Superhuman’s Rahul Vohra says recession is the ‘perfect time’ to be aggressive for well-capitalized startups

Email is one of those things that no one likes but that we’re all forced to use. Superhuman, founded by Rahul Vohra, aims to help everyone get to inbox zero.

Launched in 2017, Superhuman charges $30 per month and is still in invite-only mode with more than 275,000 people on the waitlist. That’s by design, Vohra told us earlier this week on Extra Crunch Live.

“I think a lot of folks misunderstand the nature of our waitlist,” he said. “They assume it’s some kind of FOMO generating technique or some kind of false scarcity. Nothing could be further from the truth. The real reason we have the waitlist is that I want everyone who uses Superhuman to be deliriously happy with their experience.”

Today, the app is only available for desktop and iOS. Superhuman started with iOS because many premium users have iPhones, Vohra said. Still, many users have Android, so Superhuman’s waitlist consists of many Android users.

“And we don’t think that if we onboard them they’d have the best experience with Superhuman because email really is an ecosystem product,” he said. “You do it just as much on the go as you do from your laptop. And there’s a lot of reasons like that. And so if you’re a person who identifies that as a must-have, well, we’ll take in the survey, we’ll learn about you so we know when to reach out to you. And then when we have those things built or integrated, we’ll reach out.”

We also chatted about his obsession with email, determining pricing for a premium product, the impact of COVID-19, diversity in tech in light of the police killing of George Floyd and so much more.

Throughout the conversation, Vohra also offered up some good practical advice for founders. Here are some highlights from the conversation.

On competition from Hey, the latest buzzy email app

Yeah, I’m not at all worried. I used to get worried about this. You know, 10 years ago, even as recently as five years ago, I would get worried about competitors. But I think Paul Graham has really, really great advice on this. I think he says pretty much verbatim: Startups don’t kill other startups. Competition generally doesn’t kill the startup. Other things do, like running out of money being the biggest one, or lack of momentum or lack of motivation or co-founder feuds, these are all really dangerous things.

Competition from other startups generally isn’t the thing that gets you and you know, props to the Basecamp team and everything they’ve done with Hey. It’s really impressive. I think it’s for an entirely different demographic than Superhuman is for.

Superhuman is for the person for whom essentially email as work and work as email. Our users kind of almost personally identify with their email inbox, and they’re coming from Gmail, or G Suite. And typically it’s overflowing so they often receive hundreds if not thousands of emails a day, and they send off 100 emails a day. Superhuman is for high volume email for whom email really matters. Power users, essentially, though power users isn’t quite the right articulation. What I actually say is prosumers because there’s a lot of people who come to us at Superhuman and they’re not yet power users of email, but they know they need to be.

And that’s what I would call a prosumer — someone who really wants to be brilliant at doing email. Now Hey doesn’t seem to be designed for that target market. It doesn’t seem to be designed for high volume emailers or prosumers or power users.


By Megan Rose Dickey

Shared inbox startup Front raises $59 million round led by other tech CEOs

Front is raising a $59 million Series C funding round. Interestingly, the startup hasn’t raised with a traditional VC firm leading the round. A handful of super business angels are investing directly in the productivity startup and leading the round.

Business angels include Atlassian co-founder and co-CEO Mike Cannon-Brookes, Atlassian President Jay Simons, Okta co-founder and COO Frederic Kerrest, Qualtrics co-founders Ryan Smith and Jared Smith and Zoom CEO Eric Yuan. Existing investors including Sequoia Capital, Initialized Capital and Anthos Capital are participating in this round as well.

While Front doesn’t share its valuation, the company says that the valuation has quadrupled compared to the previous funding round. Annual recurring venue has also quadrupled over the same period.

The structure of this round is unusual, but it’s on purpose. Front, like many other startups, is trying to redefine the future of work. That’s why the startup wanted to surround itself with leaders of other companies who share the same purpose.

“First, because we didn't need to raise (we still had two years of runway), and it's always better to raise when we don't need it. The last few months have given me much more clarity into our go-to-market strategy,” Front co-founder and CEO Mathilde Collin told me.

Front is a collaborative inbox for your company. For instance, if you want to share an email address with your coworkers ([email protected] or [email protected]), you can integrate those shared inboxes with Front and work on those conversations as a team.

It opens up a ton of possibilities. You can assign conversations to a specific person, @-mention your coworkers to send them a notification, start a conversation with your team before you hit reply, share a draft with other people, etc.

