Everyone is trying to “fix” email. A team of former Skype employees believes it is well on the way to do just that, with messaging tool Fleep. “We are building a next generation messenger that we believe will replace email for most uses,” says Fleep CEO Henn Ruukel, former director of site operations at Skype. The company, which has the backing of Skype cofounder Jaan Tallinn, received a further £500,000 in funding in June, and has recently increased the perks on offer for its free version, including access to unlimited conversation history and a storage limit of 5GB. The Fleep team believes its offering has legs, because it focuses on replacing email entirely — rather than just providing an internal collaboration service. “Our users can give up on email conversations and use Fleep for all their work,” says Ruukel. If the other party is not a Fleep user yet they will receive all messages and files as a normal email thread. We offer the best of both worlds.”
Founders: Henn Ruukel, Asko Oja, Andres Järviste, Erik Laansoo, Liis Peetermann, Marko Kreen
Launched: August 2013
Headquarters: Tallinn, Estonia
Funding: €1.9M in seed from Estonian and UK based angels including Jaan Tallinn and Rockspring.
What is your USP?
We bring all your conversations into one place, whether they are with internal teams or people from outside the organisation — it doesn’t matter if they are Fleep users or just using email, all of them are there for you in one tool.
How do you plan to make money?
Fleep has free subscriptions where all basic features are free to use for everyone, while advanced business features like team management are in the paid Premium subscription.
Who are your competitors — and why is Fleep better?
We are competing on two fronts. Firstly with internal team chat tools like Slack and Hipchat where our advantage is that we are a network — all Fleep users can talk to each other and they are not limited to communicating only within their team. The second front is email — whether it is Gmail or Outlook — where our main advantage is that Fleep groups messages into one conversation that are easy to read and participate in. While Gmail also has a conversation view it is based on email subject. We’ve understood that this grouping doesn’t work too well and have decided to group email into Fleep conversations based on participants — so all emails from David end up in one Fleep conversation no matter what subject he used.
Where did you get the idea for the business?
The idea to build Fleep grew originally from frustration. While we were at Skype we used Skype IM features which had several flaws (it was usable only from desktop, only from one device, you always had to be online to receive messages from people in other timezones, no ability to share files). But we saw that a conversational view to messages was much more effective than email. Thus one day we thought — why not leave Skype and build something much better, to build something that would eventually replace email conversations… and Fleep was born.
How would you sum up your company ethos?
Coming out of Skype, we know that a relatively small amount of people with the right vision and shared culture can make a disruptive impact on the world. Skype has had global impact in terms of voice and video and we expect Fleep to do the same with written conversations.
What’s the biggest misconception about your business?
That we are the new Skype — we are not, Skype did and still does excellent video calls and that’s their main focus. Our focus is text-based conversations, which can be done in Skype, but it’s not their core feature.
What has been the most challenging time for the company?
Yesterday, today, tomorrow, every day 🙂 Building something with an ambition like “replacing email” is a never-ending challenge: we face challenges from how to attract the best people and how to fund operations to how to get our message across to the users. The way I like to think about building a startup is like pushing a rock uphill, but the trick is that the rock gets heavier and the hill steeper — challenges that felt hard a year ago seem easy today!
What is the best piece of advice anyone has ever given you?
I think the best advice, which I’ve had from many sources, is not to give up. Recently Ben Horowitz spoke about this in his book. Second is not to be afraid of mistakes but rather fail fast and learn from them.
And what advice would you give a startup?
Try to find cofounders with whom you have worked together before — they don’t have to be your best friends, but if you have worked with them you know how they perform under pressure. Also treat all founders equally as they all commit equally.
Which business person do you most admire and why?
I don’t admire business people — that is, people who enjoy doing business. I do admire product people — that is, people who enjoy building great products (which usually end up being great businesses as well). So if there has to be a person, then Steve Jobs.
Do you have any advice for dealing with potential investors?
My main advice is be brutally honest — if they are the right investors for you then they are here to help you but they can’t and won’t do it if you are not transparent with them. It is a marriage. Secondly avoid bad investors, the earlier stage the more it matters to work with investors who don’t invest their money as much as they invest their time, advice and network.
What is your biggest barrier to future success?
Historically tech companies faced relatively big barriers with software and infrastructure, but nowadays thanks to hosting in the cloud and open sourced software most of these have been removed and the main barrier to success is the ability to execute your go to market strategy. Same with Fleep, our biggest challenge ahead is choosing the right segments and growth in the messaging market.
Where do you see your industry in ten years time?
In the wider tech industry, the new wave will be robotics — it’s hard to predict whether the main advances will be in the logistics of goods or logistics of people or both. We’ll see.
But in human communication I see two continuing trends — real time comms making room for non-realtime (i.e voice and video calls making room for messaging). And the second trend is empowering the recipient — the receiver of the call or message will be in control, and will be able to choose when and with whom they want to interact.
Originally published on the 03 July 2015
Author: Liat Clark – Wired Magazine