It delivers our messages, our files, our links. It is the foundation of our communication online. It travels wherever we ask it to. It cooperates with as many useful apps and project platforms as we ask of it. It is the most reliable and versatile work tool that we have. Yet, we call it a mess and blame it for our woes. I’m writing, of course, about email.
ccGenie makes email our greatest work ally again. By simply including the address of a shared email space (or room) hosted by ccGenie, this SaaS solution improves collaboration without ever having to leave email. Inside the shared room, ccGenie automatically extracts and organizes all the components of an email. This keeps contacts, documents, support services and more arranged for greater convenience and accessibility. ccGenie combines the best aspects of email with cloud storage and collaboration tools, without disrupting natural workflow. This is email evolved. (Watch an introductory video here.)
CEO and Co-founder Eric Brisson has been a tech executive and angel investor for over 20 years. Like ccGenie, which is based in the Silicon Valley with a technical team stationed in Paris, he’s spent half of his business career in the U.S. though his roots are in France. His passions include rock climbing and paragliding, somewhat risky sports that “put you out of your comfort zone pretty quickly.” Defying gravity helps him keep the risks of starting up in perspective – for himself and for investors! Joining me on terra firma, Brisson tells us more about ccGenie and email evolution:
Let’s talk about ccGenie. Can you explain it a little bit for me?
Our vision with ccGenie was simple: to make email a more collaborative tool. A lot of independent platforms exist today that share files for project management or personal use. Yet, they all lack integration with email systems as well as with other platforms out there. We saw an opportunity to create a new, seamless, cloud-based platform that would allow all these independent tools to work together. ccGenie is a single platform for the organization of email conversation threads, content, links, contacts, file sharing, and overall project management.
And ccGenie is easy to use. Once an account is setup, the user simply creates different “workspace rooms.” It’s within these “rooms” that the respective emails, links, and attachments are automatically extracted, organized, and filed for a focused collaboration among friends, family, or colleagues.
How did you arrive at this project? Was it something you had been thinking about for a long time, or did it choose you?
Well, previously, I was working at a company called ILOG, a software startup, a French company. I was a very early employee in the U.S. when they opened up a subsidiary. The company was very small. This was in 1995, so it was along time ago. We did an IPO in the Nasdaq, then we grew the company, and then we sold the company to IBM at the end of 2008. By that time, the company was doing just short of $200 million revenue per year, we had 1,200 employees all around the world. I was the head of sales and services. So I grew the company from where it was to what it became when we sold it to IBM. Then I worked the integration with IBM.
Through the whole process, I’d been using a bunch of CRM software, project management software, and I had always been frustrated because the sales guys didn’t adopt the software. They always defaulted to their email, they always wanted to use their email, they were traveling and it was difficult for them to connect… all that. And then when I quit IBM after my two years, I started to invest in a number of startups, and started to work from home, working a lot more with emails, Skype, social networks, file sharing, etc., on multiple projects across different organizations…
It’s impossible to ask, to have everybody using one specific application, the same project management tool, or the same file-sharing application. We always default back to email. And it becomes a mess, becomes complicated. After a while, I thought why don’t we try to do something that, from your email, is nonintrusive into the way you work but adds the services you need.
That’s basically what we are trying to do. You go into work with your email, you just cc your workspace, and the different people working on that part of the project, just by ccing that workspace, they get services for free. So that’s how we came up with the idea [of working on] how to make the life of a freelancer, or some one using a lot of email, more productive while having a better user experience – a little bit similar to what you love with Facebook, but now it’s something which is more related to your own business, the essence related to your projects and integrated with your email…
What would you say to a potential user who’s skeptical of learning how to navigate ccGenie organizing email, someone hesitant to have another layer of organization?
So, what I would say is that you go in to use your email and it’s another space where things are organized for you.
