Dartmouth Startup: Square One Mail Is Your Personal Email Assistant

Square One Mail logo, startup DarmouthA Dartmouth startup called Square One Mail wants to help busy people sort their email in the most effective ways. Rather than combing through pages and pages of email Square One Mail will put everything in an easy to view dashboard, automatically sorted out into zones.

Square One Mail is starting out with an iPhone app which is currently in private beta. They plan on adding a web-based interface and an Android app soon.

There are a lot of email alternatives available but most of them, like Sparrow, that still sort email in rows, almost the same way it appears on the iPhone’s original email program. While this may work for some people, the Square One Mail dashboard let’s you take a quick look at what’s come in before scrolling through pages and pages of messages.

“SquareOne Mail is a personal email assistant for busy people. We automatically sort out all of the commercial newsletters and social notifications, and present these in a digest view. The rest of your incoming messages are presorted into Zones, which represent different communication areas in your life, such as different projects at work, or Family, College Buddies etc. Instead of a cluttered inbox list, all your zones are presented in a Dashboard. The Dashboard is the main interface for interacting with email – you get a bird’s eye view of all new messages sorted into Zones, so you can prioritize and focus on what’s important. All messages are displayed in an in-line conversation view, which makes even reply-all conversations with multiple recipients easy to navigate. The user has control over which zones prompt email notifications in what contexts (time of day, geographical location).” Square One Mail co-founder Branko Cerny told us in an interview.

If you’re constantly sorting through hundreds of email messages, Square One Mail could be for you, especially if you want to eventually read all of your email but you just need to prioritize it, easily.

Check out the rest of our interview Cerny below.

In layman’s terms, how does it work? (In other words how would you explain it to your grandmother)

In essence, the app serves as a personal assistant, who would every morning sort new mail into neat piles based on which project the specific letters are related to, and sort out all of the commercial newsletters and solicitations, so that you can prioritize and focus on what is important at the moment, without having to distractedly skim all of the other stuff and forgetting about it later.

Who are the founders and what are their backgrounds?

We are three Dartmouth College students.

Branko Cerny came up with the original concept and has been taking care of business development. He is a senior at Dartmouth studying Psychology and Government. Founded TEDxDartmouth, served as the Publisher of The Dartmouth daily newspaper. He is from Prague, Czech Republic.

James Mock is the lead developer. He is a mobile software developer with a focus on iOS. 4 years experience with iOS working on a variety of projects ranging from sports metrics to video and image processing. He has previously worked on The Vanishers – a new app architecture for fine art, natural history, science and technology museums and outdoor and historical sites that brings collections to life.

Sang Lee is the UI designer. Sang is currently a senior at Dartmouth, studying computer science and digital art. He has previously worked at Thrives, Cloudmo.de, and designed the Dartmouth Symphony Orchestra website.

Where are you based?

We founded the company at Dartmouth in Hanover, NH. As we get the product out of the door, we are looking to relocate. We currently considering a number of options all over the country.

What’s the startup scene/culture like where you’re based?

The startup/tech scene at Dartmouth is growing rapidly, and although Hanover, NH is not in the geographical center of events, we benefit greatly from the resources and mentors at the Tuck School Business, and the Dartmouth Alumni Network, which is unparalleled in terms of the general willingness of alumni to offer advice and help. Recently, the College also got its undergraduate startup incubator – Mitosis – of which we are a member. Mitosis has been instrumental in making connections and introductions, and it just hosted the first cross-Dartmouth Demo Day a couple of weeks ago.

How did you come up with the idea for Square One Mail?

I was solving my own personal problem with email. Every day I would receive a couple hundreds of messages: important stuff related to my job as Publisher of The Dartmouth and my classes, mixed in with messages from my mom, jokes from my fraternity and living social deals. I found myself spending a great deal of time on my email, but most of this time was not focused and productive, but rather a lot of “checking my email,” in other words skimming the subject lines of the dozens of unread messages to determine whether there was anything important or time sensitive in the slew of unimportant email. On top of that, I found myself being really distracted by the constant push notifications on my phone every time I got a new message.

