It’s about time. I owe you — our fans, followers, and customers — a big status update on all things Mindsense. I’ll kick it off with our successes and challenges of 2015, then talk about where we’re headed with Mail Pilot and Throttle, and give you a few company-level updates.
Many have asked, inevitably, if our time investment into Throttle means we’re abandoning Mail Pilot. Not at all — quite the opposite.
Successes in 2015
Heading into the year, we were putting finishing touches on Mail Pilot 2 for iPhone + iPad. We had a record high of four developers on the project for months.
We rewrote the thing from the ground up. We totally reimagined the navigation system (the bedrock every mobile app needs to succeed) to leverage how users live in the inbox and primarily just triage on the mobile. We designed new interactions for quick organization. We made it super customizable. It was the third email client we had built from the ground up, so we felt pretty good about the basics. We went to a ton of effort, spent a ton of time and cash, all with one primary goal: get good ratings.
The success? After releasing version 2.1 to address a few minor issues, we averaged 4.5 stars in the App Store. This was a major victory.
We also launched Mail Pilot 2 for Mac with Dash, an all-new view that users have written in to let us know it has already become their default view. It was a bit of a passion project; something no one was asking for, but something we’ve always dreamt of and sketched out. We wanted to get it into Mac 2 because it’s fun for us and the users, and it continues to break out of the mold of what email clients “should” look like.
Challenges in 2015
As we would learn from our admirees (what’s the word for that?) at Panic, mobile just isn’t the way to go for us, either. Maybe it’s our category (productivity). Maybe it’s our target market (productivityists). But one thing is for certain: the revenue just isn’t there. Under a third of Mail Pilot revenue is from mobile. Specifically, it’s at 30% to date.
While almost half of our unit sales have been mobile, under a third of our revenue has been on mobile. To make it worse, people regularly tell us our iOS app ($9.99) is too costly, and our Mac app ($19.99) is too cheap. Our numbers aren’t as dramatic as Panic’s we’re, but the lesson is the same: people looking for what Mail Pilot provides want to invest in their desktop email experience, but not nearly as much in their mobile.
For about the entire first month of Mail Pilot sales (our biggest revenue period), we only broke even on paying for an outside contractor to join our development team for the last few months of the project. This was a big loss for us, and a hard-learned lesson: the numbers just aren’t there on mobile for us.
This makes it really hard to justify investing into mobile for Mail Pilot. We want to; we’re incredibly proud of the product we put together for mobile, but the numbers just aren’t there. Going forward, we’ve been looking at mobile offerings for future products being more like mobile “companion” apps than full-fledged clients with feature parity. But note that nothing here is set in stone; we’re always eager to learn and adapt.
Where to in 2016
We’ve got some really incredible ideas and prototypes for where Mail Pilot is going next. We’re working on some really cool stuff that no one has attempted before; it takes even more leaps and bounds ahead than the initial Mail Pilot concepts did in January 2012.
These new innovations and directions will make up the third generation of Mail Pilot, but I don’t think it’ll be called “Mail Pilot 3” — I have a feeling it’s going to get a totally new name, though still under the Mail Pilot umbrella.
When will we start unveiling the third generation of Mail Pilot? I have no idea. In many ways, our prototypes have been too ambitious — we’ve put together 3 functioning prototypes already to date, each of them very different, and each of them very ambitious. The hardest part is figuring out how to scale the concepts back so that it’s shippable.
In the meantime, we’ll still be shipping updates to Mail Pilot 2. Most recently, we launched update 2.3 for Mac to fix a ton of crashes, mostly related to Dash. We really dropped the ball on ensuring stability on it, because we rushed the feature out too quickly (for that, I am sorry). But we combed back through it and put it on a much more stable foundation in 2.3.
We unveiled our first product outside of the Mail Pilot brand mid-year. It’s a really exciting product, because it brings a lot of firsts to email users. In particular, it solves email’s biggest problem in a totally air-tight way for the first time.
It represents exactly what we’re all about: solving unsolved problems in innovative ways to improve people’s lives. We’ve come up with plenty of interesting ideas, but usually there’s someone ‘close enough’ or already solving the problem pretty well. It’s the unsolved problems that intrigue us; these are the problems that get us up and motivated to get to work each day. They’re an addicting challenge, and they’re so ambiguous that it requires deep empathy, thinking from many different angles, and a-game brainstorming. When we came up with the core concept for Throttle, we knew we hit one of these for the first time since Mail Pilot’s inception. While many interesting ideas are on the scrap floor at Mindsense, we knew we had to breathe life into Throttle immediately.
It represents the kind of relationship we’d prefer to have with our customers. With our Mail Pilot sales on the App Store, we’re selling one-time paid apps in a market where customers expect apps for free or $0.99 with support and updates for life. If a customer buys our app for $10, we take home $7. If they email support just a handful of times over their lifetime of using Mail Pilot, we lose money on the whole thing. So the incentives are backwards: we’re financially disincentivized to tend to a customer after a sale is made, which is the exact opposite of what we want to stand for.
We want to be a good steward and an equal partner in our relationship with our customers, and SaaS is a great way to flip the motivation. With SaaS, you worry about keeping retention up, so you’re constantly incentivized to tend to all of your current customers. Instead of losing money, you make the money you need to continue to operate by caring for customers, offering great support, and shipping innovative new updates. SaaS makes being a good partner to our customers sustainable. And if we can’t pull it off — if being a good partner can’t be made sustainable; if going the SaaS route doesn’t work — we don’t want to be in the relationship in the first place; we’d rather go out of business than be a poor team to have a relationship with.
Where to in 2016
A lot of things are on the horizon: first, we will launch out of soft launch, then we’ll start to release Throttle Pro, Throttle Mobile for iPhone & iPad, and a few other interesting products into the Throttle ecosystem. We’ll give early access to the first thousand customers that request the Throttle Mobile and Throttle Pro betas.
Keep an eye on Throttle this year, and let me know if you have any thoughts and ideas on it; we’re iterating quickly.
Finally, at the end of 2015, I doubled-down on that whole ‘content marketing’ thing. I never touched it because I didn’t want to do it simply for marketing’s sake, I needed a better purpose but didn’t have one.
That all changed when we sat down for a “Built to Last” style company retreat and refocusing, where we set a 20-year BHAG to become the company known for being the best at innovating; the best at solving really hairy unsolved problems in innovative ways to improve people’s lives.
At making.mindsense.co, I’ll be regularly publishing project updates and articles on innovation, design, productivity, small business, and leadership. Much of it will be a behind-the-scenes look at how we do things at Mindsense, such as in my most recent article on how we innovate.
Team & Company
We’re still in the two-room suite we moved into in 2012 and expanded in 2014 in the VT Corporate Research Center, just behind our alma mater’s campus (and, more importantly on six Saturdays in the Fall, Lane Stadium).
We’re still a strengths-based team, and our purpose is still the same. But what’s new in 2016 is that we’re intentionally making the move from being a product to being a business — a lasting, sustainable company. It’s a shift I only hope we do with some amount of grace.
We’ve always been incredibly fortunate to have you, our biggest fans, who read all the way down to the bottom of what I can only assume are increasingly dull blog posts, and who stepped up to make Mail Pilot a reality nearly four years ago on Kickstarter when no one had heard even of us. So, in a big way, thank you. And happy New Year!
Here’s to 2016.
This is the tenth article published on our company blog, Making Mindsense, at making.mindsense.co