone in the room.
Rich and I both suggested – in different ways – that the team delete what they had done so far. We felt they were falling into a classic startup trap as they’d spent three months raising their round and were now anxious to get a product out the door. But they hadn’t spent much time in the previous three months thinking deeply about the product, so their plan was an awkward continuation of their demoware and concept pitch.
At some point in the meeting I said something that Matthew has told me stuck with him. I said, in my most Yoda-like voice, “slow down to speed up.” The seed round was an ample amount of money for them to go for at least a year. Their vision didn’t have an expiration date. Sure – other people were likely working on similar stuff and getting to market fast is always important, but getting to market with something compelling is even more important.
The team heeded the advice, stopped trying to ramp up headcount to work on extending the demo, deleted the product roadmap, and started again. The progress over the next 60 days was awesome as they went very deep with real salespeople on the problem, simplified their product vision, and defined a very clear MVP, release plan, and path to a revenue producing product.
At the time we made our investment I asked Matthew if he wanted me to blog about it. He didn’t – he saw no reason to talk widely about it until the company had shipped something interesting for people to use. That time has come – if you are a salesperson and use Gmail in Chrome, give Yesware a try. And give us feedback.