So I figured there must be a better user experience for email, which would prevent the distracted inbox scanning, as well as the constant push notifications about email newsletters. And that’s how SquareOne Mail was born: an app that would remove you from the clutter of the inbox by presorting all your messages into a dashboard, and that would let you flexibly choose which zones are currently relevant to you and should therefore be prompting push notifications.

How did you come up with the name?

The original name of the project was Zone Mail, but we know that was a little too prosaic. One night last summer I was watching the movie “Into the Wild” with my girlfriend, and the protagonist was talking about the distracted, frantic pace of the society, and how he needed to go back to square one. Immediately I felt like that was the perfect name for us, since we are doing the same with email in a way – bringing it back to being a communication tool, as opposed to an information dump – and our user interface uses square tiles in the dashboard.

What problem does Square One Mail solve?

Business professionals and enterprises suffer from email overload: an average corporate email user receives 112 emails a day. However, messages are presented as a cluttered block of information, without much tailoring to the personal communication needs and priorities of the individual user. Yes, you can set up filters or folders, but that requires going deep into settings every time you want to edit the specifications, they don’t sync well across devices, and the primary point of contact with your email remains the cluttered inbox. “Checking email” has become a constant chore, leading to continuous distractions from what is important. Add the fact that we are on our smartphones 24/7 and most people have push notifications for email turned on, and you’ve got the complete picture of why so many people complain about email.

What’s your secret sauce?

We make email simple and personalized in a very organic, effortless way. We decided against algorithms that would try to guess where your messages should go, because email is such a serious thing, and the technology is simply not there yet to be 100% infallible – you hear people complain all the time about Gmail or Apple Mail sending something to their spam folder that was not supposed to go there. Instead, we automatically sort out all of the commercial newsletters and social notifications into the Digest, so you don’t have to deal with those, and then leave the rest up to you. You are the one who places every person you interact with into the zone of your choice, and from then onward, their messages will always be presorted there. That may seem like a lot of sorting, but we make it so simple to sort that all it requires is one extra tap on a slider when you’re reading a message from someone who has not been sorted yet. Also, the 80/20 rule applies pretty well to email, and so we have found that 80% of your communications take place between about 20% of the people you communicate with, and so once you get those 20% senders placed, 80% of your messages will be always presorted, which becomes incredibly helpful very fast.

We have a lot of cool proprietary features in the works for the enterprise version of our apps that will leverage the institutional inter-connectedness of an enterprise and turn zones into communication hubs for individual projects, but more on that later.

Are you bootstrapped or funded?

Bootstrapped until recently, with a small amount of bridge cash from a local angel, but now we have begun raising a seed round to move the company to the next level.

What’s one challenge you’ve overcome in the startup process?

I think the hardest part for a software startup is finding a rock-solid team of devs, especially when the first founder is not technical, as is our case. It took quite a while before I found James and Sang and got them on board, but I feel incredibly lucky for the team that we have. Recently, we added another pemanent developer, who is actually located in Bulgaria, and so now the development process has been going really smoothly.

Who are some of your mentors and business role models?

We have been leveraging the Tuck School of Business network a lot, be it through actual entrepreneurs who have been there/done that, or business professionals, who are ultimately our target customers. We have two great advisors on board, Professor Gregg Fairbrothers who teaches entrepreneurship at the business school, and has been involved in an advisory capacity in easily a hundred startups, and Bill Nisen, a Dartmouth alum with wonderful business insight. Many more people have been helpful to us, and we hope to solidify our official board of advisors once we raise the seed round and choose a physical location.

What’s next for Square One Mail?

We have released the public beta of the iPhone app, which is our pilot product. We knew we wanted for the app to be mobile first, because our phones are most frequently the primary point of contact with our inbox. But now we of course the next step is to build the experience out cross-platform. The development process is already underway for a web app, and soon we will start working on an Android version. By the spring of next year, we’d like to be done with webapp and Android, and start work on an enterprise version of SquareOne Mail, with appropriate emphasis on data security.


Sign up for Square One Mail’s beta test here

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