Bruce Firestone Interview’s Openera CEO Peter Lalonde

5 Awesome Email Features from Google

Email is both my best friend, and often, my worst enemy. It’s my primary means of communicating with my team, customers, prospects, and partners. It’s also my nemesis when I’ve got a ton of things I’m furiously working my way through on any given day.

I have to praise Google for their efforts in making email better; Little things like prompting me when I’ve said I’ve attached a file, but have actually forgotten to attach it (I swear, they added this feature just for me), or, praising me for reading all the important messages in my inbox (yes, I do say “Woohoo!” when that happens).

Gmail also has a cool area in Mail Settings called Labs – Mail Labs is a testing ground for experimental features that aren’t quite ready yet for primetime (it’s important to know that if you do Enable a particular feature from Labs, they might change, break, or completely disappear at any time.) If you haven’t checked Mail Labs out yet, I highly suggest it – you can find simple features that help manage email easier, or make the Gmail experience better.

5 features I’ve enabled and tested, and why I think they’re awesome:

Now, none of these are exactly “New” features, but, unless you enable them you may not have known they even existed. Below I’ve highlighted 5 features from the Labs that I think are awesome, along with details and links to more info on how to enable and use them.

1. Background Send:

I have to thank Twitter (more specifically, @henningh)  for referring me to this feature when I complained about hating to wait while an email with attachments is sending. This feature allows you to move on to more important things (like sending or moving on to another email) while your email is being sent – like its name, it sends your email in the background.

2. Canned Responses

I had to try this feature out after reading its description: “Email for the truly lazy”. I think it’s also “Email for the truly busy” as well. With the Canned Responses feature, you can create and save messages using a button in the compose form. So, if there are certain responses / messaging that you use frequently in email, instead of typing it all out each time, you can use one of your saved responses. Unlike an Auto-reply, you decide when to use it, and which response to use as appropriate.

3. Google Docs Gadget

I love having things in a unified view – the less clicking around and opening things, the better. The Google Docs gadget adds a box in the left column of your Gmail that displays your Google Docs – Not only can you see recent docs, starred docs, and search for docs in this gadget, you can even create new docs… without leaving Gmail.

4. Google Calendar Gadget

Like the Google Docs Gadget, this feature adds a box to your left column that displays your Google Calendar. You can view any of your Google Calendars and  see their past and upcoming events as well as quickly create new events right from your Gmail. Being able to see my schedule without leaving the page, while I’m drafting an email proposing meeting times is extremely handy.

(You can go here for more info on the Docs and Calendar sidebar gadgets)

5. Inserting Images

One thing about Gmail that used to irk me was not being able to insert an image directly into the message body. Sometimes, I need a recipient to see an image right in the body of an email, and not just as an attachment. This feature lets you do just that. When enabled, you get an image insert icon in your compose options (between Insert Emoticon and Link) that let’s you insert an image right into the message body. Once the image is inserted, you can resize or remove it as needed.

Nothing for Email Attachments?

Surprisingly (or maybe not) Google has yet to do anything to help manage email attachments. I’ve spoken to Googlers who have suggested various ways of building filters, but really, all they do is group my emails that have attachments together. I can’t see what the attachments are, without opening each message individually, and quite frankly, who wants to search through email attachments to find anything?

Above I listed out some really great features that Google is working on. Here’s one that we’re working on.

SmartCloud

SmartCloud automatically tags and saves your important email attachments into your cloud services without you having to do anything. Attachments come into and go out from your email, and SmartCloud tags and saves them into your Box, DropBox, Google Docs, etc… Sounds great right? If you want to know more you can check out our site: getsmartcloud.com

So there you have it – 5 awesome email features from Google, and 1 really awesome one from Openera. I hope these are as helpful to you as they have been to me.

What are your favourite Gmail features, and what do you hope they come up with next?

How Salesforce Admins Solved the Email Integration Problem.

This post is going to break a blogging rule. I’m going to cover 2 topics. Gasp. If you want to know “How did Salesforce Admins solve the email integration problem?” Here’s the short answer: They pointed out the technical underpinnings within our product and told us “that’s what we need!.” The longer answer requires some background and is my other topic which answers the question “Hey, how was Dreamforce?”

As a bootstrapped start-up, deciding to attend and exhibit at a major conference is not easy. I made the decision despite believing that big events are one of the least productive ways to fill a pipeline. Over my career, I’ve attended and exhibited at hundreds of big events, they simply are not the best lead generation tool. In order to make an event worthwhile, you must have multi-dimensional objectives.

