GrexIt is working towards building a few simple features on top of email to help knowledge workers collaborate more effectively
You receive an important work-related email and it escapes your attention. Later, your boss pulls you up (possibly, on the same email) and a mad search ensues to unearth it and give it a quick read. This scenario is one that most working professionals have experienced and the advent of advanced technologies to help check emails has done little to help the cause. While technology solutions exist for online collaboration, which includes project management software, lightweight CRMs (customer relationship management), blogs and wiki tools, a tool that builds on email as a collaboration tool is still largely unavailable.
“Email is used heavily for collaboration by knowledge workers in every field and we deliver some very simple ways for its usage to be efficient and productive,” explains Niraj Ranjan Rout, who co-founded GrexIt, a Silicon Valley and Bengaluru-based email sharing company.
Rout, an alumnus of IIT-Kharagpur, worked with Mentor Graphics for five years before starting his first venture Mobicules in late 2007. Nitesh Nandy, his co-founder at GrexIt, was also part of that venture, which aimed to build products in the mobile search space. After three years of persisting with a product-based business model that did not take off, the company shifted directions and started providing web and mobile application development services to companies in Silicon Valley. The company’s team soon grew to 40 employees and that is when the founders decided to quit the business (in 2011) and startup GrexIt. “The motivation was to build a global product from India,” says Rout. GrexIt’s engineering team is currently based in India, with the founders spending a significant amount of time in the Bay Area.
Collaborating on email
Today, email is the highest used collaboration tool at the workplace. Companies use email to collaborate on projects, sales, support, hiring and operations – virtually every business operation. But email completely lacks the tools to help people collaborate effectively. “The result is email clutter, where information gets stuck and lost in inboxes, and in general, leads to a lot of inefficiencies,” points out Rout.
GrexIt aims to help users share useful email conversations, assign tasks, collaborate on them and track their status, right from their inboxes. It is currently available for Google Apps as a cloud-hosted, subscription based service.
Founders: Niraj Ranjan Rout, Nitesh Nandy
City: Bengaluru, Silicon Valley
Focus: Collaboration between teams over email
Investors: The Morpheus Accelerator Program, The Citrix Startup Accelerator Program
The solution, though simple to use, is technically complex and needed many iterations in architecture and code to get it right. Rout and Nandy wrote all the code in the first year and it required a lot of hard work to keep releasing features, fixing issues and responding to user queries and requests, all at the same time. Throughout the first year, the duo had to multitask, juggle priorities and ensure that end users were happy.
“Cloud is an amazing application delivery opportunity and it was never hard to get our initial set of users. It took effort to be covered by some of the top technical blogs published out of the Silicon Valley, but once that happened, our initial users started trickling in,” says Rout. User inflow increased after GrexIt was released on the Google Apps marketplace.
Fund raising was another challenge the duo had to combat. They joined the Chandigarh-based Morpheus Accelerator programme and the funding received from there, combined with some of their personal savings, was invested into GrexIt to see them through year-one. “The key was, we kept it very lean for the first year, worked hard and focused on building the right things well,” explains Rout. Other than the two founders, two more people working at GrexIt (both engineers) were hired through their personal network. Consultants for design and some other functions are resorted to frequently, in keeping with its vision of being lean in the initial years.
Towards the end of 2011, GrexIt entered the San Francisco-based Citrix Startup Accelerator programme and received the next round of funding. As a result of being part of this programme, Citrix provides strategic advice and connections and the affiliation with it inspires a lot of confidence in customers, which has benefited GrexIt. In the next few months, the company will seek funding for growing the product, engineering and sales teams while working on marketing channels.
GrexIt is available as a cloud-based service on a monthly subscription, costing US $2 per user, per month. “This is a flexible pricing model that has been working very well for us,” states Rout.
The company has more than 100 companies as paying customers and several thousand users. In the near future, GrexIt will develop a sales channel and build its presence on various application marketplaces to increase its reach. It has signed up with affiliates to whom the company gives away 15 per cent of the lifetime revenues from a customer on referrals. “We have been referred by some of the best known Google Apps resellers and the affiliate network is growing fast,” says Rout. Additionally, the company has been reaching out directly to potential affiliates and has met with good response. It also tries to distribute through online software-as-a-service application marketplaces like Getapp.com.
Its customers come from the U.S., U.K., Australia, France, Germany, Cyprus and even from Estonia and from very diverse domains such as architecture and construction, IT services, shipping, freight management, law firms and more. “Over the last four months, we have been nearly doubling our customer counts every month,” adds Rout. “Our customers are acquired through a variety of channels. Customers come in through the Google Apps marketplace, organic search results on Google and Bing, and through the coverage and write-ups we receive in technical blogs and publications. It is completely inbound till now and we have not spent a single rupee in marketing our services,” he shares.
When GrexIt went out of beta and started charging its customers in March 2012, several of its beta users converted into paying customers. Soon, GrexIt will look to invest in further building its inbound marketing channels (SEO, SEM, social media and public relations) and its affiliate network. It also aims at establishing an outbound sales team, six months from now.
Having learnt from their previous entrepreneurial experience, Rout and Nandy have made sure they have their ABCs right while running GrexIt. Not only are they personally involved in the development of the product but they also serve as points of contact for customer feedback – thus, ensuring the relevance of the product to customers. GrexIt is moving cautiously on the marketing front as well, expanding its teams and marketing channels gradually, to keep pace with the growth of the company. With an increase in interest in its products from across the world, the founding duo is confident that the company’s product is the answer to take email from being a simple communication platform to being a powerful tool that helps knowledge workers collaborate effortlessly.
Concept in brief
Emails are a great way to communicate, but sometimes there are so many of them that some important ones get lost. And yet, they can be critical in keeping all related work teams synchronised. Realising the need to build on email communication for workers to collaborate, Niraj Ranjan Rout and Nitesh Nandy came together to start GrexIt with offices in India and Silicon Valley. Its tool enables email sharing on Google Apps currently. The duo started small, with just the two of them doing product development and allowing Google Apps resellers to do the selling. Today, the company is growing slowly but steadily and has over 100 clients across the world. Being a part of acceleration programmes at The Morpheus and Citrix has helped it fine tune its strategies. Currently satisfied with inbound sales, GrexIt plans to expand its teams to strengthen product development as well as sales and market development.