It was a Friday morning when Mick Hagen and I connected to chat about his vision for Mainframe and I can honestly say that my mind kept flicking back to the new product with growing excitement and impatient anticipation all weekend. Why? Read on as he chats to CRF…
Mainframe is the culmination of your journey in the field of digital communications so far. Where did you begin?
Well for as long as I can remember I’ve been helping people connect in a more efficient way. In high school I built a website to enabled high school students in my local area to connect with each other. It started out as a complete hack to meet cute girls but it worked! It became a small business and also opened my eyes to just how simple it was help people connect online. A few years later I dropped out of Princeton University to found Zinch. It was a web site that helped high school students connect with university admissions officers. At the heart of it was communication — asking questions, interacting with each other, etc. Zinch was acquired for $45million by Chegg, now a public company in the US.
So you’re now focusing on the workplace
Absolutely, helping people connect in a better way has been a theme of everything I’ve worked on. With Zinch, I solved some of the inefficiencies in the academic world. So next, I wanted to start thinking about how we communicate in the professional world. So I immediately zeroed in on email. Email has four billions users and was invented more than 40 years ago. However, it simply just wasn’t built for modern-day use-cases. Our main idea was to make email more structured, contextual (so that the information could be presented in a richer way when we processed, read email). Initially we decided to built directly on top of email (IMAP/SMTP). But after 9 months hacking around on top of these crufty, archaic protocols… we decided to just throw it all out. We felt like we were putting lip stick on a pig.
So we decided to build email 2.0 — we imagined what it would look like if email was designed and architected today. This is when Mainframe was born. Mainframe is more modern (real-time, like messaging apps), more structured (imagine being able to collaborate around notes, tasks lists, calendaring, etc), and completely backwards-compatible with email (so you can continue to communicate with your luddite friends who are still using legacy email). Overall it’s a much better tool for collaboration — not just for your team but for all the people you work with outside your team.
Brilliant… tell me more…how does it work?
When you send a message via Mainframe you can specify the type of message you’re sending and from there, you can include additional context. For example, you can be specific about what the action items are. Or you can highlight certain phrases to make sure certain people see them (super helpful in long emails that people quickly scan). Or quickly specifying when you’re available to meet (and since it’s all structured, cross-referenced with your existing calendar).
With just a little bit of context and structure, people can more efficiently process their inbox. We can present information in a richer way (i.e. actions items can be filtered to look like a To Do list) and make it more machine-readable (easier to integrate with other productivity applications — calendar, task management, CRM, storage). The type of context that can be added to a message is extensible and open.
So it’s kind of like a supercharged email?
Absolutely. Based on data/feedback from our initial pilot customers, the improvements in efficiency and productivity have been compelling. Employees are able to focus on only the things in their inbox that require their attention and action. We can’t wait to share more case-studies once we’re a little bit further along. But some teams are seeing as much as 30-40% time savings.
What’s the plan right now?
We’re currently testing it with early pilot customers but over the coming months we will continue to roll it out to more people who have signed up for the beta. We’re still not sure when the public launch will be but we are absolutely opening up the gates more and more.
I have three different clients who work across three different task management systems that I have to keep flicking back and checking my emails against, trust me I’m excited about this. Long-term would you like to replace email altogether?
Yes definitely. That’s the vision. Though email has it’s problems (we all know them), we don’t believe email will be going away anytime soon. It’s gonna take time. That’s exactly why we’ve built such a tight email backwards-compatibility layer. It’s a bridge to the future. For a lot of people, they won’t even realize it’s something new. It’ll do email for them and many of the people they speak with will be on email. But once they start communicating with other Mainframe users, and they see the difference, their minds will be blown. We’ve created an entirely new paradigm for communication — focused on productivity, context and intent.
What’s your overall goal with the technology?
The same goal that has followed me throughout all my projects: to help people connect and communicate in a more efficient way. We wanna give people back the one thing we all wish we had more of: time. Time to spend with loved ones. Time for hobbies. Time for whatever. We want to help people be more productive, get more done, and ultimately having more fulfilling lives. That’s our vision, that’s our goal. As cliche as we know it sounds, we wanna change the world. We want to help the world connect and communicate in a more meaningful way. Imagine the impact!
And you think you’ve done that?
We aren’t there yet… but we definitely feel like we’re barking up the right tree. The early indications are that we’re working on something really special. We will continue to work as hard as we can to live up to the potential.
Thank you Mick at Mainframe – you heard about it here first. I think the world’s going to love it full stop. Roll on the launch… watch this space.