The Banana is not with us!

Tiny Booth. Big Story. Openera exhibited at Dreamforce 2011, Salesforce.com’s annual user conference in San Francisco  a month ago. Our objectives included:

  • validate market assumptions,
  • collect market intelligence,
  • solicit influential support,
  • access and quickly navigate the partner ecosystem,
  • and yes, meet potential customers and partners.

The question we keep asking ourselves is this: “was it worth it?” Immediately after exhibiting at an event like Dreamforce it is hard to tell if it was worth the time, money and effort. With a month of activity behind us since the event we know a lot more than we did when we wrapped up Dreamforce.

Measurable Results  With over 1500 leads, hundreds of sign-ups and roughly 5 solid, multi-user opportunities poised to close, we can say it was definitely worth it. I couldn’t have said that the day after the event. If I measured solely based on our pre-event objectives however, we failed.

Unrealized Goals or The Missing Execs

One of our unrealized goals was to meet with a good percentage of the 1/3 of the attendees that were supposedly Directors and VP’s of sales to validate our GutCheck offering. (GutCheck solves the “I don’t trust my sales reps forecast” problem.) The vast majority of attendees we spent time with were Salesforce admins or integrators. VP’s and Directors of Sales were not walking the floor of the exhibit hall, they were sitting comfortably in the executive lounges sipping espresso’s.  This was a major disappointment.

Of all the people we spoke to, only about 20 people actually ran sales teams. So, I am not comfortable making assumptions based on such a small sample audience. However, here’s what they had to say: of the sales leaders that we had an opportunity to explain the GutCheck value proposition, almost all agreed with the statement that “sales rep’s forecasts aren’t very reliable or trustworthy.” Roughly 80% of the sales leaders that didn’t trust their reps forecasts, would invest in a tool like GutCheck to validate forecast accuracy. A small percentage (ok, it was one vocal person) didn’t believe that we could do what we say we can do. (I love a challenge!)

Salesforce admins rock. They changed our minds and helped us focus.

Surprisingly, the vast majority of system administrators we spoke with considered forecast accuracy only  “a minor problem.” Even though they agreed with the statement that “forecasts aren’t reliable” and what sales reps enter into their forecasts don’t reflect reality.” 

Salesforce admins we spoke to care about the integrity/interoperability of the system, data quality/completeness and user adoption. Salesforce Admins & Integrators got excited when we explained how we GutCheck a forecast. The fact that we automate the ingestion of email conversations and content into Salesforce was of high value. They didn’t necessarily care about the GutCheck value proposition, they cared a lot about the underlying technology (SmartCloud) that enabled GutCheck.

Salesforce Admins Solved The Problem of Email Integration |  Because of this real world feedback, validated by our pipeline activity and follow-up conversations, Openera is adjusting/focusing our development. Although GutCheck relied on SmartCloud, we are focussing on SmartCloud for Salesforce to solve the email conversation and content problem first. We still believe that sales leaders responsible for forecasting want a solution to poor quality forecasts. For now, our focus is on SmartCloud. (Note: GutCheck will continue as a value-added, packaged service offering through our SmartCloud implementation partners and through the AppExchange relatively soon.) 

Build – Measure – Learn

With lessons learned from the lean start-up model, championed by Steve Blank, Eric Reis, Ash Mauria and others, but modified for the enterprise, we have consumed customer data and altered our development strategy. Was it a pivot? Not really. But the insight into our customers motivations informed our decision to focus our development efforts on the immediate, high value pain point of email conversation and content integration with Salesforce. I’ve estimated the amount of development time this decision has saved, and it far outweighs our investment. Coupled with our post-event research, we are able to make this decision based on data pulled from a great sample audience, not just our gut. That alone made Dreamforce worthwhile.

A VIDEO | I’ll leave you with this ‘work-in-progress’ video of what we did the first thing in the morning before Mark Benioff’s keynote. We wanted to wake the groggy, hungover masses up and get them to smile. In case you were wondering, Metallica was the headliner for the after party…reportedly paid $1.4M to play the event… so for this preview, I borrowed a track from them for this “work-in-progress” version of the video. Obviously, we’ll use royalty free music for the official version… when it’s ready for release. Enjoy.

