Y Combinator-Backed Streak.com Takes On Salesforce With A Simple CRM For Gmail

Life is painful for those of us who try to manage our daily workload in Gmail. The stars, the labels and filters, Google’s inaccurate “Priority Inbox” ranking system, the extensions… well, they all sort of help out. But my inbox is still a mess and yours probably is, too. Until someone comes up with a vastly superior communication protocol (one of those frighteningly ambitious problems), a new startup called Streak is trying to create order from the inside.

Part of last year’s summer Y Combinator class, the company is bringing customer relationship management (CRM) functionality directly into Gmail. Right now, most people who are trying to track customers are using separate systems (Gmail plus Salesforce, for example). The process of forwarding emails into these systems or replying out of them via email requires extra work on the part of the user.

Streak shortcuts through the problem by offering a simple customer relationship management extension for Chrome. You install it in the browser, then create a set of workflow interfaces in Gmail that allow you to organize related sets of emails. Some recent email extensions, like Rapportive, also provide lightweight CRM features, but Streak goes way deeper into the workflow process.

Out of the box, it offers templates for Sales, Hiring, Dealflow, Fundraising, Email Support and Bug Tracking. Aleem Mawani (ex-Google) and Omar Ismail, co-founders at Streak, tell me that they originally built Streak to solve their own sales needs but quickly saw that people were using it for a variety of workflows. What Streak is doing seems to be working. They’re seeing solid traction since soft-launching in January, with usage growing 18% every week.

Here at TechCrunch, I’ve been testing out the Streak template for “Journalism.” It allows me to add emails into my different projects — mostly stories I’m writing or assigning to other users. What makes this potentially very valuable to many types of users is the fact that you can selectively share these pipelines. I could invite all of TechCrunch to mine, for example, or just a few writers who I know are working on specific types of stories. We don’t change how we communicate — it’s still email — we just have to do less work to organize the most important conversations about work.

What’s next? Aleem says it has plans for “mobile, more browser compatibility and launching Google’s missing Gmail API”. While coy about the feature, Aleem alludes to the ability to offer an API to other companies allowing them to customize Gmail as heavily as the company has already.

The question for Streak is whether they can go up against the big boys, like Salesforce, in the massive CRM market. Aleem is confident they can, “No one is really servicing the non-Fortune 500’s. Small- and medium-sized business have shown us they want their tools integrated into where they work – their email. This is more than just a cosmetic change, it’s a complete reinvention of the inbox.”

The challenge for Streak is whether they can strike a balance between heavier-duty CRM/project management software and Google’s existing Gmail features. Personally, I’m in the middle of trying to use a bunch of Gmail labels as well as Asana to keep track of everything. Other users are on other software, like Highrise and Basecamp from 37 Signals, or any of the many other competitors available for Google Apps users in its Marketplace store. I’m going to continue trying Streak out for now, and I’ll report back if it takes over my work-life.