Choosing seven mobile startups out of the 150+ I evaluated for CIO’s “7 Hot Startups to Watch in 2013” was no easy task. I looked at everything from apps that streamline the process of finding a doctor who will accept your insurance – even on short notice – to several m-commerce startups to mobile remote control apps for robots to mobile augmented reality tools.
With so much to choose from, why did I select Message Bus as one of the seven? Part of the reason is due to confirmation bias – Message Bus’ solution hits home for me because it targets some of the pain points I experience in running my own content marketing business. Part is due to the pedigree of their management team, which includes a former founder of Twitter, and the rest is due to the fact that their value proposition makes sense even at first glance.
I can’t tell you how many startups I investigate that after pouring over their website and collateral, I still end up asking, “What exactly is it you do?” With Message Bus, the answer is simple: they intend nothing less than to tame the Wild-West nature of email.
If you’re like me, you get more emails in your inbox each day than you can ever hope to manage. According to a McKinsey Global Institute (MGI) report, the average knowledge worker spends 28 percent of each week wading through emails. A study commissioned by telephony company Fonality bumped that number up to 50 percent – a bit high but not completely unbelievable.
Whatever the actual number, we all know that the signal-to-noise ratio of our inboxes is way, way too low.
Some of that is our fault. We opt-in for crap we don’t really want and never should have signed up for in the first place. We send out half-formed messages that get half-formed replies, and we aren’t aggressive enough with our spam filters. Messages get lost in the weeds of our spam boxes and we expend time looking for emails we should’ve received, but due to the imperfect nature of spam filtering, missed the inbox.
Moreover, most knowledge workers rely on email as the go-to form of corporate communications, displacing face-to-face interactions and even phone calls. This means that what used to take a few minutes of conversation can now stretch out over several emails:
“Did you get the new Q1 sales strategy presentation?
“Yep. Thanks for sending.”
“Oh, I forgot this important attachment.”
“Got it. Thanks.”
“Oh, wait, use this one instead. It has updated sales figures.”
And on and on and on . . .
The biggest problem with email, though, is the economics of it. If you can send a million messages as cheaply as ten, what’s to stop spammers from flooding the world with garbage? Precious little, it turns out.
However, raw dollars aren’t the only form of economic currency that matters. Another key type of currency in any functioning economy is trust. A recent article by Project M sought to answer how much trust – or lack thereof – impacts an economy:
Stephen Knack, a lead economist at the World Bank, once commented that, “basically all the difference between the per capita income of the United States and Somalia” could be explained by trust. These currently amount to 46,546 US dollars and 220.30 US dollars respectively (UN 2009/2010); a difference of over 46,300 US dollars.
Of course, anti-spam programs have done their best to factor trust into their algorithms, blocking domains that are known havens for spammers and targeting “spammy,” or untrustworthy, keywords. Complex algorithms have evolved that take into account previous recipient actions and habits in determining the spaminess of a message.
The problem with this approach is that there are a lot of civilian casualties, with plenty of good, and even business-critical, emails getting lost in junk folders.
This is a market opportunity that Message Bus intends to take advantage of, and that’s why it was so easy for me to make them one of my top startups for 2013. Take a look at the chaotic mess that is your inbox and you know from your own experience that they are targeting an important problem.
While there are tons of features in the Message Bus solution that email marketers will like, such as delivery guarantees and more granular reporting than simple open rates, the feature I like the best is called “Trusted Sending.”
For individuals and companies alike, trust is a byproduct of your reputation, and Trusted Sending helps you protect your reputation. If you can’t manage your communications reputation – something spammers try to hijack all of the time – you are part of the problem.
With Trusted Sending, only those who follow email best practices are allowed to pass their messages over Message Bus’ Global Delivery Network. This may sound trivial if you don’t pause to think about it. Yes, existing anti-spam programs already block known spammers, but what do they do with trusted parties exhibiting some of the behaviors of spammers? What do they do with the spam-like messages from colleagues, companies you do business with, the Obama campaign, your Aunt Sue, etc.?
They either treat them like spam or not. It’s a binary choice. There’s another important concept to consider: digital guilt by association. The network that sends your emails is viewed piecemeal and as a whole by receiving domains. You may be a good actor, but the network and range of IPs could be thick with spammers and so your messages will be perceived as part and parcel of a source of message abuse.
What if you had a system that warned those “trusted” users of their bad behaviors? Wouldn’t it be better than blacklisting your Aunt Sue? Wouldn’t it help improve the signal-to-noise ratio of your inbox? Wouldn’t it improve the quality of each and every email over time?
You bet it would.
Careful readers will notice that I included Message Bus as a mobile startup, yet I haven’t really touched on anything mobile. If you are like most knowledge workers, you already check email as frequently on your smart phone as on your computer. Sending spam over mobile networks is more expensive than over wired networks – for end users and carriers alike – and unlike all-you-can-eat broadband connections, carriers will often pass the brunt of the costs to you with high data costs, or even data throttling.
As we move further and further into the mobile era, the cost of spam and of general poor email practices will continue to rise. An annoying email that interrupts you as you pore over accounting spreadsheets is one thing. An unwanted email that you have to pay for and which distracts you from a pleasant dinner with friends is quite another. A nuisance email that interrupts an important sales call and incurs huge data fees as you roam overseas is far more than a nuisance: it’s a drain on productivity and your travel budget.
Keep an eye on Message Bus in 2013. I see big things ahead for them this year and beyond, and if they can manage to tame my out-of-control inbox, I’ll be watching them for a good long time.
Jeff Vance is a technology journalist and the founder of Sandstorm Media, a copywriting and content marketing firm. He regularly contributes stories about emerging technologies to CIO, Network World, Forbes.com and many others.