How Aaron Levie and Box will crush SharePoint

Meet Aaron Levie. He’s 25 years old and running one of the un-coolest, cool companies in the valley. He is CEO of Box, the cloud content management company, and he is not shy about wanting to take out SharePoint. After meeting Aaron in San Francisco at Boxworks, the company’s first user conference, I encourage you to watch this company. If you know anything about Enterprise software, you know it’s in the midst of a big disruption. Companies like Salesforce.com have lead the way for Box and other disruptive enterprise software. (Full disclosure, Openera is a Box partner. SmartCloud automatically saves email attachments to many cloud services, including Box and Salesforce.com.)

Why Box? Why Now? SharePoint represents everything that Box is not. Complicated, restrictive, expensive to manage, difficult to upgrade and mostly despised by users. Calling SharePoint customers “users” is not accurate because SharePoint has an adoption problem. Customers don’t actually use SharePoint. It’s imposed upon them. It’s available to search for mostly stale content…  if the content has actually been put in SharePoint, you will find something. If not, you are out of luck amigo. (This is the problem Openera helps Box with – make sure your company’s most important, relevant content is actually IN box, not in your inbox. That’s a mouthful.) 

How pervasive is the problem that Box is addressing? It presented itself at Dreamforce, Salesforce.com’s annual user conference, which one might expect. Content Management is still a big problem within the Salesforce ecosystem.  Salesforce’s own content management is one of Salesforce.com’s least adopted offerings. Box can and will play a big part in this world. Unlike the most well-known cloud content management service, Dropbox, Box has a higher level of security, more administrative controls, a developing partner ecosystem and enterprise features that adress both IT and user needs. Dropbox implementations are often rogue and not sanctioned by IT.

Box understands enterprise customers.  I didn’t expect the issue of cloud content management to be addressed by the mobile industry while attending GigaOm’s Mobilize conference the day before Boxworks, but it was. One of the speakers asked the audience to “raise your hand if you use Dropbox at work.” Almost all hands in the auditorium went up. When asked “How many of your IT departments know about it?” I saw two or three hands go up. That was good news for Box. Why? Because Box understands the Enterprise. They aren’t trying to circumvent IT, they are making IT super heroes.

Box understands the importance of a strong partner ecosystem. There were glimmers of brilliance in the delivery of announcements at Boxworks. Aaron and his team announced several key new features that are important to make Box an attractive alternative to SharePoint. BoxSync, Security, and Social Features. But it was the litany of partner announcements that showed us where Box is going. Each partner paraded on stage brought a critical element to the box solution.

The big integration announcement was with Salesforce.com‘s Chatter, but Jive and Yammer were there to show off their collaboration platforms and how they seamlessly integrate with Box as well.  Okta rocked the audience to spontaneous applause simply talking about their solution to a huge problem for companies and users of cloud services – single sign on! But it may have been the announcements with Motorola and HP that could make the biggest impact on Box adoption in the enterprise. Box will be pre-installed on all HP Business PC’s and all Motorola tablets. Next year at Boxworks, we at Openera hope to elicit spontaneous applause from the audience when we announce how we have solved the problem of getting your companies most valuable content out of your inbox and into Box… without changing user behaviour.

Microsoft, Oracle, SAP… they aren’t going anywhere, but the clock is ticking.

Among the speakers at Boxworks, it was Geoffrey Moore and Mark Andreessen that perhaps added the most poignent arguments for Box’s bright future. Both, in their own way, articulated how the dominant players in the market, Microsoft, Oracle, SAP and others aren’t going anywhere, but their time of dominance is over.

The rise of the nimble, strategic and forward thinking IT department is upon us. Companies like Box will accelerate growth because IT must be more responsive to business needs. Users demand the same user experience they have with facebook, LinkedIn, Google and other cloud tools they have become to rely on. The incumbent players simply cannot compete and move fast enough given the complexity and deep roots within organizations.  Again, this is good news for Box and maybe the reason Aaron is so vocal about taking on SharePoint.

“How many of your companies are running SharePoint 2007?….. pause… now, how many of you are running an outdated version of Box? Trick question. You get my point.” -Aaron Levie, CEO Box at Boxworks 2011, San Francisco

Do you think Box can win in a head-to-head battle against Microsoft? Even though Openera and SmartCloud are agnostic and work with all cloud services, we are rooting for Aaron and his team to deliver a great user experience to the enterprise. It’s about time.

