Some time ago I signed up for an online course about user growth. Overall it was underwhelming (so I’m not going to link to it), but there were a few exercises that challenged me to articulate my thoughts about products I’ve used and the company I work for. In particular, one of the assignments required me to “name a product either you’re working on, or a product you currently use, and explain why you feel it has achieved product/market fit.”
I chose to write about Front App1, a product that, earlier on in The Iron Yard’s growth, allowed a very small admissions team to manage email across a huge number of campuses. Below a full re-post of my homework assignment.
Front has become a really invaluable tool for our business.
Their tagline is, “Shared Inboxes Built for Teams.” Specifically, for companies that utilize generic email addresses such as “firstname.lastname@example.org” or “email@example.com,” managing those accounts can be a bit of a problem. Even though it’s “just another email account,” there are surprisingly few options.
First, you can create email accounts for those addresses. Second, you could create aliases that forward messages sent to those addresses to actual accounts of employees. Both options have drawbacks. (You could also purchase a really expensive tool, but my answer is in the context of startup companies who are tight on cash.)
Creating individual email accounts create unnecessary complexity and room for error. Who owns the account? If multiple people need to be able to address a variety of concerns, you are forced to have multiple people logged in to the same account at once and create triage systems that include tagging, etc.—the process can become complicated quickly (especially for new employees). The possibility of losing or not responding to important messages from customers is dependent on people following a complex process. Also, any sort of in-app collaboration related to incoming messages is almost non-existent. If you have multiple accounts (we run on Google Apps), there’s also an increased subscription cost (even though small, it’s worth mentioning).
If you create aliases for each address that forward to other people’s accounts, you face the same problem of complexity and triage. Sure, one person could manage a single address, but that information lives in their inbox, which in and of itself can be a liability, and if they ever leave the company or can’t access their email, you have a huge problem. Further, even though it is possible to send mail masked as an alias address, many people don’t know they can do that and send responses from their personal address as opposed to having the option of sending from the generic address—again, a problem if the owner of that account leaves the company or something happens. If you forward incoming messages to multiple people, you face an even more difficult level of complexity as far as triaging responses because the message is being handled (or not) individually, meaning multiple people dealing with it in their own inboxes.
Front allows you to use aliased email addresses as if they were actual email accounts and collects them into a single piece of software designed for triage and collaboration among multiple people. You can assign messages, comment on them, create canned responses, etc. Additionally, you can pipe Twitter and SMS notifications into the app, giving you a central dashboard for inbound communication from customers. Starting at $29/month, you’re not too far off of what you’d be spending for several additional email accounts.
For our team, Front solved a really specific problem: simple, affordable, shared inboxes for generic email addresses for customer support. Our situation isn’t unique, though. Most companies face the same issue and it’s hard to find an elegant solution. Front filled that gap and thus found a very solid product-market fit in the startup space.
1. You can read more about Front App on their website.