This is an interesting story in light of the discussion yesterday about the fate of the intellectual property of failed startups. Email startup Xobni, which recently turned down a $20 million acquisition offer from Microsoft, says they have acquired the key patents around a product called Zaplets which originally launched in 2000.
Zaplets was an email product that put synchronized applications into email messages. The goal was to reduce email back and forth around things like scheduling meetings, coordinating events, etc. Any time an email turned into a thread, Zaplets may be more useful – all those responses would be brought right back into the original email. The Zaplet automatically updated itself in the original email, so long threads were avoided.
If Zaplets launched today, they’d call them email widgets.
Zaplets parent company, FireDrop, raised over $100 million from a slew of investors, including Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers. Their 2000 Series D round alone was reportedly $90 million. USA Today called it “one of the Valley’s most sizzling start-ups.” Dave Winer, by contrast, failed to find it interesting. As an aside, I remember being in their offices and seeing a demo of the product, but I can’t remember why (I had my own company then, and certainly wasn’t running around getting startup demos). I liked it.
But Zaplets were not to be it seems. Eventually Firedrop shut down, the employees dispersed and the assets eventually made their way to MetricStream.
Xobni CEO Jeff Bonforte says the Zaplet idea was a good one, just too early. And that’s why they’ve acquired much of the intellectual property of FireDrop from MetricStream. He won’t say what they paid, but hinted that it was in the low hundreds of thousands of dollars for the portfolio of ten key patents.
Bonforte says reducing email threads down to a single active message is a key factor in solving the email problem I wrote about last month. And he thinks Xobni will eventually be able to do that with the IP they’ve just acquired.
Some screen shots of the old Zaplet website are below.