Why I regret going to TechCrunch Disrupt

Several months ago I decided to bring my startup from Ottawa, Canada and exhibit in Startup Ally at TechCrunch Disrupt. What better place than Disrupt to absorb insight, meet visionaries and explore the highs and lows of startup culture, funding and innovation? I was going to consider entering the battlefield for Disrupt NY 2012 if I felt it was going to help propel my company forward. This was before Arringtongate and the drama over journalistic integrity, CrunchFund, conflict of interest, infighting and the rest of the crap that ultimately overshadowed Disrupt San Francisco 2011.

I regret the decision to spend my precious start-up cash exhibiting at Disrupt. It was a waste of time, money and being away from my family. It was a side show. A carnival.

My advice to other entrepreneurs? Save your cash, Disrupt is dead.

Here are the facts: Michael Arrington is not the victim. Arriana Huffington is not the vilain. TechCrunch is a blog. It’s a very influential site with a lot of opinionated and influential bloggers who think they know where technology is going. They aim to be the voice of technology startups. It is also a blog that is tightly associated with several angels, investors and venture firms. Some investors work(ed) for TechCrunch. There are conflicts of interest, be them disclosed or not. None of this matters. It’s all noise. Throughout the drama, there was very little discussion about the disruptive start-ups TechCrunch is there to cover. Most of the actual coverage felt like an afterthought. There couldn’t be any meaningful discussion. It was completely overshadowed by the self indulgence and central focus of the event: the dark cloud of Arringtongate. Entrepreneurs like me who paid to participate asked themselves and each other this question:

“Why did I spend money to be here?”

The silver lining? I spent time getting to know some truly disruptive start-ups. I wrote another, more positive blog about that experience. I met some great founders and validated my vision. (albeit, against a heavily B2C, social media & gaming biased crowd.)

I went into TechCrunch Disrupt with eyes wide open…

…I walked away shaking my head.

Don’t get me wrong, Disrupt is a great platform and I am certain one of the competing brands will readily fill the void. I don’t know how tight Arrington’s non-compete is, but if I were running one of the many similar start-up launch events, I’d hire Arrington in a heart beat. I bet you get Paul Carr to moderate too!

Did you go to Disrupt? What did you think? Would you recommend to another start-up to exhibit or attend?

TechCrunch Disrupt – Insights and Advice

TechCrunch Disrupt SF 2011(http://disrupt.techcrunch.com) punctuated Michael Arrington’s career heading up TechCrunch. The final Disrupt for Arrington was held in San Francisco attracting over 2,500 leading technology innovators and investors and over 150 new startups. Despite the controversy and media maelstrom over shadowing the event, there was something else going on. Start-up entrepreneurs were unveiling new technologies and businesses.

Openera SmartCloud

Richard & Peter

Openera’s Founder & CEO, Peter Lalonde was there, showcasing SmartCloud in Disrupt’s Startup Alley, a startup launch platform, where over 200 companies exhibited their product or service.

Here are just a few of his perspectives and thoughts on Disrupt, the Startup Alley experience, and advice he’d give to other startups thinking of attending the next Disrupt conference:

What was the highlight for you at Disrupt?

For me it was getting real and honest feedback on SmartCloud. The opportunity to have other founders, investors, press and potential partners get excited about the promise of SmartCloud was outstanding. I was really impressed by a few startups that rose above the noise of so many similar themed ones.

What type of feedback did you get from Investors/attendees?

It was mostly good feedback. A lot of people said things like

“I’ve been waiting for something like this!” “oh my God, you’ve solved my biggest frustration.” or some variation of “wow, this is actually really useful! You’ve solved a real problem.”

It wasn’t all good feedback though. Some people just didn’t see the value. They don’t mind keeping all their content in their inbox. There were also concerns around security, which we expected, but our answer didn’t always satisfy people in hyper sensitive businesses. We’ll write a blog post about our view and approach to security.

Of all the other startups you saw in Startup Alley, were there any that you got excited about, and why? 

Yes! Definitely. Bitcasa was the standout, most disruptive company there. The fact that they didn’t win offended me! LOL. Their CEO, Tony Gauda, is dynamic, brilliant and quick witted. Their approach of offering infinite local/cloud storage for $10/month is groundbreaking on a technical level, pricing level and user experience level. They are exactly in-line with the SmartCloud philosophy of not changing user behaviour.

