Tipbit Raises $4M from Ignition for Personal Search in E-mail

3/12/14Follow @bromano

Tipbit is going after a wicked problem that seems to get worse as each new cloud service spreads our digital work farther afield, making key information at once more accessible and harder to find.

The Bellevue, WA-based startup’s solution is in the form of an e-mail application for iPhones, but “the heart of what we do is personal search,” says founder and CEO Gord Mangione. Tipbit is designed to present smartphone users with relevant information that’s hidden away in their e-mail accounts, social networking feeds, or business applications without them having to jump back and forth between different apps.

The company said Wednesday it has raised $4 million in a Series A round led by Ignition Partners to hire staff and build versions of its app for other mobile operating systems.

Mangione previously worked on the hypervisor server virtualization technology at XenSource and Citrix that is a key part of today’s cloud computing infrastructure. Before that, he spent 14 years at Microsoft, working on products including SQL Server and Exchange, which, beginning in the late 1990s, helped put “e-mail on every business desktop,” he says.

Mangione

Mangione

“In many ways, I started Tipbit to help tame the monster that I helped create in the ’90s,” says Mangione, who began the company in 2011, financing it with a combination of personal investment and venture capital, including a $1.95 million seed round last year from Ignition and Andreessen Horowitz.

We do more and more of our e-mail on mobile devices, but Mangione argues that we’re actually putting off the real, important work that happens over e-mail until we get back to our desks. Things like making an introduction, researching a new business prospect, and scheduling a meeting are harder to do on smartphones, with their smaller screens, inability to display multiple windows simultaneously, cumbersome copy-and-paste procedures, and limited input capabilities.

“The key is we’re going to have to be able to do things on our phone in ways that are different than what we do on a more full-fledged form factor,” Mangione says.

Tipbit is a mobile e-mail client that indexes information within multiple e-mail accounts—including Gmail, Yahoo, and Exchange (which Magione describes as the “oxygen companies run their business on”)—contacts lists, calendars, cloud-storage services and apps, and social media such as Twitter and LinkedIn. It then presents pieces of information relevant to the task at hand: If you’re reading an e-mail from a key partner, it might present things like your last meeting with that person, passages from documents in your Dropbox that mention her name or organization, and her latest Tweets.

The result, Mangione says, resembles the background reports Microsoft field personnel would prepare for him when he was a corporate vice president calling on large customers.

“In some ways, we’re trying to build that corporate backgrounder for you five minutes before you go into the meeting, on the device you have in your hand,” he says.

Tipbit has plenty of potential competitors. Refresh, for example, draws on a user’s LinkedIn connections and other cloud data to help prepare for meetings. Several new mobile apps try to integrate e-mail, social networking, and Web browsing, such as CloudMagic, iQtell, and even Mailbox, the slick iOS app that appeared in early 2013 and was quickly acquired by Dropbox.

Tipbit on an iPhone

Tipbit on an iPhone

Mangione says Tipbit separates itself by offering “a complete solution,” with support for a wide range of e-mail accounts, including Microsoft Exchange. “There are over 360 million paying Exchange mailbox customers which are being underserved by the market,” he says in an e-mail, adding that Tipbit understands this better than others thanks to his past experience with Exchange.

Mangione says Tipbit’s credo is “no creepiness,” meaning no ads, no selling personal information, no spamming your friends. The business model will look a lot like Evernote’s, with a free basic product (everything Tipbit offers presently will remain free) and a set of premium add-ons that users will, in theory, be willing to pay for. He thinks businesses will be the bigger source of revenue, paying for services like integration with line-of-business software tools and features allowing companies to set policies, perform audits, and grant and revoke access to corporate data sources.

“To win in this space you need to be able to deliver great user experiences for consumers but also build solutions for enterprises to manage and protect their confidential information,” he says.

The company just released a new version of its iPhone app, including integration with services such as Dropbox, Evernote, and Salesforce. Mangione declines to disclose how many times it has been downloaded. Plans include a dedicated iPad version and an Android app.

Mangione says the company has six full-time employees working remotely in West Seattle, Silicon Valley and San Francisco, Boston, and elsewhere. He hopes to have about 20 people on board by the end of the year.

Not surprisingly given his background, he relies on Amazon Web Services and other cloud services, as well as open-source software for just about everything the startup needs. “I don’t want to buy a single server until I order in a quantity of 10,000,” he says.

Benjamin Romano is editor of Xconomy Seattle. Email him at bromano [at] xconomy.com. Follow @bromano

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