What does it take to reinvent email?

How Readdle made an entirely new email experience, that is completely familiar.

We live in the era of self-driving cars, rockets flying to Mars and AI. Many of us live in our email inbox, and the experience that we have there is really out of date. That is why, 2 years ago, we decided to change that and built Spark.

Spark for iPhone was launched last year and it was named by Apple as one of the of “App Store Best of 2015” apps with over one million people downloading it. Spark for Mac came out just a few hours ago and has already elevated the Mac email experience to an entirely new level for many people across the globe.

We are not done yet and have many great things coming soon but today I want to tell you the story of how Spark came to be.

The Why

My own experience with email was bad. Hundreds of people I know felt the same. An unruly and overwhelmed inbox that takes too much time to handle, especially if you manage a few accounts. Hundreds of emails per day have to be sorted, answered or trashed. Everything was too cluttered, not robust enough and had to be changed.

After building other products — including Scanner Pro, PDF Expert and Documents — that are downloaded by 50 million people worldwide, we challenged ourselves to push the boundaries and to solve a problem as big as email. That’s why, when, in 2014, Alex Tyagulsky (our co-founder) came to us and said: “ I know how to fix email!”, we said “Finally!”

The Challenge

Without a doubt, this was the most challenging product we’ve ever worked on. But, it allowed us to grow so much at the same time.

Email is an incredibly hard problem to solve: both technologically and from the user experience perspective. There have been so many companies who tried and failed, got acquired or never shipped their product. Yet, it was this challenge that we accepted.

Me and Alex flew to San Francisco during WWDC ’14 to interview over 60 people on how they use email. We were shocked! Almost everyone worked with email in a different way. How do you create a product for such a broad audience? Moreover, when we were saying that “we want to fix email” to Bay Area “influentials” , they just laughed at us, saying “yeah right, good luck”.

That was hard to hear, but gave us even more motivation to prove that we can do it!

What problem did we solve and for who?

When we talked with people at WWDC, we tried to understand the main issues they have with email. Because, once you know what’s broken , you can come up with a solution.

The main problem we identified was massive overload with email. Moreover, people didn’t always know what was important and required immediate action, and what can be done later. That’s why we had to create a way for people to see important things first, filter out the noise and provide tools to quickly act on both.

So, if you receive 30 or more emails per day, you should know two things . First, there are more than 100 million other people who have the same problem as you and second, we made Spark to help you.

Fixing an overwhelmed inbox

Out of every 200 emails arriving in your inbox, your attention is required towards maybe 15 of those. There’s too much noise.

Spark is intelligent enough to bubble new emails from real people to the top, and the rest are sorted into “Notifications” and “Newsletters” cards. Now, just glancing at your inbox gives you a pretty good idea of what’s important. At the same time, it’s now super easy to batch archive those newsletters you never read. Then, pin or snooze a few emails to get to them when the time is right, and you have an empty inbox.

Once I showed this to a friend he was like: “ Oh wow, I just trashed 1,900 notifications in a second and finally my inbox is empty”.

Here are some other things that we took care of:

  • natural language search
  • smart notifications that only appear when you get an important email
  • customization of swipes, number of emails in each card, etc.
  • integrations with 3rd-party services
  • actionable event invites
  • and much more

Also, we spent A LOT of time figuring out how an email should look to create a slick experience and be easy to read. We transform long email conversations with quotes, forwards and other junk into clean, readable messages that you can consume in an instant. Trust me, it was really hard.

Small details like this won’t make or break your product, but they make a real difference in how people feel when they use it. Of course, in many cases you have to choose between making a product useful or pretty. I think Spark strikes a good balance between being a product that does its job and a product that is visually appealing.

Where is Spark today?

Started as a product codenamed SmartMail more than two years ago, today Spark upgrades your email experience on iPhone, iPad, Apple Watch and Mac.

Hundreds of thousands people use Spark everyday. All the major technology sites said that Spark is one of the best email clients for iPhone and compared us with solutions from Google and Microsoft.

But that’s just the beginning.

