‘Everything starts with the idea of control’
Email is a critical tool in modern-day communications, so it’s natural that many entrepreneurs have tried to overhaul it over the years.
In the last decade, email client Mailbox came and went, Slack launched to try to give people an alternative to email and Superhuman emerged to help people more easily reach the promised land of Inbox Zero.
The latest startup to tackle email is project management software maker Basecamp, which launched Hey last month. Within its first 11 days of release, Hey received 125,000 signups, Basecamp founder and CEO Jason Fried tells TechCrunch. Those initial days also included some drama with the Apple App Store, but that’s not what this story is about. Instead, it’s about Hey’s approach, why Fried felt the need to try to rebuild email from the ground up and how he approaches product development.
“The last time people were really excited about email, really, in a broad scale was 16 years ago when Gmail came out in 2004,” Fried says. “I remember it feeling different in a lot of ways. It was really fast, they had archiving, which was a new concept at the time. It worked differently than what I was coming from, which was Yahoo Mail, which was sort of stuck in the past. And I think that’s where Gmail is today — stuck in the past and we’re trying to bring out something brand new with new thinking and new philosophies and a new point of view.”
At its core, Hey is about giving people control over their email and minimizing clutter so users can hear from the people who matter most, Fried says. But control comes at a price: Hey costs $99 per year, with additional fees for three- and two-character email addresses (two-character email addresses are $999 per year and three-character addresses are $349 per year).
“We got a taste of our own medicine because it was not cheap to buy hey.com,” Fried says. “So anything that short in the domain world just costs more. It’s like beachfront property almost, because it’s scarce — more desirable. So given that we have a three-letter domain, two- and three-letter email addresses are just going to cost more. There’s fewer of them and they’re more desirable.”
Hey’s current iteration is targeted toward individual users, but by the end of the year, the plan is to launch a formal enterprise version with collaborative features like shared messages and inboxes. In this unified Imbox (not a typo), people will be able to specify that they don’t want to see work email past a certain time or on weekends.
“A lot of email is collaborative in nature,” Fried says. “People end up forwarding emails around to show someone to get their take. We think that’s totally broken and really antiquated. So we have some stuff built into Hey for work, which lets people share threads with one another in a very different way and be able to have backchannel conversations about threads without having to have those conversations in another product or somewhere that is separate from the actual thread itself.”
There’s much more to this conversation, like how Hey landed on its hypothesis, why control is so important, how email shouldn’t feel like work and more. Below are Fried’s insights.