Meet Front, a service to collaborate, comment, assign and reply to those pesky emails that you receive on your support@, jobs@ or contact@ email addresses. Launching today, Front is part of Y Combinator‘s current batch.
“With Front, we want you to receive all your company’s incoming feeds in our app and collaborate in real time on these requests,” co-founder and CEO Mathilde Collin told me in a phone interview. “It’s a bit like an online receptionist.”
In addition to email, the company supports Twitter and plans to add more services in the coming months. Soon, you will be able to manage all your incoming messages in one interface. But it all started around email, and this is where Front currently shines.
When you first launch Front on OS X, Windows or the web, you set up your company’s email server with Front. If you use Google Apps, it’s as easy as entering your email and password. But the company now also supports any email server that uses the IMAP protocol, which is the overwhelmingly dominant email protocol.
Then, Front adds a layer on top of your emails. Below an email thread, there is a comment field. When you write a comment, it doesn’t send an email, it just adds a comment for your coworker. Similarly, you can follow a conversation to get notified when there is a reply. You can add a tag, assign an email to someone and more.
Here’s how Front could be useful. Imagine you have a vague firstname.lastname@example.org email address. On this address, you receive support requests, job applications and more. You may have a dedicated email address like email@example.com, but sometimes people just send their applications to the first email address they see.
With Front, you can just drag and drop this email to the dedicated team. Your HR team can comment and make up their mind whether they should interview this applicant, and then send a reply using Front.
You don’t turn your customers into ticket numbers. It’s perfectly seamless; everybody already knows how to send an email. Mathilde Collin
What if someone leaves your team? You can reassign all his or her emails to another person. And when you add a team member to an inbox, he or she will see all the backlog of emails, comments and more.
Going through your Front inbox feels a bit like managing your emails and collaborating like you would do on Yammer at the same time. It’s much more effective than CC-ing all your coworkers, replying to everyone, or going back to the original email to send a reply.
And when it comes to support requests, there is a fundamental difference between Front and a traditional help desk like Zendesk. “You don’t turn your customers into ticket numbers,” Collin said. “It’s perfectly seamless; everybody already knows how to send an email.”
In addition to the traditional social features, there are other power features in Front. You can see detailed analytics to see how many emails you get, who is replying and how much time it takes. You have a centralized activity feed to see what’s happening across all your inboxes. You can snooze your emails like in Mailbox. You can track whether someone has opened an email. You can send a predefined answer to frequent emails.
In addition to adding all these features to the desktop apps, the team is also working on a mobile app. The service costs $9 per user per month, unless you receive fewer than 200 messages per month.
“Usually, people start by plugging one or two inboxes, and they understand that Front’s workflow can be useful for other teams. Then, they use it for other inboxes,” Collin said.
Overall, Front is like a beautiful LEGO box with every possible feature you need to improve your email workflow. Email is something incredibly dated, but everybody insists on using it. So instead of replacing email like Yammer, Convo and other services, Front makes it useful again. Or as Collin told me, “email is broken. With Front, you can start using email again.”