The future of email

Email is not going anywhere .It’s the best way to keep in touch with people outside your company or to update colleagues on some things (sorry, Slack! :).

We believe that the future of email looks bright as it finally starts to catch up with the progress the tech industry made over the last decade. AI, collaboration and assistants are just few keywords you will hear more and more in relation to email in the coming years.

Spark 2.0 is already in the works and it should reinvent the way teams use email. I cannot tell you anymore at this time, but if our vision is right, the chances are that you will be using Spark within your team very soon.


You can still make $ millions by creating apps on the Mac App Store

Some products make millions of $ just on Mac App Store alone. So can you! Here’s our story.

Exactly a year ago we launched our first Mac app — PDF Expert. It quickly became #1 app on the App Store and won App of the Year Runner-Applater on. For those who don’t know, PDF Expert is a fast, robust and beautiful PDF editor.

PDF Expert in action.

More than 1 million people visited PDF Expert site, 150K trials were downloaded and over 50K units sold.

The journey

Over 5 million people were using PDF Expert on their iPhones and iPads, so having a Mac version for consistent user experience was a good idea. Moreover, we’ve looked around and realized that all PDF apps/ services on Mac are outdated and poorly designed from user experience perspective. So we thought “Hey, we are the guys who can absolutely nail it and create the best in class product in this category”. We’ve already done that with Scanner Pro, Spark other Readdle apps.

That’s why PDF Expert for Mac was born. We are extremely happy that we managed to build the best product on the platform. That is why it became #1 App on the Mac App Store and won all the awards.

Competition is good

More people and companies go paperless, fully relying on digital forms of documents. And here comes the PDF as the most popular file format.

Since PDF Expert is a newcomer to the PDF industry on desktop, we’ve had to be super fast adding features others spent years on developing.

Competition and Positioning.

The pace of updates was incredible: 8 major updates with over 30 big features added such as Readdle Transfer, text and image editing, outlines, new reading modes, redaction of sensitive info, better management tools and much more.

The virtue of creating a great product is to make it powerful enough, yet keep it simple and easy to use.

What makes it possible is our direct connection with our customers. We’ve conducted dozens of interviews and surveys, trying to figure out real problems people have. Thanks to you, we can improve our product to solve those problems.

There are many apps working with PDFs, but we entered the space and quickly became a leader in the category. But once you make a great product, create a loop for customers’ feedback and deliver frequent updates based on it — the growth is exponential. Apple editorial team recognition is probably the best proof.

The Mac App Store is not dead

Despite the mobile trend and rumors than Mac apps are dying, I think it is still possible to make millions by creating amazing Mac software. Look at Omni, 1Password, CleanMyMac, and PDF Expert. Yes, there are plenty of free tools, but if you create an amazing product that provides good value for money — people will buy it.

You can still make millions by creating great software for Mac.

The Mac App Store is great because there are fewer apps in there, so it is easier to be a dominant leader in the category. Once you make a great product you have a great chance of being featured by Apple editorial team, because you stand out.

Moreover, if your product supports the latest and greatest features and technologies that Apple provides — you will get even more love. Press was talking the whole week about the apps with Touch Bar support. Apple has even featured the early adopters of that technology.

Adopt technologies quickly.

Being “the best in class”

Our goal was always to make the best in class product in each industry, be it scanning, PDF, calendars or emails. Once you nail that from the product perspective — the rest is just execution. Make sure the product category is big enough so you can hit good revenues.

In our case, PDF Expert provides a great variety of use cases for a wide audience: edit, sign, annotate, read fast, extract and manage PDFs, fill out forms and much more! More people and companies go paperless, fully relying on digital forms of documents. And here comes the PDF as the most popular file format. Once you become the best PDF editor on the platform — the growth is exponential.

The Future

So what’s next?

We are dedicated to make PDF Expert the best solution for work with PDFs. It will evolve into a cross-platform product that provides the best experience for every user.

