The biggest news last week was the aquisition of mobile Mailbox app creator Orchestra by Dropbox the cloud storage system. Dropbox is rumoured to have paid 100M USD to acquire the company, half in cash and half in stock.
If you aren’t familiar with Mailbox, it’s a mobile mail application that developed a new method of interfacing with your email. Orchestra initially built a to-do application called “Orchestra” that is highly regarded for its innovative approach to handling tasks and syncing those tasks between your mobile and desktop. Orchestra previously raised 5.3M when they launched their to-do app and were planning on raising another round when they were acquired.
Mailbox app attracted attention even before it launched with media writing about how it would revolutionize the way we interact with mail. Most of the hype and initial buzz came from a demonstration of the application the company uploaded to Youtube.
Unfortunately I haven’t been able to use the application. There is a waiting list and by the time I joined the there were 300K people ahead of me waiting to get access to the service. In total more than 1.3M people were signed up or waiting to use this new mail application by the time dropbox decided to acquired the company.
The company created a waiting list and slow deployment strategy because they were worried about the service being overwhelmed and causing a bad user experience. Of course I’m sure there was some marketing strategy involved in a slow deployment strategy too.
You can still find demostration videos of the application, which only runs on iPhone, online. The core approach to the dealing with mail is based on enabling you to quickly reach inbox-zero. The state of having no unread emails in your inbox. They do this by structuring the approach to dealing with email based on a to-do concept. This is accomplished by a series of swipes left or right. Half swipe right sends your email to archives and a full swipe to the right deletes it . A half swipe to the left allows you to schedule the email to redisplay at another time. So you can have it pop up in the afternoon, evening, next morning or the next night. A full swipe to the left gives you multiple options for filing the email away.
If you are really frustrated you can take your entire inbox and swipe it away, to return at a later time.
Orchestra, the to-do application took a similar approach to filing and communicating with your team. Mailbox may be a hit but they learned a lot of lessons from their initial to-do application. And they only decided to build Mailbox app after they realized despite the ease of something like to-do, people still defaulted communications to email. They realized email needed to be rethought because email is still our default mode of communicating tasks and our single source of distractions.
To be honest, although I heard about the new application I was reluctant to try it. Every year it seems that someone has built an application to reinvent the way we interact with mail. And after investing a lot of time in migrating my email to the latest and greatest application I find that it really isn’t much better than using Google Mail in a web browser.
My worse email application experience was using Sparrow. Sparrow was supposed to be a revolutionary email application for the Mac, I thought it was handy, but after using it for a month they decided to sell their company to Google and they shut down the application!
So in general I’m just not comfortable with the idea of trusting my primary form of communication to a startup that might disappear in a month. But the acquisition of Mailbox app by Dropbox changes things.
For one Dropbox is paying a significant amount of money for the service, 100M USD for a company with only 14 employees. Generally companies don’t spend this much just to acquire a team.
From a business perspective, it makes total sense for Dropbox. Mailbox app is essentially a mail application for dealing with mail in the cloud, with features that enable off line functionality that syncs when you later connect to the internet. As a service for Dropbox expansion there is a lot of synergy.
Dropbox is been sandwiched between Evernote, which aims to archive all our personal data and box.net which specializes in cloud storage for the enterprise. Dropbox has been straddling the middle road between the two companies capable of shifting directions to challenge either. But the acquisition of Mailbox app makes and Orchestras’ to-do app puts Evernote squarely in the cross hairs of Dropbox.
Orchestra’s primary application, the to-do application, is squarely aimed at the lifehacker community. While Mailbox app is popular, fundamentally the development team is good at building applications that are very similar to the offerings Evernote has developed.
Of course there are a number of issues yet to be resolved for Mailbox app and the other applications developed by the Orchestra team. Today Mailbox app only works with Google Mail and on the iPhone. But with the development resources of Dropbox the service is sure to expand.
Dropbox has successfully integrated complex cloud applications into all major operating systems including seamless integration into Apple’s OS X, a technical feat that even impressed Steve Jobs.
And of course, Dropbox is more than happy to acquire the 1.2M users who are on the waiting list to use Mailbox app. Given the backlog of users planning to use Mailbox, the fact that everyone who has used it really loves the application and a development team proven to be able to build interfaces that consumers want, 100M isn’t bad. Dropbox also gets to strengthen its reach into what is essentially a new target audience, the lifehacker audience. Evernote’s audience.