Stop emailing about email: It’s time to bring order to your team inbox

Published September 30, 2014
Last modified September 30, 2014

Virtually every company or team has email aliases to manage inquiries from people outside the organization or requests from colleagues in other departments. But today’s email apps don’t make it easy for teams to collaborate behind-the-scenes before responding. Instead, you end up emailing about email.

Today, Zendesk is releasing a new product into beta called Inbox. Simply put, Inbox is an app that organizes the emails your team collectively manages. It was an idea that Alexander Aghassipour, Co-Founder and Chief Product Officer here at Zendesk, came up with about a year ago to help make managing emails a team effort.

With Inbox, your team can organize and manage email conversations—together. It’s free to sign up and start forwarding your email aliases into your new Inbox today.

We recently sat down with Alex to discuss the journey of launching this new product.

Q: How did this idea for Inbox get started?
A: When we launched Zendesk seven years ago, we wanted to put a product out there that was fun and great to work with, but one that also solves a problem: How does a team work together and make sure nothing falls through the cracks? That’s the problem we were trying to solve for customer support teams when we founded Zendesk. This is the same problem we are trying to solve for small teams with Inbox. How can we help small teams work together and create transparency around email conversations?

Q: What inspired the product design of Inbox?
A: Teams already like to collaborate internally with tools like Yammer and Flowdock. We use these tools ourselves here at Zendesk. They are a great way to work together. So what if we can work together in the same way for external communication?

In designing Inbox, we wanted to present a stream of incoming messages that teams can talk about. It’s a more natural and personal way of working together and communicating. We also wanted to apply a user interface paradigm that people were already familiar with. Someone needs to be able to pick up this product in under 10 minutes and understand how it works.

Q: So what exactly is Inbox? How can teams use it?
A: Inbox is a simple Web app for small teams to better collaborate on email messages. Whenever someone emails an alias you’ve set up, like, those email messages go into your team’s Inbox. You can forward an existing email alias or create new ones.

With your team’s shared emails in one place, Inbox provides a bunch of tools for collaboration:

  • Invite and assign an email to another team member
  • Add a team note to whisper guidance
  • @mention a team member to notify them
  • Click “Follow” to keep tabs on conversations you want to see through

Q: Who did you build Inbox for?
A: In building Zendesk, we discovered a proven workflow that clicked for customer service teams. We wanted to take that workflow and create a new product for teams outside of customer service that could benefit from this collaboration engine. Perhaps it’s a small business just opening its doors that needs a organized way to manage all their hello@, help@, and jobs@ emails. Or maybe it’s a team within a larger business that fields requests from other departments. Regardless of who uses Inbox, the basic concept is the same—create a space for teams to work together on email inquiries.

Q: What’s your favorite Inbox feature?
A: For the first half of the Inbox development cycle, we only worked on the mobile version of the product. Often times, you build the desktop version first and then optimize for mobile. We wanted to change this up to be absolutely sure that mobile was not an afterthought. So I would have to say the mobile responsive design is one of my favorite elements of Inbox. That, and all the real-time elements like browser notifications that pop up when a new email or team note comes in.

Q: You’ve already successfully built and launched one product. Why do it again?
A: Zendesk has grown tremendously as a product since we first launched. We’ve added and improved features. But with every new feature and every release, we have more “product” to consider and more customers to think about. It becomes difficult to shake up our core Zendesk product without big ripple effects.

Inbox, in a way, takes us back to the basics of Zendesk. How do we simplify how teams work together to respond to emails? We started with a few people in a room who were passionate about this idea, and we operated like a startup. Let’s just build something and get it out there for user feedback. By building this as a new product, it gave us the opportunity to experiment with fresh ideas. We can release faster, iterate more, and take bigger risks.

Q: What’s some advice you would give other folks launching a new product?
A: It’s important to realize that if you say “no” to doing and executing your idea, someone else will do it. You have to pick something that feels right. You can ask the market what they want, but often times they don’t know what they want, especially when it’s a new product category.

At the end of the day, you have to feel that there’s something there that is great and fun to work with, despite what the market says. And when you launch, it’ll never be what you expect. But that’s perhaps a good thing.

Q: Are you worried about failing?
A: Of course. But it’s worth it. We wanted to try something new, and we did that. Even if we fail, we’ll learn a lot and gain a ton of new ideas.

Sign up for your team’s Inbox.