WHAT: Simple email client for Mac that allows you to browse conversations, reply in the same window, create and edit labels, and bring all your email accounts into one place and view a unified inbox. Connect to Facebook to see photos of friends emailing you. Feels like Twitter and uses many of the same conventions as Gmail though it supports all IMAP accounts. Available from Mac app store for $9.99.
Sparrow's 1.3 version adds option to archive messages you respond to, support for drag-and-drop (e.g., your mail into other places, attachments to mail), ability to see all labels on your sidebar, ability to hide your sidebar and see only your inbox, and improved scrolling.
Next up are iPhone and iPad apps, and the company is considering making a Windows client as well. Also, look for more Facebook integration.
LAUNCHERS: Dom Leca, CEO, previously co-founded a company that made iPhone and iPad apps. Hoa Dinh Viet, lead engineer, has worked for Apple and Amazon, and Jean-Marc Denis heads up design.
WHY: Mail clients are too cluttered. Apple’s mail client is good, but the software doesn’t get updated all that often. Having your mail on your machine -- not in the cloud -- is reassuring.
WHEN/WHERE: Beta in October 2010, version 1.3 in app store between July 15 and 18 / Paris
[ Version 2.0 -- which Dom says “will change the way people interact with email” -- is 8-10 months away ]
BACKSTORY: Dom and Hoa worked together at Dom’s previous company. Hoa had worked on Etpan, his open-source mail engine, for nine years. His ultimate goal was to build it into a mail client, finally realized with Sparrow. Although Etpan remains open-source, the Sparrow UI is proprietary.
Dom says Hoa pushed him to release a beta version sooner than he was comfortable with so they could debug and improve it based on customer feedback. Early users told them to lower the price from $24.99, for example, and they did. Putting out a product as soon as you can “speeds up the development process and lets you focus on most important thing for users,” says Dom.
BUSINESS MODEL: Right now, selling the app is the main revenue stream. Dom says they’d like to sell niche features, like beautifully designed templates, as in-app purchases “once Apple gives us the means to do it.” Sparrow would then share revenue with the feature’s creator.
COMPETITION: Gmail, Apple’s Mail 5.
ON APPLE’S RESPONSE: “We were even featured on the Mac app store. They’re quite satisfied with what we’re doing. They don’t see us as a threat,” says Dom.
CUSTOMERS/GROWTH: 70K downloads on the first day, up to 200K now. About 70% of downloads are in the U.S.
ON EMAIL MARKET: Dom remarks that there’s been very little innovation in email. Shortmail, which limits people to 500-character messages and does not allow attachments, is the most innovative thing he’s seen, but “the problem is that people won’t stop attaching things. It’s a funny take on mail.”
PHILOSOPHY: “Make mail fun again,” says Dom.
WHO BACKED IT: Kima Ventures, a fund started in 2010 (one of the founders is a successful French entrepreneur). Dave Morin of Path.com invested (undisclosed) to become an adviser, and Loren Brichter, founder of Tweetie and at Twitter since the Tweetie acquisition, is also an adviser and has equity.
TOTAL RAISED: $250K seed from Kima Ventures. Dom says they are currently looking to raise between $700K and $1M, preferably from investors in the U.S.
ON HAVING DAVE AS AN ADVISER: “Dave Morin is interested in all the social network stuff,” says Dom. “He pushed the Facebook feature, got us in touch with Facebook and made the deal happen, made us integrate Facebook Connect.”
ON HAVING LOREN AS AN ADVISER: Dom was a fan of Loren from the Tweetie days and knew they wanted him on board from the beginning. “Loren is more focused on usabilty and design, he’s really scrutinizing every detail,” he says.
NUMBER OF EMPLOYEES: 6 [ two customer support folks are based in U.S.]
ON THEIR LOCATION: Dom says they will remain in Paris but it “might make sense” to have an office in San Francisco for doing partnerships.
When you open your Sparrow mail window in version 1.3, you will be able to see all your labels in the new extended sidebar (much as you do in Gmail).
But you will also have the option to see your inbox only, making it look more like a Twitter feed.
When you send a response to someone, you will have the option of hitting “send and archive,” which will move the original message from your inbox to your archive.
The new drag-and-drop feature will allow you to take a message and drag it onto your desktop or any folder.
1. “Meet the Designers: Jean‑Marc Denis of Sparrow” (Appstorm, May 5, 2011)
2. “What’s the Future of E-Mail?” (American Express Open Forum, March 2, 2011)
CONTACTS & LINKS
Email: dom at sparrowmailapp dot com
Hoa Dinh Viet
Email: hoa at etpan dot org
Dave Morin: @davemorin
Loren Brichter: @atebits