We’ve Entered The Collaborative Software Era and The Mail Client Is Still In The Stone Age

By on November 15th, 2013

Collaborative features are everywhere. Your CRM tool, cloud backup solution, HR software, project management SaaS, and more, are probably already embedded with at least one of these features: comments, real time notifications, assignments, an activity feed, etc… It’s a logical step in the enterprise software evolution, fueled by our addiction to social media and the SaaS model which makes connecting and synchronizing data across users a helluva lot easier.

However, not all enterprise software is created equal and some sectors are lagging behind. Enterprise mail clients are amongst them. What is less collaborative than an email client? A lot of startups are tackling the mail client problem through the UI/UX angle. They want to offer people a better user experience with beautiful and highly polished interfaces (Sparrow, Airmail or Mailbox are good examples of that). Very few are thinking about the email client problem through the collaborative lens.

At Front we do.

We think that there’s an opportunity to disrupt the mail client concept not only with a beautiful UI and a polished UX but also by changing the way we interact, as a team, with our professional inboxes.

Here is why this makes a lot of sense.

There are 3 types of professional email addresses, 2 of which are craving disruption.

We can place professional addresses in three categories:

  1. private addresses: firstname.lastname@yourcompany.com. These addresses are not meant to be shared by teammates and you’ll probably want a bit of privacy with them.
  2. group addresses: support@, hello@, press@, bugs@, contact@, jobs@. These addresses are different since their purpose is to be shared across teammates. They serve as an interface between your customers, your leads, your partners and your company. When people are contacting you through these addresses, they are not expecting a particular person to answer.
  3. aliases: team@, fun@. Aliases are just redirection to a group of users. The difference between a real group address and an alias is that emails sent to aliases are not stored in a central place but are just redirected to the people who are in the group. Very often, aliases are used for internal communications.

Out of these 3 types of email addresses, 2 are craving disruption: group addresses and aliases. You’ve probably been through this and can relate to the confusion of answering emails received on your support@ address with more than one teammate. Often, you end up not knowing who answered what. You add people in bcc just so they can see what you’ve sent. In the middle of a thread with a customer, you ask questions to your teammates by removing the customer address and you add him again 3 emails later to continue the conversation. The list goes on.

Taking care of these addresses as a team can be a daunting task. Of course some tools exist, like Zendesk, to help you better manage these addresses. There are two huge problems however: first, they are very often specialized in one type of address (Zendesk is better suited for handling support@ addresses than jobs@ or press@ for example). Second, they are not easy to use at all (you actually need a Zendesk representative to help you plug in your addresses and teach you how to use their software).

Some conversations are moving away from your mail client. And it’s not a good solution in the long term.

This is an interesting trend that is taking hold: more and more software solutions offer “in app” emailing. With your customers, users, leads, applicants, etc., bypassing your traditional mail client almost completely. Let’s look at 2 examples to illustrate our point: Intercom and Workable.

Intercom.io is a new generation CRM software which lets you “communicate personally with every single customer.” Simply stated, Intercom.io enables you to email your customers based on what they do (or don’t do) on your website. You can automatically send emails based on triggers, start conversations with your users directly on your Intercom.io interface, etc.


The advantages of communicating with your customers through Intercom is that the software adds an extra layer of information (who the user is, where he wrote from, what his habits on your website are, etc.) and that your teammates can read the entire conversation and answer their own questions knowing what you’ve done before. Pretty powerful!

Workable is in a  totally different vertical since it’s an ATS, an Applicant Tracking System. It’s an HR tool which simplifies the process of hiring people, and it offers the exact same conversation features, only this time with potential hires.


These “in app” emailing features are great. They solve exactly what traditional email clients lack:

  • Centralization: You’ll find all the conversations with your customers in your CRM tools, the ones with your applicants in your ATS tool, and all your team members can access this history. Multiple user conversations are better organized than in a traditional email client.
  • Collaboration: You can answer a customer knowing what your teammates already told him in the past. Or you can continue a conversation if a colleague is not available (on holiday, for example) without the customer noticing. The collaborative features go further with the possibility to comment on each message (to avoid bcc’s), to read an activity feed to quickly see who answered what to whom, to assign conversations to teammates, etc.

These features are intrinsically good and bring a lot of value, but the problem is that there are only temporary solutions.

  • The “In app emailing” trend multiplies the places you have to check. We took only two examples, Intercom and Workable, but more and more applications offer these features. Instead of having only your mail client to check, you will soon have 2 or 3 extra inboxes where emails are exchanged.
  • What happens when you stop using Intercom or Workable? Are all your conversations erased? How can you keep them properly? This is a very important aspect to keep in mind: moving these conversations away from your mail client is a risk.
  • They add more complexity to our current inboxes. Of course you can be informed of new messages and conversations occurring on Intercom through email notifications. However, it just complicates the whole system and fills up your main inbox with more and more emails.

We are not blaming these applications for offering such features. In fact, we think they are great: they are trying to address a real problem. However, the solution isn’t to add “in app” emailing features to all software: it’s the email client that needs to be re-thought from the ground up. This is what we want to do.


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2 responses to “We’ve Entered The Collaborative Software Era and The Mail Client Is Still In The Stone Age”

  1. […] We’ve Entered The Collaborative Software Era and The Mail Client Is Still In The Stone Age […]

  2. tropicaltech says:

    Hi Mathilde,

    very interesting angle and take on email communication. We are doing a lot of experiments with innovating how we use email today – to make us waaaaaay more productive.

    If you are on Windows OS, try getmailbird.com as we’ll be releasing the first major overhaul since 2 years ago. Best email client for Windows, we want to be on EVERY Windows machine in the world.

    And we are looking at this from the approach of apps being integrated with email rather than the other way around. More room for experimentation but the response so far has been really cool as we are going to have Veeting, Moo.do, Dropbox, Evernote, Todoist and many google apps too 😀

    We’d love to work with you guys too if you have any particular idea of an add-on to email that could make the Front App teams lives better 😀

    Looking forward to hearing from you! Email me anytime at al@getmailbird.com

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