When you get pitched a new messaging startup from an Estonian team comprising a number of ex-Skype engineers, you kind of have to take notice. Launching officially today is Fleep, a web and iOS app that wants to bridge the gap between ‘reply all’-style group email and enterprise messaging/IM services.
Its premise isn’t new, of course: one way to help users achieve the holy grail of in-box zero is to try and get many of those conversations taking place outside of email in the first place. In that sense, Fleep’s immediate competitors include the likes of Yammer, HipChat, and Campfire. Or, to some extent, even Skype itself, and a plethora of other instant messaging services.
However, Fleep’s positioning is subtly different from many competing services in that it’s user-centric and doesn’t adhere to the walled garden mentality of an internal company messaging system. “We are solving for all collaborative end users everywhere, not just for big companies to use internally,” says Fleep co-founder and CEO Henn Ruukel, describing the app as designed to be open. Instead, it’s about “me and my conversations”, which could be with anybody, not just those in the same organisation as you. In fact, it’s the need to “work across company borders” that keeps people using email for group conversations, notes the startup, even though email was never really designed for that purpose.
At launch, the functionality and UX of Fleep is pretty paired down, though this might also be its upside. To start a new conversation, you click on the ‘create new’ button and enter the names of those who you want to see become part of the conversation. If they aren’t already using the app, however, you can enter their email address instead where they’ll be able to interface with the conversation via email in the usual old-skool way, although in this instance, their participation also gets pulled into Fleep for the benefit of those who are using the web or iOS app.
Conversations, which on the desktop version appear listed in a side panel a bit like an in-box, are threaded, can each have a title, and are fully searchable. So far, not wholly different to email, perhaps. It’s at this point that Fleep introduces a few tricks of its own, however. One of those is the ability to pin a message, in the form of an editable note, to the right hand panel of the app, making for a very lightweight way of extracting important or actionable information. In addition, any images or other attachments that are part of a conversation can be browsed separately via the files tab, so that it’s quick to find an important asset.
And that appears to be pretty much it, for now. However, I’d suggest that the team and its backers make this one to watch closely. As well as a number of ex-Skype engineers — along with Ruukel, Asko Oja, Erik Laansoo and Marko Kreen are ex-Skype — the other co-founders are Liis Peetermann (ex-Techstars) and Andres Järviste (ex-Fujitsu). Meanwhile, Fleep has raised €260,000 in seed funding from Skype’s founding engineers Jaan Tallinn and Priit Kasesalu.
Finally, on the positioning of Fleep, which is entering a very crowded space, Ruukel had this to say: “Unlike corporate products like Yammer, we’re not trying to sell the concept of Fleep to a CEO or CIO as a company-wide integration decision. We’re more interested in empowering end users around the world to work more efficiently, together, to get things done (while hopefully saving an inbox or two in the process).”
In other words, this appears to be a consumer-led marketing play, even if Fleep’s end goal is to help users get more work done.