Liz Gannes

Recent Posts by Liz Gannes

PeeqPeeq and the Big Idea of the Inbox as Data Source

While many tech startups like to talk about “killing email” or “reinventing the inbox,” Lee Ott loves email.

Why? Almost everybody uses it. But the problem is, even the cleanest inbox crowds up with piles of messages from a wide variety of people and brands and contexts and urgencies.

Ott’s startup Rokket Launch would like to sort through all that email and turn it into apps that draw out the good stuff. Instead of building apps that pressure people to clean out their email and get to “inbox zero,” Ott wants to use email as a data source.

Rocket Launch’s first product is called PeeqPeeq. With permission, it sucks up all the shopping-related emails from a person’s inbox and organized them into a store on Web, iPhone and iPad. At the same time, it sorts those messages into a folder outside of the inbox.

“It’s like Zite or Flipboard for shopping,” Ott says, as the app becomes a sort of personalized, up-to-date catalog of stuff to buy. He cites research (PDF) from ExactTarget that found 96 percent of daily email users subscribe to at least one brand’s email messages.

Rokket Launch CEO Lee Ott

PeeqPeeq’s smarts are in doing things like noting when a sale ends today, and cross-referencing a retailer’s website so when they email out about a storewide discount, it knows all the items that qualify. Users can also subscribe to any of 6,000 additional stores whose email newsletters PeeqPeeq receives and scrapes.

Personally, I’m not passionate enough about online shopping to want to open an app like this up all the time — and I can understand why some people would be hesitant to let PeeqPeeq peek through their emails. And the notion of sucking information out of email isn’t really that new; for instance, Xobni did this for contacts. But Ott does a good job of articulating why this larger topic is relevant.

Ott argued that many people — and companies — think about email blasts from brands from too narrow of a mindset. “It’s not email; it’s content,” he argued. “You don’t reply to it. You already subscribe to it, and you hate it.”

Ott said Rokket Launch plans to build additional apps to grab all sort of other content types out of email and put them in dedicated apps. For instance, email conversation threads could be condensed into an app for chats (I just wrote about an app called Ping that does this), and attached photos and files could be split out to be made more browsable (there have been many apps that do this, too).

PeeqPeeq on the iPad

The biggest single advantage of building on top of email is that there’s lots of good stuff there. Ott puts it in startup jargon: “We have the ‘hot start’ solved.” What he means is that as soon as a new user inputs their email credentials and one of Ott’s apps can scan the inbox, their experience can be made immediately personalized and relevant using the already available content of their inbox. That’s a lot easier than starting from scratch.

Palo Alto, Calif.-based Rokket Launch has a team of six, and has raised $1.25 million from Jerry Yang’s AME Cloud Ventures, Morado Ventures, Jon Rubinstein and Farzad Nazem.

That list of backers is almost all former Yahoo execs, with a side of webOS — which reflects Ott and his co-founder’s backgrounds. Lee worked on mobile and other products at Yahoo before becoming head of product for webOS at Hewlett-Packard and Palm, while co-founder Anirban Kundu was a director of engineering on anti-spam and other products at Yahoo, before helping lead engineering at Shazam.

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Just as the atom bomb was the weapon that was supposed to render war obsolete, the Internet seems like capitalism’s ultimate feat of self-destructive genius, an economic doomsday device rendering it impossible for anyone to ever make a profit off anything again. It’s especially hopeless for those whose work is easily digitized and accessed free of charge.

— Author Tim Kreider on not getting paid for one’s work