Front also supports other communication channels, such as text messages, WhatsApp messages, a chat module on your website and more. As your team gets bigger, Front helps you avoid double replies by alerting other users when you’re working on a reply.

In addition to those collaboration features, Front helps you automate your workload as much as possible. You can set up automated workflows so that a specific conversation ends up in front of the right pair of eyes. You can create canned responses for the entire team as well.

Front also integrates with popular third-party services, such as Salesforce, HubSpot, Clearbit and dozens of others. Front customers include MailChimp, Shopify and Stripe.

While Front supports multiple channels, email represents the biggest challenge. If you think about it, email hasn’t changed much over the past decade. The last significant evolution was the rise of Gmail, G Suite and web-based clients. In other words, Front wants to disrupt Outlook and Gmail.

With today’s funding round, the company plans to iterate on the product front with Office 365 support for its calendar, an offline mode and refinements across the board. The company also plans to scale up its sales and go-to-market team with an office in Phoenix and a new CMO.


By Romain Dillet

Slack to extend collaboration to folks who don’t want to give up email

As Slack gathered with its growing customer base this week at the Frontiers Conference in San Francisco, it announced several enhancements to the product including extending collaboration to folks who want to stick with email instead of hanging with their co-workers in Slack .

Some habits are tough to break and using email as your file sharing and collaboration tool is one of them. Email is great for certain types of communications, but it was never really designed to be a full-fledged communications tool. While a tool like Slack might not ever fully replace email, it is going after it hard.

But Andy Pflaum, director of project management at Slack says, rather than fight those folks, Slack decided to make it easier to include them with a new email and calendar bridge that enables team members who might not have made the leap to Slack to continue to be kept in the loop.

Instead of opening Slack and seeing the thread, the message will come to these stragglers in their trusty old email inbox, just the way they like it. Earlier this month the company announced tighter integration between Slack and Outlook calendar and email (building on a similar integration with GMail and Google Calendar) where emails and calendar entries can be shared inside Slack. Pflaum says that the company is trying to take that email and calendar bridge idea one step further.

The non-Slack users would get an email instead with the Slack thread. It bundles together multiple responses to a thread in which the person has been engaging in an email, so the recipient isn’t getting an email for every response, according to Pflaum.

The person can respond by clicking a Slack button in the email and having Slack open, or they can simply reply to the email and the response will go to Slack automatically. If they choose the former, it might be a sneaky way to get them used to using Slack instead of email, but Pflaum says that it is not necessarily the intent.

Slack is simply responding to a request by customers to have this ability because apparently there are a percentage of people who would prefer to continue working inside email. The ability to open Slack to reply will be available soon. The ability to reply to Slack with the Reply button will be available later this year.


By Ron Miller

Mailgun changes hands again as Thoma Bravo buys majority stake

Mailgun, an email API delivery service, announced today that it was selling a majority stake in the company to private equity firm Thoma Bravo. The companies did not share terms, but this is the second owner in the company’s 8+ year history.

Mailgun provides API services for building email functionality into applications. It has over 150,000 customers today using its APIs, according to data provided by the company.

In a blog post announcing the investment, CEO William Conway said the new money should help the company expand its capabilities and accelerate the product roadmap, a common refrain from companies about to be acquired.

“We will be investing millions in the development of products you can use to enhance your deliverability, gain more insights into your emails and deliver an unparalleled experience for your customers. We’re also doubling down on customer success and enablement to ensure our customers have exactly what they need to scale their communications,” Conway wrote in the blog post.

The company, which was founded in 2010 and was a part of the Y Combinator Winter 2011 cohort, has had a complex history. Rackspace acquired it in 2012 and held onto it until 2017 when it spun out into a private company. At that point, Turn/River, another private equity firm,  invested $50 million in the company. After today’s deal, Turn/River will maintain a minority ownership stake in Mailgun.

Mailgun typically competes with companies like MailChimp and SendGrid. Thoma Bravo has a history buying enterprise software companies. Most recently, it bought a majority stake in enterprise software company Apttus. It also has investments in SolarWinds, SailPoint and Blue Point Systems.

Thoma Bravo did not respond to a request for comment before publishing.


