Summary:

Fleep aims to supplant both instant messaging and email for small businesses and organizations. It’s a busy space, but the team certainly has a promising heritage — and a refreshingly asynchronous approach.

Fleep CEO Henn Ruukel

Thursday is Skype’s 10th birthday, so it is somewhat fitting that a bunch of the Estonian company’s former employees, frustrated with Skype’s deficiencies as a group chat tool for small businesses and organizations, have chosen today to launch what they see as the solution.

Fleep, as the collaboration tool is named, sits somewhere in-between Skype chat, WhatsApp, HipChat and email. It’s a web-and-mobile-friendly service that’s intended to be asynchronous: there is no presence indicator, and the format lends itself to longer messages, email-style. Crucially, it is possible to bring other people into the conversation via email – the chat will appear as an email thread to them.

Fleep web

As Fleep CEO Henn Ruukel, a former director of site operations at Skype, told me:

“The key differentiator in our approach is that, for various reasons, their [Yammer, Hipchat and other business-focused services] design approach comes from the perspective that, first of all, there is a pretty defined team in place, for example a small company. This is one of the learnings [we gained] already back in Skype, that people in the businesses valued Skype because it was working effectively and easily across company borders.”

That said, Fleep is an entirely client-server affair, so – unlike with Skype – it could in future include policy enforcement controls for companies that want them, Ruukel added.

One interesting feature of Fleep (and Ruukel’s personal favorite) is the service’s Pinboard. This makes it possible to drag out any message in a conversation, whether written by yourself or another participant, and “pin” it for later use. “You can pull out important stuff and leave it there until it’s needed, and all the messages that are pinned are available for everyone to edit,” he said.

The service also comes with a “file drawer” for saving shared photos and documents. On the security side, Fleep encrypts its sessions using standard SSL technology, and it also encrypts what’s stored on its servers. Operations are based in Estonia and Fleep uses Amazon Web Services’ Irish data center, so the company reckons this provides something of a privacy boost over rivals based in the U.S.

Will Fleep fly? It’s not like this is virgin territory, but the initial product is impressively clean in design and promising on the feature side. Also, the team definitely has the right heritage – the founders include four ex-Skypers plus a Techstars grad and someone who used to do operations for Fujitsu. Fleep also has $345,000 in seed funding from Jaan Tallinn and Priit Kasesalu, who were (surprise!) Skype’s founding engineers.

I’m skeptical about anyone promising the elusive dream of “inbox zero”, as Fleep does, but the firm is definitely off to a promising start. The web and iOS apps are out now, and Android is coming soon.

Note: This article originally misspelled Jaan Tallinn’s surname.

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