Innovation Spotlight: Email Evolution

A Clintonville couple developed an app to tame overflowing inboxes. Their next goal: growing the business.

By
From the June 2013 issue of Columbus CEO

Tech researchers say more than 294 billion emails are sent each day. Forgive Ria Greiff if there are times when she feels like just about all of them land in her inbox.

The busy Clintonville mother and model also teaches psychology at Columbus State Community College and is clinical director at Comprehensive Benefits Consultants, where she handles wellness programming.

With five email accounts tied to her career and other roles and three children to raise with husband Scott Greiff, she was often overwhelmed by email. The task of plowing through each inbox—weighing what required immediate attention and what could wait among hundreds, if not thousands, of messages—had become daunting.

Inbox overload was hardly a unique situation, she learned, in talking with other “mompreneurs” like herself. “They’re inundated,” she says, “and it’s becoming a growing problem.”

The proliferation of email also became a topic of conversation with her husband, a software developer and information technology consultant. Soon, the concept for MailTamer began to take shape. “He’s a coder,” Greiff says. “He said, ‘I’m just going to sit down and build an app.’ ”

MailTamer—available for iPhone, iPad and iPod use—is an email management system that allows users to quickly organize all of their email beyond the traditional view a typical inbox offers, Greiff says. Email can be organized by sender, contact or recipient. With a swipe and a tap, messages can be deleted, copied or moved en masse. The app can also perform those actions simultaneously on messages from multiple senders, she says.

Greiff says the app enabled her to whittle her inboxes from 10,000 messages to 400 in about a half-hour. MailTamer promises users “the zen of a zero inbox.”

With no other staff, the Greiffs have used low-budget tactics to market MailTamer. “It’s all been grass-roots efforts,” Greiff says. “I assumed the role of the marketing and operations director, and he’s the developer.”

The couple turned to startup funding platform Fundable to attract interest in—and customers to—MailTamer. Also, Greiff says, “We basically reached out to people we know here in town who are in the tech industry.”

Fundable worked with the Greiffs to market MailTamer to KillerStartUps and MyCity4Her, says media relations coordinator Laura Moller. Greiff’s juggling of various roles demonstrates the real benefit of MailTamer, Moller says. “In that aspect, Ria is the perfect spokeswoman for her own company, kind of getting a hold on her life to make it a bit more manageable. People can identify with her story.”

Moller says email users yearn for a way to streamline the daily communication task, which puts MailTamer in a good spot. “Everyone in the world thinks there can be a better way to manage their inbox.”

So far, the Greiffs have garnered promotion of their app through bloggers, technology reviews, Internet startup sites and web publications such as TechCrunch. Scott was honored in February at the 2012 TechColumbus Innovation Awards as a semi-finalist for Inventor of the Year.

Downloads of the $1.99 app, launched in May 2012, are now averaging about 300 a month. “We’re in the black, but it’s not at the level we’d like it to be,” Greiff says.

For now, at least, the Grieffs run the business from their Clintonville home and are working to expand MailTamer for use on laptops. They’ve discussed patenting the app, but aren’t pursuing it at this point. “It’s really difficult to patent code because it builds from a lot of different sources,” Greiff says.

The entrepreneurial experience has been eye-opening for the Greiffs. Potential major competitors such as Microsoft Outlook have millions and millions of dollars for app development, Greiff notes. And she’s become very aware of how male-dominated the tech world is. “I was never into the technology industry,” she says. “There aren’t a lot of women in the field.”

But as a consultant who assists with wellness programming, she appreciates the value of balancing work with life outside work. She also knows that many companies are concerned about how much productivity is lost because employees are constantly writing and replying to emails. Industry statistics say as much as 28 percent of the workweek is devoted to these tasks.

And yet the volume of email continues to grow. Which begs the question: As a society, do we email too much? Even though MailTamer’s claim to fame is based on organizing overflowing inboxes, Greiff thinks that a conversation “about how we utilize email” is indeed necessary. “Maybe we should be having a larger discussion about what we really need email for,” she says.

Debbie Briner is a freelancer writer.

 

Photo by Ryan M.L. Young