The other stand-out startup that also adopts the SmartCloud philosophy is Everpix. They have an elegant solution for solving the fragmented photo library problem. Like many people, I have photos scattered all over the web; MobileMe, Flickr, Facebook, Picassa and across several local drives and email!  Everpix will consolidate and even auto-curate your photos (hide bad pics) and organize them into ‘moments’ allowing you to easily collect from, and share photo moments with friends.

GoInstant is a fellow Canadian Start-up that has, what seems to me, the easiest shared browsing / screen sharing solution possible. No plug-ins, no logins, no hassle, immediate group browsing. Ideal for groups that want to test web-based products (like SmartCloud) – it even works on mobile browsers.

Special mentions to Sonar (a social networking app that brings your LinkedIn contacts (and others) into a location aware context) and CodeGuard (time machine + version control for your website and a cool logo!) as well as sponsors, UrtheCast (launching HD cameras into space to provide (and make available) essentially a new hi-res image of the planet every month.Tesla because Tesla is awesome and Elon Musk is a visionary and inspiring. SugarSync, because they might make a good partner, and EventBrite, because they disrupted local & social event ticketing and has made life easier for many people.

Tell us a little bit about the experience of being in Startup Alley. 

You give the pitch so often, you sometimes forget that what you are saying may have quite an impact on someone. If I could have done anything differently, I would have spent more time reaching out to people ahead of time. There were very few members of the press interacting with the Startups in Startup ally. They were mostly distracted by Arringtongate! I would have thought that, at a minimum, TechCruch would have sent someone to talk to each startup.

What advice/recommendations would you give to other Startups who are considering attending the next Disrupt?

You might want to read my other post on Disrupt for more insight. If you are a B2B start-up expect a good percentage of the attendees to not care about what you are doing. This may change, but social, mobile and games seem to be the startups that get all the attention. If you decide to be a part of startup ally you may want to push to be exhibiting on day 1. Our experience was that Day 1 was far more busy for startup ally. Don’t wear a costume! Even if it does get you attention, press, leads is it worth it? Most importantly, talk to other startups. Find ones you like and promote the hell out of them. The good ones are often not the ones in the battlefield. Get to know their pitch, value proposition, send people you talk to their way too to check them out. Finally, it’s all about the follow-up. What are you going to do after Disrupt?

Email is not content management!

According to an infographic CCLoop published, sourcing information from Mashable, “The Social Break-Up” by ExactTarget, and Neilsen Research (to name a few) an estimated 2.8 Million emails are sent every second. That’s 90 Trillion emails each year, and email usage continues to grow in both Consumer and Business markets.


Infographic by: ccLoop

It also cites “Attachment Chaos” as first of the Top Four Email Annoyances, and I bet your inbox contains more content than it should. I bet there are files, reports, presentations and other critical documents that aren’t being formally managed (even if you are required to do so). I bet you don’t save attachments as they come in, and spend … no – WASTE your valuable time searching for attachments when you need them.

I say this with confidence, because last month Openera issued a poll asking “How do you Manage your Attachments?”. While it came as no surprise to us, almost 65% of those polled indicated they search for attachments later when they need them.

There is a lot of noise in your inbox, which can result in lost attachments, missed opportunities and other headaches. To be on top of your game, you need to properly manage all of your documents and be able to access them on the spot. So why is it we keep using our inbox as a content management system?

Are we too lazy to save attachments as they come in? Maybe. It’s more probable that we’re too busy to be spending too much time worrying about saving stuff where it’s supposed to go, when we think we can just look for it later when we need it.

Sure, there are a number of ways you can “manage” your content in your inbox(es): Creating and managing multiple folders, setting up custom search filters, or  being incredibly diligent in saving each and every attachment as you see it. No matter how you slice it though, each is very manual and time consuming.

Isn’t technology supposed to make your life easier? When it comes to your inbox, or inboxes, don’t you wish your stuff could just go where you want it to?

Exactly.

We know how frustrating it can be to keep track of all of your attachments across multiple inboxes. We also know how annoying (and unnecessary) it is when someone says “we have a solution for that – but you have to completely change the way you work in order to use it”. This is why SmartCloud automatically tags and saves your important attachments precisely where you want them to go … without changing the way you work.

How are YOU managing your email attachments today? Leave us a comment, let us know what tactics or services you’re using to keep your inbox clean, and attachments organized.

And of course, you can Go Here to learn more about SmartCloud

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