One of the problems with mailing lists today, especially when used for work-related purposes or organizing large groups around some sort of project, is that they can quickly become overwhelming. Annoyed, many users then create a filter to archive the mailing list so it stays out of their inbox. Y Combinator-backed Threadable, a newly launched mailing list management solution, wants to offer a better way.
It aims to improve group communication within teams by making emails more actionable. That is, emails sent with Threadable let users quickly mute message threads, turn threads into tasks and claim them, mark tasks as done, and more.
The company was started, as many are, out of a personal frustration, explains co-founder Ian Baker. Previously of Pivotal Labs and Wikipedia, he founded the company with Nicole Aptekar, Jared Grippe and Aaron Muszalski this past November, but says the team had been more casually working on the idea for around a year.
Muszalski also worked at Wikipedia, as well as at Upwell and Industrial Light and Magic, creating digital effects for movies like Star Wars. Meanwhile, Grippe came from Change.org, where he helped scale their platform up to 10 million users. Aptekar worked as a Product Manger at Apportable, and a technical director for the Gray Area Foundation for the Arts.
And while the team had all encountered the challenges involved with team communication at their prior companies, they had also experienced those same issues when off-the-clock, too, when organizing volunteers who helped them with large art projects and installations they would get together to build, like their “Dance Dance Immolation” project, a favorite at Burning Man, that combines Dance Dance Revolution mechanics, fire-proof suits and flamethrowers.
“We kept scaling it, making it bigger and bigger,” says Baker. “Our group is about 200 people now, and organizing all these people was really challenging. We tried tools for organizing groups, like project management tools and group task managers, and the trouble was that none of that really stuck. It was hard to get the whole team to use them,” he explains.
“But our old mailing list we had been using for years, that was really successful.”
People continued to use the mailing list, but no one really liked the mailing list, says Baker. So the team realized that there was an opportunity to build a mailing list solution that was actually good.
With Threadable, the idea is to offer tools specifically designed for managing groups. One of Threadable’s flagship features is the ability to subdivide smaller groups having their own discussions into sub-groups, so those not involved with that particular thread will stop receiving those messages, keeping their inbox quiet.
Meanwhile, a mute button is included on threads, allowing you to opt-out of specific discussions at any time. Email threads can also be turned into tasks, and tasks and activities you create on other platforms, like Trello for instance, can be turned into email notifications, as well.
But the most powerful feature in Threadable is its support for webhooks, which allows an organization to do just about anything to pre-process emails before they’re sent out to groups. For example, you could have foreign language threads automatically translated via the Google Translate API, pre-screen content for confidential info, run remote commands via email, automatically send out SMS alerts, and more.
The end result is a fairly robust communication solution, but one which still has the benefits of working via email. Email lists, notes Baker, are still popular because they meet people where they’re at, as opposed to shuffling them off to learn new tools.
The company began its closed beta in December and just opened up to the public around a week ago. Already, Threadable has grown to 220 organizations, and is expected to handle 250,000 email messages this month. Though they’re not able to track engagement metrics for their customers, in select cases, they were able to see that after moving a traditional mailing list to Threadable, engagement increased by 2 to 4 times.
Threadable’s user base is varied, with customers including small software companies, large-scale art projects (like theirs), private groups, a medical device manufacturer, and more. The plan is to keep the current product free, which would allow any organization to use it no matter their budget. In the future, they’ll charge for specific features designed for business users, as well as for an on-premise solution for enterprise customers. However, pricing on those tiers is still to be determined.
The four-person, San Francisco-based startup had a small amount of angel funding prior to Y Combinator, but will be looking to close a larger round following Demo Day.