Acunote: YC Alum Takes On Project Management With A Real-Time, Gmail-Like Interface

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“On time and under budget” is manna from heaven for project managers the world over, but unfortunately for most of them, those working on the projects and those commissioning them, it’s not often the case. Now, a Y Combinator alum (Winter 2011 class) called Acunote is launching a new project management system that wants to change that — by offering a platform to help people manage their tasks better.

With real time updates and a simple interface that bears a loose resemblance to Google’s Gmail, Acunote is making it a lot easier and quicker for people to update what is going on (and what is not) in a project. And it’s setting its sights on taking that to the next level with features to make it much more collaborative.

Acunote is formally launching now, but it’s actually been operating quietly for much longer, and already has an impressive list of clients on the platform. They include IBM, Fujitsu, VMWare, Eclipse, HP, EMC, Disney, Bump, Bank of America, and the FCC, who use Acunote to improve communication around assigning, organizing and completing tasks. That not only helps people work more efficiently — but it helps manage expectations for teams of workers when projects do hit a snag and get delayed.

Gleb Arshinov, the founder and CEO of Acunote, tells me that customer feedback so far has focused on how quick it is to use Acunote. Keyboard shortcuts and the simple interface, he says, makes it virtually “as fast as the speed of thought”.

“We have intentionally made the user interface similar to Gmail’s,” he says. “So most users go in and know what to do with it because they use Gmail and know what it looks like.”

That has another advantage, which plays into a trend appearing among other enterprise startups: an increasing push on making cloud-based apps more “social”, letting companies use the platforms to be more interactive with third parties and clients. This is also something that was a hallmark of CrushPath, sales software that is used by marketing teams, but can also be shared with would-be clients to keep up on the progress of a pitch.

In the case of Acunote, Arshinov notes that third-party collaboration has already been used by clients like IBM, which has adopted Acunote in its professional services division. “For them it’s important they have something that can be used by their non-technical customers and third party vendors,” he said. When you have to show your goods to people like that, he says, “the days of bad usability are over.”

And indeed, there are other examples of completely non-technical, collaborative uses of Acunote emerging, too. Arshinov notes that although the main users for Acunote are software and IT people, it’s also been used by one person to map out a house renovation, linking contractors into the project to keep everything running smoothly.

Acunote is the new kid on the block, but it’s not the first: others like Pivotal Labs, with its Pivotal Tracker; and Liquid Planner, are among those trying to corner the market for project management software. Asana, which is more about planning rather than project management and is aimed at a wide number of verticals, comes from a different approach, but Arshinov could see it being more of a direct competitor as it continues to evolve.

Keeping that in mind, it’s no surprise to see Acunote evolving, too. For one, it’s taking the project management data that it collects for users to the next level by incorporating a big-data element into the mix. It’s now introducing an analytics service to better monitor activity on the platform, and figure out trends and holes in what is being addressed, and what is not. That’s something that should make sense especially when there are a larger numbers of users on a project updating on their individual parts. The company’s software has already been used by teams ranging from 1 to 500 people, but Arshinov notes that the “sweet spot” is between 10 and 100.

Another development coming on the horizon are the launch of APIs. So far, he says, “Our approach has been to integrate things ourselves,” which has led the company to integrate Google Apps, for example, “but we have been getting a lot more requests for APIs, so that is now under development.” He also points out that there are already user-contributed APIs but that these are not official.

“APIs can be a double-edged sword,” he says. “There is a right time to do it but also a wrong time because they can affect backwards compatibility. But we do think the right point is right now.”