By Ron Miller

Campaign Monitor acquires email enterprise services Sailthru and Liveclicker

CM Group, the organization behind email-centric services like Campaign Monitor and Emma, today announced that it has acquired marketing automation firm Sailthru and the email personalization service Liveclicker. The group did not disclose the acquisition price but noted that the acquisition would bring in about $60 million in additional revenue and 540 new customers, including Bloomberg and Samsung. Both of these acquisitions quietly closed in 2018.

Compared to Sailthru, which had raised a total of about $250 million in venture funding before the acquisition, Liveclicker is a relatively small company that was bootstrapped and never raised any outside funding. Still, Liveclicker managed to attract customers like AT&T, Quicken Loans and TJX Companies by offering them the ability to personalize their email messages and tailor them to their customers.

Sailthru’s product portfolio is also quite a bit broader and includes similar email marketing tools, but also services to personalize mobile and web experiences, as well as tools to predict churn and make other retail-focused predictions.

“Sailthru and Liveclicker are extraordinary technologies capable of solving important marketing problems, and we will be making additional investments in the businesses to further accelerate their growth,” writes Wellford Dillard, CEO of CM Group. “Bringing these brands together makes it possible for us to provide marketers with the ideal solution for their needs as they navigate the complex and rapidly changing environments in which they operate.”

With this acquisition, the CM Group now has 500 employees and 300,000 customers.


By Frederic Lardinois

Mozilla promises a faster, prettier Thunderbird with better Gmail support

Thunderbird, Mozilla’s desktop email client, doesn’t have anywhere near the amount of mindshare of the organization’s Firefox browser, yet even in this age of web-based email services, it still has a sizable user community. For 2019, those users can look forward to a faster and more beautiful application, Thunderbird community manager Ryan Sipes announced today.

Only a few years ago, Mozilla’s relationship with Thunderbird looked rather rocky. Back in 2015, the organization decided to decouple Thunderbird’s technical infrastructure from Firefox’s and to look for other organizations that would like to invest in it. In the end, though, Mozilla decided to keep Thunderbird in-house and not move it to another organization and continue to support the project. That gave Thunderbird some much-needed stability and as Sipes announced today, there are now eight full-time staffers who work on the project, with plans for hiring six more soon.

For 2019, the expanded team promises to make the application run faster and address performance issues — and to rewrite some parts of the client in an effort to build a multi-process version that can make better use of modern processors (it’s worth noting that Firefox went through a similar rewrite).

At the same time, Thunderbird will also get a few user interface updates, better notifications and, maybe even more importantly, better Gmail support. The current Gmail setup procedure isn’t actually all that complicated, but once you do have Thunderbird set up to work with your Gmail account, you don’t get access to many of Gmail’s proprietary features. To work around some of this, the Thunderbird team will soon offer better label support, for example.


By Frederic Lardinois

Twilio acquires email API platform SendGrid for $2 billion in stock

Twilio, the ubiquitous communications platform, today announced its plan to acquire the API-centric email platform SendGrid for about $2 billion in an all-stock transaction. That’s Twilio’s largest acquisition to date, but also one that makes a lot of sense given that both companies aim to make building communications platforms easier for developers.

“The two companies share the same vision, the same model, and the same values,” said Twilio co-founder and CEO Jeff Lawson in today’s announcement. “We believe this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to bring together the two leading developer-focused communications platforms to create the unquestioned platform of choice for all companies looking to transform their customer engagement.”

SendGrid will become a wholly owned subsidiary of Twilio and its common stock will be converted into Twilio stock. The companies expect the acquisition to close in the first half of 2019, after it has been cleared by the authorities.

Twilio’s current focus is on omnichannel communication, and email is obviously a major part of that. And while it offers plenty of services around voice, video and chat, email hasn’t been on its radar in the same way. This acquisition now allows it to quickly build up expertise in this area and expand its services there.

SendGrid went public in 2017. At the time, it priced its stock at $16. Today, before the announcement, the company was trading at just under $31, though that price obviously spiked after the announcement went public. That’s still down from a high of more than $36.5 last month, but that’s in line with the overall movement of the market in recent weeks.

Today’s announcement comes shortly before Twilio’s annual developer conference, so I expect we’ll hear a lot more about its plans for SendGrid later this week.

We asked Twilio for more details about its plans for SendGrid after the acquisition closes. We’ll update this post once we hear more.


