Many startups wireframe, design and sometimes even build working prototypes of many concepts that don’t ever end up seeing the light of day.
We are no different.
One such concept I spent 2-3 months wireframing and validating with potential customers was a mobile, social email newsletter reader. We ultimately ended up abandoning the concept in favor of the trusted hospitality exchange concept we are building now. That said, I thought I’d walk through the thinking of the prior concept we toyed with (nicknamed “Push”), in the event someone else is working on such an idea and is saved time or money by our learnings.
The goal we set out to solve is, and always has been, to connect like minded people in person. As you know, like minded people who most definitely want to meet exist within specific groups, networks, and communities.
I got to thinking – where are the communities I belong to in my life? How do they interact with me?
Well, duh, they are all my email inbox in the form of newsletters. Communities currently have zero presence on my phone.
What if we could PUSH all those email newsletters out of your inbox and into a simple, clean reading experience away to consume them on your own terms? In the process, add location aware community directories for every newsletter you read allowing you to discover other like minded people nearby. Basically, MyBlogLog (I was a massive fan) for email communities in a mobile world…meaning location is enabled by default. With a big splash of Google Reader thrown on top.
Email Publishing Now
Before I dive into the concept, take a step back and think about the downsides to email marketing in it’s current form. It lacks transparency, on a number of levels…
- Open rates
- Individuals subscribed to specific lists
- Conversations (no comments)
How “Push” Would Work
The core idea is an elegant mobile reader for email newsletters, with a social layer on top to show who is reading what (both email lists and individual newsletters). Those newsletters would never show up in your inbox unless you explicitly indicated you wanted them in both your inbox and the app.
The reading experience would consist of a few primary screens:
- Feed - newest articles first, from all the various communities you belong to.
- Community - newest articles first, for one specific community.
- Single Newsletter - simple viewing experience, with the ability to comment and social proof about who else had consumed and engaged with that article.
- Comments - newest comments first, across all the communities you belong to.
The feed screens would contain social proof, in the form of views, likes, comments, and reads.
The community screen would contain a location aware community directory of those who read that particular newsletter (think MyBlogLog for email).
The ability to comment.
Of course, the real question is how do you get email newsletters pushed out of the inbox and into Push? There came up with two primary options. Readers could either use a masked email address - like [email protected] - to subscribe to any email newsletter while not giving up their real email. Or, readers could grant Push access to their inbox, and the app would grab any email with a “unsubscribe” and create a community based on the title tag & sender email address. Of course, gaining access to one’s inbox is a high trust bar that few apps overcome quickly.
Publishers and Readers
There are two relevant parties for this product. Publishers and readers.
When thinking about any consumer facing product, there has to be a clear hook to gain widespread adoption. We came across three. Techies and non techies alike thought the ability to subscribe to email lists without giving up their primary address would be a massive win (FollowLetter agrees, and focuses on that pain point). Non technical readers simply wanted to de-clutter their inbox, and have some place to read all that content from their mobile device. The other, more tech savvy readers, wanted to find a way to discover what their friends and industry thought leaders are reading. Nuzzel clearly identified that same desire, and built their service with that as the primary value proposition.
From publishers, the feedback was universally positive. Publishers two largest pain points, by a mile, are “how do I grow my list?” and “how do I get people to open and read my emails”. Push would help with both. Email is a black hole of analytics. They all realize, if that consumption shifted from email into an app – they could track everything. Opens. Reads. Time spent. Mouse movements. Etc. And bringing transparency to who reads what emails allows discovery of new email communities your friends belong to (how do you find great newsletter now?). On top of that, it would enable their readers to discover and meet each other – which everyone who has grown a community knows is the single most important factor to building an engaged community.
Originally, the thought was that this would replace companies like MailChimp, ConstantContact, and AWeber, once mobile completely takes over.
That wasn’t thinking big enough.
In actuality, the bigger revenue opportunity is discovery, the mobile equivalent of search engine marketing. Getting someone’s permission to email them regularly is the most valuable type of customer short of a completed transaction. To be fair, part of the product goal is to lesson that value by giving users the ability to push newsletters out of their inbox. Even so, if there were a way for companies such as Zillow to enable subscribers of Trulia and Realtor.com to “find” their list and join – their checkbook is open all day, everyday for that transaction.
When it comes to tapping into the user acquisition budgets, the revenue possibilities are virtually endless (only cap is the number of users).
Imagine what email marketing could do…IF wondering whether someone would open an email wasn’t an issue. Video, images, interactive demos, and surveys could all be handled seamlessly inside the app.
Enable search, so you can actually get value from the treasure trove of information in your trusted email newsletters when in research scenarios.
The only mobile publishing platform you’d ever need.
I pitched this to several investors late in the fall of 2013 (here is the slide deck). The feedback? Super interesting, and monetizable, at scale. Someone with existing distribution should build this. LinkedIn. Disqus. New York Times. CNN. But, it doesn’t solve a large enough pain point to reach critical mass on its own and it’s fundamentally competing against email (when was the last time anyone “won” by doing that?).
In hindsight, I’m glad no one gave us money to build this product as we’ve since discovered, validated, and are building a better product that does solve an incredibly large pain point for a huge number of users (200 million millenials travel globally per year, and that’s just the starting point).
Think “Push” would work? Want to build it? Between Cloudspace’s iOS EasyReader (RSS reader) and Oh Hey World (location sharing + member directories), you should have all the open source code you need to be on your merry way.