Startup Spotlight: Nylas’ Platform for Email Apps

Phil Britt

Updated · Oct 26, 2016

Nylas was born out of the belief that email pretty much stinks.

Email, like other technologies, must continue to evolve for enterprises to derive benefits from it, said Michael Grinich, co-founder and CEO of the San Francisco-based startup and a veteran of Dropbox and Nest.

NylasLogoThough newer firms Asana and Slack have attempted to get more value out of email, it still functions much as it did two decades ago, Grinich said, so he and Nylas co-founder Christina Spang sought a way to offer users more useful capabilities in their email programs.

Old protocols, obscure data formats and fragmented standards for email have frustrated developers for years, Grinich said. In the past, developers were limited to IMAP-based email tools. Google launched its own APIs, but they only work with Gmail.

An engineer by trade, Grinich first met Spang while visiting MIT as part of his college search. “I wasn’t even a student yet,” he said. But he was already thinking about new capabilities for email. He wrote his MIT engineering thesis on email tools.

While Grinich first showed Spang some of his ideas for email when both were at MIT, at the time Spang was also working for a tech company and was shackled with “golden handcuffs” that prevented her from becoming further involved with his vision. Once her relationship with the tech firm ended, she joined Grinich in San Francisco to help put the final tweaks on product development plans. She now serves as the company’s CTO.

Enabling Developers to Improve Email

The concept for the company’s email product came to fruition literally in his living room, Grinich said. The idea was to provide developers with ways to further extend the capabilities of email and collaboration without the need to go through IMAP to do so.

The company’s Nylas N1 open source mail client Extensions for N1 can be written in JavaScript, React, NodeJS, Flux and Electron. It allows people to better utilize the information contained in email, such as ancillary business contacts, document exchanges, performance reports and other data typically not found in CRM, contact management or other programs.

“Email is the database of your life. In emails you have records of everything that you do, documents that you exchange and other data. Even with all of the other programs, email still rules everything. You can’t replace it, Grinich said.

Collaboration directly from email is cumbersome at best, a challenge that Grinich said N1 helps solve because it tracks all elements of emails, not just the elemental send-and-receive information.

Partnering with Salesforce

According to Grinich, N1 can sort through as much as 10 years’ worth of email data in as little as 10 minutes, unveiling not only critical contact information and attachments, but also behavioral data such as email open rates, times when open rates are highest and similar details that can help enterprises deploy email more effectively.

Earlier this year Nylas added a plugin for Salesforce, which Grinich sees as crucial for the company’s continued success and for enterprise sales and marketing teams. The Salesforce plugin enables users to create and edit leads, contacts, opportunities and other account details directly from the inbox without the need to switch from the N1 application to the Salesforce application. N1 also synchs email threads with opportunities, better enabling salespeople and marketers to stay on top of their leads.

“We see this as being an indispensable tool for sales and marketing reps,” he said. “By enabling them to connect directly with Salesforce — the single most popular system of record for sales organizations — directly from email, we turn what was a tedious, productivity-killing process into a productive experience.”

Switching between email and CRM or other applications causes the user to lose focus, and therefore productivity suffers he said. “With N1 you don’t have to copy and paste; you can do everything that you need to directly from email without switching programs.”

Some of the key features of the Salesforce plugin include creation and management of contacts, opportunities, accounts and leads; enriched contact profiles; open-and-click tracking; templates; mail merge; meeting time proposals and scheduling; “send later” scheduling; and a snooze capability.

Beyond its flagship product, Nylas offers Nylas cloud APIs that can be used for email, contacts and calendar applications. The APIs are compatible with IMAP, SMTP, ActiveSync and MIME protocols and include pre-built libraries. Nylas offers integration assistance and support to cloud API users.

As a privately-held company, Nylas doesn’t disclose sales and revenue numbers, but Grinich said the company’s board is happy with the progress to date. Users and developers are pleased as well, he said, pointing to the firm”s 20,800-plus stars on Github as well as the firm’s growing revenue.

“We’re excited about the infrastructure that we have built,” he said.

Fast Facts about Nylas

Founded: December 2013

Founders: Michael Grinich, CEO, and Christine Spang, CTO

HQ: San Francisco

Product: Platform for email applications

Employees: 14

Funding: $8 million Series A led by Formation 8 in 2015; investors include 8VC, SV Angel, Fuel Capital, Great Oaks, Data Collective and angels from Salesforce, Dropbox, Workday and Nest.

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