AwayFind Launches, Brings New Solutions for Email Freedom

Picture 4.pngSometime late last year, I caught wind of an email productivity tool that was in development. That product, AwayFind promised to help people stop checking email.

Since then, I’ve gotten to know the founder and CEO, Jared Goralnick who has been approaching the product with a very head down, listening approach. I have used AwayFind for some months now, providing feedback and soliciting advice from Jared on the best ways to use the tool.

Yesterday, they launched with big coverage from LifeHacker.

The idea behind AwayFind is simple. Check email when you can (this is a behavioral modification that AwayFind doesn’t tackle, but many GTD-style discipline/productivity systems do. While it is well and good to only check email twice a day, there is always that urgent one that needs attention right now. AwayFind provides a mechanism for senders to get urgent email through to you via an SMS notification.

I’m proud of Jared for his tenacity and vision for this product. I’ve certainly seen it go from a loose idea to a reality. Congratulations to him and his team for launching, but also doing it completely bootstrapped. Save your valuation, keep your company.

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Pony in the Pile

This week’s Interact 2008 conferencemad men 2.png — all things interactive media — began upbeat enough, with Ted Leonsis‘s inspirational keynote signaling an ‘anything’s possible, mix-and-mashup’ world of opportunity where entrepreneurs can offer (and perhaps find) fulfillment by providing one of the five keys to self-actualization: relationships, community, self-expression, giving back, or pursuing a higher calling.

But then, the sky began to darken.

With each successive speaker and panel, the mood turned increasingly somber, until by the end of the afternoon — terrabanged by the announcement of the failed bailout and a Dow plummeting 777 points — somber turned to sober . . . and the ad/marketing audience lit out to quench the condition at Happy Hour.

Actually, Leonsis foreshadowed the day’s drama with his own sobering statement: “Today, a marketing person needs to be a mathematician,” and not the English major that he was. Everyone knew exactly what he meant, of course. It’s about metrics, and testing, and deliverables that can be measured — a theme echoed several times during the day. Google VP of Search Product and UX Marissa Mayer talked about nuanced A/B testing, where reducing spacing a single pixel-width — or bathing paid search in a field of yellow rather than blue — resulted in 20% to 40% more click-throughs. Launchbox Digital‘s Sean Greene had asked the panel he was moderating on ‘The Evolution of Advertising Models’ what the near-term effects of the dismal economy would be on ad spending, and the unanimous response was “a shift to what’s measureable” (hopefully, social ads in search of the elusive ‘engage’ metric won’t be left twisting in the wind).

You could almost feel the room heave a collective sigh: “We know, we know — we need to bone up on this technical widgified social media stuff.”

But there was little letup. Avenue A/Razorfish‘s Joe Crump was nearly morose, acknowledging (in a talk aptly titled ‘Digital Darwinism’) that not only is the rate of change of technology overwhelming, but current org charts are woefully ill equipped to deal with it in creative organizations. By early afternoon, Adobe evangelist Duane Nickull and Clearspring CEO Hooman Radfar had applied a thick coat of glaze discussing SOA (tell the truth: did you know that it stands for Service Oriented Architecture?) and widget distribution strategies. Finally, the afternoon wrapped with a panel presenting a glass-half-empty outlook for interactive media employment that could be summed up as a grey-hair lament something like: “We need to hire more whiz kids that understand this stuff . . . but they’re a dickens to manage.”

Good thing we entrepreneurs are optimists. Why, there must be a pony in this pile!

The great words of someone famous come to mind: Out of adversity comes opportunity (or is it creativity?). Either way, there’s a dislocation, a discontinuity, a gap that begs for a solution. Here, the gap is agencies’ and marketing departments’ inability to keep up with technology of social media. So might be the solution?

Maybe training.

Maybe analytics tools or services.

Maybe app-building for hire.

Now, Crump shouldn’t actually be complaining — of Avenue A/Razorfish’s 500 employees, 200 are technical. But I’m not sure any of the best and the brightest (you know who you are) want to bury themselves in an agency with a salary and long hours.

So what’s the entrepreneurial play here?

Although VCs have historically shied away from service businesses — the multiples were usually far greater in product businesses — that scenario has changed. And in fact, it could solve several problems at once. If you’re dismayed that VCs want you to recite your revenue model (even though, like me, you expect you’ll figure it out once users have embraced you), there could be an alternative to raising money altogether: How about getting paid for what you love to do (and do well)? If in the course of providing your service, you’re also building a product, or developing some intellectual property (IP), then you’re in fact building equity in a service business.

I wrote about BuddyMedia creating ‘branded’ Facebook apps (They actually received funding from Bay Partners and others), and they’re a good example of ‘filling the gap’ for big agencies. But a better example may be Set Consulting. President/founder Jared Goralnick is passionate about productivity, and Set gets paid to improve clients’ productivity. But in the course of doing his work, Goralnick also built a product — AwayFind — aimed at avoiding ‘email bankruptcy.’ Voila! . . . a cashflow business, with an equity kicker.

And no VC. Ironically, when you get that combination working for you — and you really don’t need the money — is when the VCs come a-knockin.’

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The Aaron Brazell Show: Episode 2: The Quest for Email Ninjahood

Fun show tonight.

Jared Goralnick, the CEO of AwayFind joins guest co-host Jimmy Gardner, joined us to talk about email management and productivity much like I’ve been talking about in my Email Ninjahood series.

Later in the show, we enjoyed an open line surrounding a segment I’ve heard over at Ron Smith’s WBAL show occasionally. The segment was “Someone Had to Say It” and gave everyone a chance to gripe about things like friends wanting free consulting services, etc.

Listen to the Episode 2. Also, you can subscribe in iTunes.

If you like what you hear, consider reviewing the show on iTunes as well.

Also, congratulations to Shaun Farrell for winning the one year subscription to Shuttlebus from our friends over at Freshbooks. Congratulations and thanks for listening, Shaun.

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