By Frederic Lardinois

Salesforce acquires Rebel, maker of ‘interactive’ email services, to expand its Marketing Cloud

Salesforce’s Marketing and Commerce Cloud is the company’s smallest division today, so to help beef it up, the company is making an acquisition to add in more features. Salesforce has acquired Rebel, a startup that develops interactive email services for businesses to enhance their direct marketing services: recipients of interactive emails can write reviews, shop and take other actions without leaving the messages to do so.

In an announcement on Rebel’s site, the startup said it will be joining Salesforce’s Marketing Cloud operation, which will integrate Rebel’s API-based services into its platform.

“With Rebel’s Mail and API solutions, brands, including Dollar Shave Club, L’Oreal and HelloFresh, turn emails into an extension of their website or app – collecting data, removing friction from the conversion process, and enhancing the customer experience. Rebel will enhance the power of Salesforce Marketing Clod and fundamentally change the way people interact with email,” the founders note. It sounds as if the company’s existing business will be wound down as part of the move.

Terms of the deal have not been disclosed in the Rebel announcement. We have contacted both the startup and Salesforce for further comment and to ask about the price. To date, Rebel — co-founded originally as Rebelmail by Joe Teplow and Trever Faden — had raised only about $3 million, with investors including Lerer Hippeau, Sinai Ventures, David Tisch, Gary Vaynerchuk, and others, so if the deal size is equally small, Salesforce likely will not be disclosing it.

Salesforce has made a number of acquisitions to build and expand its marketing services to compete with Adobe and others. Perhaps most notable of these was buying ExactTarget, one of its biggest-ever acquisitions, for $2.5 billion in 2013. (And according to some, it even wanted to buy Adobe at one point.) Competition has been heating up between the two, with Adobe most recently snapping up Marketo for $4.75 billion.

But on the other hand, marketing is currently Saleforce’s smallest division. It pulled in $452 million in revenues last quarter, putting it behind revenues for Sales Cloud ($1 billion), Service Cloud ($892 million) and Salesforce Platform ($712 million). Adding in interactive email functionality isn’t likely to float Marketing and Commerce Cloud to the top of that list, but it does show that Salesforce is trying to improve its products with more functionality for would-be and current customers.

Those customers have a lot of options these days, though, in targeting their own customers with rich email services. Microsoft and Google have both started to add in a lot more features into their own email products, with Outlook and Gmail supporting things like in-email payments and more. There are ways of building such solutions through your current direct marketing providers, or now directly using other avenues.

What will be interesting to see is whether Rebel continues to integrate with the plethora of email service providers it currently works with, or if Salesforce will keep the functionality for itself. Today Rebel’s partners include Oracle, SendGrid, Adobe, IBM, SailThru and, yes, Salesforce.

We’ll update this post as we learn more.


By Ingrid Lunden

Mixmax launches IFTTT-like rules to help you manage your inbox

Mixmax, a service that aims to make email and other outbound communications more usable and effective, today announced the official launch of its new IFTTT-like rules for automating many of the most repetitive aspects of your daily email workflow.

On the one hand, this new feature is a bit like your standard email filter on steroids (and with connections to third-party tools like Slack, Salesforce, DocuSign, Greenhouse and Pipedrive). Thanks to this, you can now receive an SMS when a customer who spends more than $5,000 a month emails you, for example.

But rules can also be triggered by any of the third-party services the company currently supports. Maybe you want to send out a meeting reminder based on your calendar entries, for example. You can then set up a rule that always emails a reminder a day before the meeting, together with all the standard info you’d want to send in that email.

“One way we think about Mixmax is that we want to do for externally facing teams and people who talk a lot of customers what Github did for engineering and what Slack did for internal team communication,” Mixmax co-founder and CEO Olof Mathé told me. “That’s what we do for external communication.”

While the service started out as a basic Chrome extension for Gmail, it’s now a full-blown email automation system that offers everything from easy calendar sharing to tracking when recipients open an email and, now, building rules around that. Mathé likened it to an executive assistant, but he stressed that he doesn’t think Mixmax is taking anybody’s jobs away. “We’re not here to replace other people,” he said. “We amplify what you are able to do as an individual and give you superpowers so you can become your own personal chief of staff so you get more time.”

The new rules feature takes this to the next level and Mathé and his team plan to build this out more over time. He teased a new feature called ‘beast mode’ that’s coming in the near future and that will see Mixmax propose actions you can take across different applications, for example.

Many of the new rules and connectors will be available to all paying users, though some features, like access to your Salesforce account, will only be available to those on higher-tier plans.


By Frederic Lardinois