Austin’s Boxer Raises $3M in Quest to Better Manage E-mail

The information overload of e-mail is here to stay. Austin startup Boxer says it can help process the messages better.

Boxer, which recently raised $3 million in seed funding, focuses on mobile mail, the e-mail we receive through our smartphones. It makes sense, since we are now more likely to access messages via our phones than on a desktop.

“The way you do e-mail on the phone is different than on the desk,” says Andrew Eye, Boxer’s founder. “On their mobile phones they want to triage their e-mails, get rid of junk they don’t care about, and highlight things they do care about. We make those interactions easy.”

Boxer has two versions for consumers. Boxer “Lite” is a free app that will sync to the e-mail provider of your choice. For $5.99, you can download the fully leaded boxer, which works with more than one e-mail address and is compatible with Microsoft Exchange.

Eye says a key feature of Boxer is the ability to avoid using the keyboard except when absolutely necessary. Boss sends an e-mail about an update to your project? Swipe the message to the left and a menu pops up. Hit “Quick” and pre-programmed responses come up: “I’m on it and I’ll follow up shortly” or “Can you give me a little more detail?”

Other menu items include adding the e-mail to your To-do list and hitting “Like,” an all-purpose acknowledgement understood in a Facebook-dominated world, Eye says.

“The comparison is two gestures versus the 45-plus that it would take to type out the response,” he adds.

Eye says Boxer was inspired by the realization that, while desktop e-mail had evolved over the last six years with changing looks and features, e-mail portals on smartphones had not. “Boxer’s really exposed how these other e-mail applications haven’t changed in six years,” he adds. “It’s still a Version 1 product.”

Eye founded Boxer in June 2012 and currently has seven employees. The fundraising round last week was led by Sutter Hill Ventures. Boxer had previously raised $300,000 in convertible debt.

He isn’t the only Austin entrepreneur aiming to “reinvent e-mail.” David Johnston is the founder of Engine.co, a Chrome extension for Gmail, which analyzes the information inside the messages and uses natural language programming to bring up information in other e-mails that is relevant to it by connecting e-mail accounts to 28 data sources, including calendars, contacts, and social media sites.

“Our e-mail lives in these silos that don’t talk to each other,” he says. With Engine, if a colleague asks for a report from a work project a few weeks ago, Johnston says the service “will automatically find that for you and put it in the sidebar of the Gmail inbox.”

He likens the transformation to how web searching was before Google. “In the early days of the Internet, it was really hard to find things online,” he says. “We didn’t see how things were connected.”

Engine, which was founded in January 2012 and now has 25 employees, is currently in beta mode with plans for a full launch early next year. The startup initially raised a seed round of $150,000 last year, and raised $500,000 this year from angels. A Series A round is planned for early next year.

Tomorrow, Joshua Baer, who founded and runs the Capital Factory co-working space in Austin, will launch what he calls the “App store for E-mail,” featuring both Boxer and Engine, as well as 55 other e-mail apps like Sanebox and Mailbox.

Earlier this month, Baer launched his own syndicate on AngelList, specifically focusing on startups trying to innovate in e-mail. So far, he’s raised $40,000 from four investors, including Brad Feld, the managing director of Foundry Group in Boulder.

Baer has made e-mail startups a specialty. He started Otherinbox from TechCrunch50 in 2008, an e-mail management service that was acquired by Return Path in 2011. His previous two mail-centric startups were UnsubCentral and Skylist, which he started out of his Carnegie-Mellon University dorm room.

Since we now spend a fourth of our time on reading and responding to e-mail—according to a study last year by the McKinsey Global Institute—and we are getting slammed with more of it year after year, e-mail is a pain point that is ripe for innovation, entrepreneurs say.

In my quick and extremely unscientific try-out of Boxer, I found the “quick responses” helpful, though I would like to add a few customized ones. I liked being able to click on a large icon of the sender’s initial and immediately call up their contact card, instead of having to fish through contacts to find the information.

However, I found out that you have to set your phone to “silent” when you sleep. Otherwise you will be jolted by buzzes each time an e-mail comes over the transom. (This happened because I use my iPhone as my alarm, not because I’m addicted to e-mail, of course.) If I set my phone to completely “silent,” I might miss someone trying to reach me overnight.

“We’re all in an information overload,” says Johnston at Engine.co, who was motivated to start his company after he found himself staring at 50,000 e-mails in his inbox. “The idea is showing you what’s important when you need it.”

Angela Shah is the editor of Xconomy Texas. She can be reached at ashah@xconomy.com or (214) 793-5763. Follow @angelashah

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