Email is an old and many would say inefficient technology for communicating, certainly compared to instant messaging. But 50 years after it was invented, email remains as strong as ever, at least in the world of business.
Radicati, a research firm that studies messaging trends, estimates that there are 3.9 billion email boxes around the world, a 3% increase from 2018. Even if half the messages are spam, Radicati puts the number of emails sent and received every day at an astonishing 293 billion, up 5% from 2018.
“The email is here to stay,” said Dvir Ben-Aroya, the CEO of the Israeli startup Spike. “In the digital world, we all have two identities – our telephone number and our email. Even if you want to go into Facebook you need an email, so the numbers are always growing.”
The technology has other attractions. “Email’s advantage is that it doesn’t belong to anyone. It’s built on open standards and any two people don’t need to use the same providers to communicate,” he noted. That’s not the case with email alternatives like Slack or Monday.com.
Even if an organization uses instant messaging internally, when it’s communicating with outsiders, it uses email.
Even with those advantages, that doesn’t make email the perfect communications tool, as the case of the San Francisco startup Superhuman shows. The company has been the talk of Silicon Valley and last month raised $33 million in a del led by the venture capital fund Andreessen Horowitz, valuing the company at around $260 million.
Superhuman charges a steep $30 a month for what it bills as “the fastest email experience ever made” and has a waiting list its founder and CEO Rahul Vohra told The New York Times runs to 180,000.
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Spike, which was founded in its latest incarnation last year, does something similar: It brings a user’s emails, chats, calls, team collaborations, tasks and voice notes to a single place. Spike’s software is equipped with all the features of an advanced email box: priority filtering and call grouping by caller while removing the clutter of normal emails by displaying the messages in the form of speech balloons.
“It’s like email and IM are making love,” Ben-Aroya said.
On screen the Spike offering may seem more appropriate for chatting teenagers than for business executives, but Ben-Aroya said it accurately reflects the changes in the way business is conducted today.
“The way people communicate has changed – it has become less formal and more conversational,” he said. “Email was invented 50 years ago and it still looks like you’ve sent a letter to the queen of England – a ‘to,’ ‘from,’ a subject and so on. But when it comes to young users, they don’t know much about emails. The first time they encounter this kind of email is in college or their first job. Our goal was to bring the capabilities of the IM worlds to email.”
The company was founded in 2014 as Hop by Erez Pilosof, founder of the popular Israeli website Walla. Hop went through several transitions before it launched its email product last November and changed its name. Since then it has raised $5 million from Gigi Levy-Weiss’ fund NFX and the Israeli website-building company Wix. Other backers include the angel investors Andreas Gauger and Aryeh Mergi.
Superhuman and Spike aren’t the only startups looking for solutions to email drawbacks, but many of the others have retreated.
The Mailbox app was launched six years for iOS devices. It was bought in 2015 by Dropbox, which dropped the app just a few months later as part of its focus on business customers. Then there was Astro, which was acquired last year by Slack and was immediately shut down.
Another entry came from Israel – Redkix formed in 2014 and has been described to TheMarker by its founders as “if Whatsapp and email had a child it would certainly be Redkix.” After raising $17 million, the company was acquired by Facebook a year ago for a reported $100 million and its app was wound into Facebook’s Workplace platform.
“Everyone’s trying to be an email client – I’m not,” Ben-Aroya said. “We want to be a unified communications platform, the most modern email solution, but add more services in.”
Spike is available for Windows, MacOS, iPhones and Android, as well as in a web version that’s useful for people using platforms like Linux and Chromebook. For private users Spike is free; business users pay $6 a month. The company claims 50,000 active users.
Spike’s strategy is to market its product in two forms. The first is as a stand-alone brand sold as a productivity tool directed at small and midsize businesses and eventually bigger organizations. The second is to market the product through companies like 1&1 Ionos, a German web-hosting company, and Spike investor, that sell applications like Office 365 and G Suite.