Let’s face it. Managing email on a mobile device kind of sucks. It’s nearly impossible to find archived messages, let alone seamlessly connecting to one’s calendar, contacts or other third-party services such as Dropbox, LinkedIn or Facebook.
The whole thing just seems ready for a refresh.
Gordon Mangione, a tech industry veteran who worked as a corporate vice president at Microsoft from 1996 to 2005, leading efforts for SQL Server and Exchange Server, feels your pain. And his new Seattle area startup company, Tipbit, just scored $4 million in series A financing from Ignition Partners to help solve this nagging problem.
Tipbit’s secret sauce includes a personalized search engine that allows email users to find relevant information, say an archived email about a lunch meeting or a Facebook thread connected to a key topic. It indexes everything, essentially putting your entire email mailbox — as well as documents from Dropbox and other services — in the cloud.
“We are able to index all of this information, and present to you … everything that is relevant to that email and allow you to respond to it efficiently,” said Mangione, adding that email is the first app most people use when they wake up in the morning and the last one they check before going to bed.
“It’s hard to do email,” said Mangione. “I know this first-hand from running the Exchange team…. Email is the oxygen by which companies breathe and you got to get it right…. It’s a hard problem, but I like it since it is a barrier to entry for other folks to really get into the space.”
Even though it is a hard problem to solve, there are plenty of startups trying to reinvent email for the savvy smartphone users.
Competitors include Boxer, SeedMail and CloudMagic — the latter being the company that Mangione says most closely resembles Tipbit. Just last year, the market was validated when Dropbox paid a reported $100 million to buy messaging app Mailbox. The year before Google gobbled up email app maker Sparrow.
“I think the winner in this space is going to have to do it all, and that’s why we started with a great back-end search,” said Mangione. “To be effective with email, you need to deliver it in a single client, and you need to be able to do it with with an effective user experience, or people are just not going to use it.”
Mangione thinks now is the time to reinvent the category, noting that number of emails being opened on mobile devices has crossed 50 percent. Even so, he said that many smartphone users utilize three or four mail apps, just to complete basic tasks, such as Mailbox to filter messages and the native email client to search.
“We all love love the fact that we can use our phones to read email, and we love the fact that we can get access to information no matter where we are, yet we are highly inefficient on the devices,” said Mangione. “We are trying to do things the same way we did on our desktops, on our mobile devices, and frankly it just doesn’t work.”
Mangione, who after Microsoft worked alongside Ignition’s Frank Artale at XenSource, said they are setting out to make users more productive on phones by allowing them to efficiently manage email as it arrives. They plan to differentiate from the competition by focusing on Microsoft Exchange — an area where Mangione has plenty of experience — and through a more robust search offering that connects with a variety of services.
The Tipbit app is free, with a second-generation product being introduced into Apple’s App Store today. The six-person company, which plans to expand to 20 folks later this year, plans to develop an Android app in the coming months. It is also working on an iPad version of the app.
Tipbit plans to make money by selling to businesses, allowing them to connect data and applications to the Tipbit app. Mangione said that will make employees more productive, and because of that he thinks the app will drive viral adoption.
Total funding in Tipbit, which raised a small angel round from Ignition and Andreessen Horowitz last year, now stands at $6.5 million.