Last October I wrote about a small startup called Mailgun that was setting out on a bold mission: to provide developers a way to programmatically create and manage mailboxes and email messages using a straightforward API. Put another way, they want to abstract the complexities of email in the same way that Twilio has created an easy-to-use developer interface for telephony services.
Today, the company is announcing that it’s raised $1.1 million from some very well-known investors including SV Angel, Yuri Milner (individually, in addition to his previous investment as part of Start Fund), Maynard Webb, Paul Buchheit (who, among other things, created Gmail), and Geoff Ralston (who created Yahoo Mail back in 1997). Given the credentials of the investors, it looks like Mailgun may be onto something big.
Mailgun landed a spot in the Winter 2010 Y Combinator class, and many of its early clients were actually fellow YC teams (YC cofounder Paul Graham says this is generally a good indicator for which services will gain traction). The product has also come a long way. Founder Ev Kontsevoy says that when we last wrote about them, Mailgun’s feature-set was comparable to SendGrid, allowing businesses to send large volumes of email reliably. Since then it’s evolved into a more robust email service provider, allowing developers to send, receive, parse, store, and run search queries on email programmatically.
Mailgun obviously isn’t the only email service provider out there, but Kontsevoy says that traditional ESPs charge by the number of mailboxes, which is too expensive for many developers. Instead of that model, Mailgun charges based on how many messages each account sends and receives and how much storage is used, similar to the way AWS works.
Mailgun’s value proposition is probably best explained using an example. Kontsevoy says that when fellow YC alum Posterous first got started, it spent a lot of time building its own email system in-house (Posterous allows you to quickly generate a blog post on the web by simply sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org). Had Mailgun been around, Kontsevoy says they could have skipped most of the work involving the sending, receiving, and storage of messages, and focused on building out the blogging side of things.
Mailgun is now powering the email boxes of 600 clients — 400 free, almost 200 paid. The service’s free plan allows for 200 messages/day, with the first paid plan running $1 per 1,000 messages and $1 GB/mo of storage. You can find more pricing details here.
Kontsevoy adds that Mailgun isn’t just setting out to create email APIs — they want to actually change how developers integrate email into their apps. “In our view”, he says, “everything is a mailbox: site comments, private mailboxes on sites like Facebook and Quora, blogs and so on – they are all good candidates to use the “new email” we’re working on.”
Mailgun provides a web service for integrating email inboxes into apps. Just as Twilio enables developers to build voice and SMS into their apps, Mailgun enables developers to tightly integrate email into their apps, i.e. give real email mailboxes to their users, their web pages or any objects in their apps. Such tight email integration enables functionality like private user mailboxes, photo uploads from cell phones, email-driven comments, discussion groups and more.