The long curve to get the services providing added value for you is minimal. You keep your email anyway, just by ccing it to that space. You should see the benefits of using it [ccGenie] right away. Why do you use Dropbox? You use Dropbox because you want to use the file sharing, but once you’re in Dropbox you’re disconnected from your email. Then, after a while, you get a bunch of links and so on, and you get links from other services, and … Here, without leaving your email, and just by using the same tool, you get the services basically for free.
There are no fees attached to having an account?
Yeah, currently it’s free. The business model is a freemium. When you evolve toward a lot of a workspace, a bigger organization, when you need to have some workspace governance and management and so on – which would mean that you use the software and service a lot – that’s when you would upgrade to a paid service. But frankly, it’s a little bit too early to know exactly how the model will evolve. We need to understand how people use the product.
How does it feel to be working again at a company that’s just starting out compared to the larger businesses that you’ve grown and seen reach such a high level of success?
Well, first, I wouldn’t say such a high level of success. It’s nothing like Facebook or Twitter or something like that. We were successful to go through the Nasdaq in 1997 and grow the company and sell and integrate and so on. The philosophy of the management team was to always treat business like a startup. We were like a bigger family by the time we got to IBM, but we had been able to keep that feel, that sense of urgency. We had to be close to our customers… There was a big difference for me when I moved to IBM, and that’s why I left [laughs] particularly, because it was so big and there were so many politics, and basically it was not really for me.
I mean it’s [a startup] stressful. It’s a lot of work. On the other hand, it’s very rewarding. I work with people I know. We have a vision. We don’t know if we’re going to be successful or not, but it’s easy to make decisions. Every time I have a conversation – like with you – I’m so enthused. I feel like I’m working to add value to what we’re doing no matter what is going to happen. So for me, that’s the environment in which I’m comfortable.
What are some of the more immediate goals that you have for ccGenie?
Right now, to get users to sign up for the platform. We started the service in mid-July and we have 1,500 accounts created. We have 100 active users per day. The immediate objectives are to let people know about the company, the service, and to have them try it so that we can get feedback and we can grow the user base. Then we go to the next level, which is either to raise more money or to move to a freemium business model.
Do you have any advice that you would offer to other founders trying to start up?
Funny you should ask, because next week I’m giving a talk on that to a group of founders and CEOs. So, one thing is: don’t over-engineer your product. In other words, what makes more of a difference for me is product match, how your product matches the pain points of a specific target, a specific market.
In my experience, especially with the company we had before, we had 3 product lines and each of them were targeting different markets with different go-to market strategies. During the course of that company, we made some mistakes. Sometimes we wanted to send a certain product to end users or software vendors and it didn’t work, or we wanted to send the end users to another product… So I say, only do the features that make a difference, and then target the right pain points for the right people in the market. That’s something that is not new, of course, but something that I believe in.
Another one is: don’t work with people that are too complicated, [laughing] to be politically correct. In other words, the team is key, you know everybody says that, but to go one step further – make sure that the people you work with are not too painful to work with. There’s no place for entitlement in a startup. It’s never easy. You have to make decisions, and you have to be with people who are easy to work with.
I have another one, which is: don’t look at the competition; it is very often a waste of time.
Don’t look at the competition?
Yeah, don’t look too much at the competition. Obviously, you need to know the market… I had a sales team, and every time we would lose a deal, some one would come up and say we need to drop these features, we need to have this, we need to lower the price… And if you listen to all of this, try to adapt to the competition or to be on par with the competition, you lose track of your objective and lose track of your vision and what your product should do.
How do you define success? What will give you satisfaction?
Personally, what will give me satisfaction with ccGenie is to have a large user base and having satisfied customers – so that we can grow the company. What would give me the most satisfaction is to be able to tell my kids that we created a company from scratch. There was no product, and we thought about something missing, and made something useful for people to use, and people use it.
How we monetize and how much money we make – I think there’s so many different factors you have to take into account. It’s a little too early on to say that we’re going to be around next year, but I would be very satisfied if there’s a lot of users who like the product. I think that’s what is exciting. Just having the users that we have today, I’m excited. We put something out there and some people are using it. It’s pretty rewarding.