If we are talking about short term we are excited to add vital and innovative features. Here’s the roadmap that we can share:

  • PDF file size reduction
  • Split view mode for two files
  • OCR
  • Page numbering
  • Touch bar support

Hopefully Apple will bring more love to Mac App Store, by adding analytics and other things we already have on the iOS App Store.

I’ll be happy to hear your comments and thoughts.

How to make Web Summit Work for a Startup

We have been exhibiting at Web Summit for the last three years. This conference has grown so large, that some attendees feel lost and overwhelmed. After three crazy days here in Lisbon, I have come up with a good, manageable plan for the next year.

I am happy to share these tips, and hopefully, you will find most of them useful for next year’s meeting!

Set your goals

Every conference takes a lot of work, time and money. You must be very clear about what your goals are and what are you looking for at the conference.

If you write them down, they will become much more certain, and you will find a way to attain them.

Web Summit brings 50,000 people together. So you can find practically anyone you might need: press, investors, founders, potential partners, etc.

The main goals for us this year were:

  • Discover customers (making sure Spark 2.0 will solve real problems that users have)
  • Find the messaging that works best
  • Catch up with the people that we already know (press, other founders, investors)
  • Look at trends and where industry is going
  • Let the team talk to potential customers

Set up meetings in advance

Once you know your goals, it will become much easier to decide which people you need to talk to. Seek those people with similar interests and research who’s going to be there that could assist you..

Web Summit app is surprisingly good making it easier to find and message people. Make sure you will be useful to the people you contact too. Don’t just ask for something; think about what you can give.

It’s all about building relationships at the conference. The business part of it will follow.

Try to get into “START”

START package elevates you to a bigger league. You will have a good booth, tickets for four people and more credibility. Moreover, you will have access to a few Speakers’ dinners where you can meet a lot of speakers, investors and press.

I have observed that startup naming confuses people. Alpha (the startups in the very early stages) are often perceived as the ones with traction since people sometimes associate “alpha” with “dominance.” At the same time, I’ve been asked several times, “Oh, are you guys just starting your company?” when they see START on my badge.

Bring at least four people

We had a team of five people there this time, and it worked well. At any given time, there were three team members at the booth while two others were walking around, looking for interesting stuff.

Have we had brought eight people, all of them could have been busy talking to potential customers all day. Bear in mind, one proactive team member can effectively talk to 50–60 people per day. Next year I will bring at least six or seven people.

Exhibit for two days

If you buy tickets, getting a booth for two days will be much better. You will be able to talk to more potential customers and get more feedback and advice. You never know who might wander up to your booth. The President of Portugal was casually talking to startups.

Days 1 and 2 are the best ones to exhibit.

A lot of people leave on the third day or are just tired from a Night Summit.

Be proactive and approach people

Having a booth doesn’t mean people will stop to chat with you! They often feel lost and pass by.

Make a very short and eye-catching sign for your stand. I find it impossible to read all those long descriptions, that give me no idea what you do.

“Hey! How’s it gong?” is a good way to start a conversation, followed by a smile to send a good vibe. Or ask a person what he/she does rather than start pitching your product immediately.

Be positive, approachable and genuine. And don’t forget to smile! It’s really important.

Apply for a Pitch competition

Surprisingly, there were a LOT of people attending the speeches and the PITCH competition. Our SPARK 2.0 for teams is not ready for a prime time; so I didn’t apply to pitch. However, it’s a great opportunity to tell 300 to 500 people about your product and get feedback at one sitting.

WIN the pitch competition! That’s the only attitude you should have when you apply. The art of pitching is complex and requires a lot of training, but you are there to win. Go for it!

Become a Speaker or Media Participant

You have no idea how different the conference will feel once you are a speaker. Suddenly it’s easier to talk to anyone, you have more credibility, and better access to all the other speakers, lounges and events.

If you have an unusual story, you should share it!.

Try to get into chat groups

One last tip: There are people who organize group chats on messenger to coordinate activities after the official sessions. There are often cool people in those; so try to get into one, or create one.

Overall, Web Summit is a great conference that brings a lot of people together and provides wonderful opportunities.

As is so often true in life, it’s completely up to you what you get out of it.