Squadmail drags email into the collaborative age

Forwards and CCs are the mechanisms that make email suitable for many-party conversations. They are also very inefficient, which is why services such as Yammer do so well, but email’s extreme standardization makes it ubiquitous, so those are the tools we use.

Enter Squadmail, which has one of those ideas that seems quite obvious in retrospect: shared, cross-client email folders for collaboration. Or, as the company is fond of putting it, Dropbox for email.

The Berlin startup is bringing the service into public beta on Tuesday, following a successful private testing period. This is a service that can prove useful in both personal and business contexts, and the company says it’s been surprised at the level of early corporate takeup.

Just two months after sending out the first invite to a corporate user and with $0 marketing spending, we recently acquired the 500th company (with many more on the beta wait list right now),” Squadmail co-founder Philipp Mayer told me.

The idea is simple: Squadmail creates and syncs folders that are shared between IMAP mail servers, making the choice of client irrelevant. Each folder gets its own email address, and users can also drag emails from their personal folders into the shared folder, removing the need for CCs and forwards.

And the uses are also easily apparent. Businesses with heterogeneously-equipped staff? Friends trying to organise a shared flat rental? People who want easily-dumpable pseudo-accounts for newsletter signups? Check, check and check.

Readily international

According to Mayer, the private testing period has already drawn in active users in more than 70 countries. Squadmail is obviously a readily international service, but the bulk of the takeup has come from the U.S., and that’s already the core market for the small German firm.

“Right now, Germans make up less than 10 percent of our user base with a steadily declining share and U.S. users are rapidly approaching 50 percent,” he said. “When we first launched an early alpha in January we focused almost all our marketing efforts on Germans, thinking our chances were better with local users. But it turned out to be incredibly hard to gain momentum in Germany with beta conversion rates 50 percent below average and low activity rates for German users.”

As you can tell, Mayer is unusually confident about sharing stats on his product’s usage. Fair enough: there’s a lot to chew on there, particularly when it comes to that keen corporate takeup (half of which comprises small IT companies, with the remainder a mix of Fortune 500s, universities and NGOs).

Corporate users, who are not charged yet but will soon be targeted with additional paid-for features, are around 50 percent more active than users with private accounts, he says. It also seems that two-thirds of business users’ folders are shared with email contacts, with on average three people sharing each folder.

And the remaining third? Just one user — there, it appears the customers are using the folders for ‘Bacn’ mail.

There are a couple of downsides, such as the fact that the folder’s email address must currently end in ‘@box.squadmail.com’ (although the team says it will allow customers to use their own domains soon). The biggest limitation that immediately strikes me is that you can’t send emails from that shared folder/email address to someone outside the sharing group, but that will only be a barrier for some.

For the rest of us, Squadmail may be pushing it with its “Enjoy email again” tagline, but it’s certainly a tool that makes email that bit more relevant in this collaborative age.