Taskforce—the Y Combinator Startup With a Solution for E-mail Overload

3/21/11Follow @wroush

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e-mailing the sender to let them know you’ve added the task to your list. After that, further discussion of the task takes place within the Taskforce widget.

The idea is to reduce clutter in your e-mail inbox by rerouting task-focused messages to the widget, which isn’t something you can do with the Gmail’s existing Tasks feature. “This is one of the huge differences between us and so many other task managers,” says Pantucci. “We want Taskforce to be useful for the individual, for a small team, or for the entire organization.”

Since opening up the service to the public in February, Taskforce has “seen some really good pickup from business users,” Pantucci says. While he won’t name specific figures, he says the app has “tens of thousands of users.” The “Convert to New Task” button is the feature most users like best, Pantucci says. “It’s simple yet powerful. You’re saying, ‘I can’t deal with this e-mail right now, I need to deal with it later.’ And on the back of that, we’ve built other stuff users love, like delaying a task.” Using the delay feature, you can make a task disappear from your list until a specified date, thus putting it out of sight and out of mind until it’s important.

Of course, if you don’t take time out from managing your e-mail to go to actually complete the items on your Taskforce list, then you’re really just shuffling information around, not being more productive. But from Pantucci’s point of view, simply converting an e-mail into a task item can be an important first step. “There is a mental moment where you are saying, ‘This is X or Y, follow up,’” he says. “You are already taking some kind of action, which is to get it out of your face. You can pick off the ones you can do right now, but there are always going to be a bunch you are not going to do right now.”

Pantucci is a 2006 graduate of the University of Cambridge, and his co-founder Courtland Allen is a 2009 computer-science graduate of MIT. Taskforce is actually Allen’s second e-mail related project. The first was Syphir, which allows Gmail users to filter messages (that is, sort them by automatically applying labels) in ways that Gmail itself can’t handle. The app, which Allen built with Husain Al-Mohssen and Abdulrahman Tarabzouni, won a $25,000 first prize in the MIT Arab Business Plan Competition in 2009. Pantucci says he met Allen after getting back to San Francisco and putting out the word that he needed a technical co-founder to build Taskforce.

Getting into Y Combinator was a key moment for the duo, says Pantucci, especially since one of the incubator’s newest partners is Paul Buchheit, the Google alum and angel investor who is the original inventor of Gmail. “Paul was very keen on this idea of being able to essentially get your work away from you, to push it back and say, ‘I realize there’s work you want me to do, but I’m going to do it on my schedule,’” Pantucci says. “You can image what a boon it is to be able to approach him whenever we needed to. His advice around the user experience was extremely helpful.”

Like most of its fellow YC W11 companies, Taskforce accepted the blanket offer of $150,000 in convertible-note financing from Start Fund, the new YC-specific investment fund started by Ron Conway and Yuri Milner. “That was a no-brainer,” Pantucci says. “It’s given us time to think bigger; we’ve now got enough money to get to a product that is in good order and working well” before having to raise more funds.

Right now Taskforce is free, and the core task-management features will stay that way, says Pantucci. But the company has plans to introduce premium, paid features like document management with version control, or integration with Dropbox and other business services. The current app, he says, is “definitely the tip of the iceberg, the proof-of-concept. The user numbers we have had are testament to the fact that people want to interact with their inbox this way. Now we are going to be doing more complicated and grandiose things.”

Wade Roush is a contributing editor at Xconomy. Follow @wroush

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  • http://www.newleaflegal.com Jean Terranova

    It sounds too complicated. My system is based on “Getting Things Done,” and keeps the inbox clean and organized. Deal with email once a day, and quickly file in these categories: @Action, @ReadLater, @FileLater, @Phone, @ScheduleLater, etc. I really hate tools that take longer to use than it would to simply do this, and I suspect the one you discuss here does just that (sorry!)

  • http://www.xconomy.com/author/wroush/ Wade Roush

    @Jean: Congrats on having such a strong e-mail management system in place. I think Taskforce is compatible with GTD but it’s probably more useful to people who haven’t already adopted a system such as yours. Also, my impression is that Taskforce shines most when it’s used socially, across an organization — the feature for segregating task-specific discussions to the task widget seems like it would really help to keep your inbox clear, for example.

  • http://taskforceapp.com Nic Pantucci

    Thanks @Wade for the article.

    @Jean I think Wade is correct, we are building a tool that is for you, and your colleagues to use. It can be used on your own, or in a group, or even organizational environment, and is supposed to be useful at every level. Our idea is the make your inbox the hub of your work, as it already is proving to be where all your work is received.

    This is not to dismiss the GTD methodology, but we really are building something that is targeting the inbox and collaboration.