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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?

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LOL! Openera @Startupfest in Montreal

Yes we are!

“Hey, do you want to go to Montreal for a couple of days and hang with a bunch of start-ups?”

That was my intro to the idea of the first International Startup Festival in Montreal. We weren’t really sure what to expect, but it definitely seemed like an event a bootstrapping startup should be at, if for no other reason than to connect with other startups and share ideas, pains, and opportunities.

Great Event.

Wow. What a fantastic event! StartupFest certainly didn’t disappoint.

Openera at Startup FestWe had the opportunity to hear from serial entrepreneurs who put us at ease that we’re not alone in this, and yes, startups are hard, but that doesn’t mean we should give up (even if it did seem like they were encouraging us to run away as fast as we can!) We gained incredible insight into the The Lean Startup Model, validating that we’re on the right path, and approaching things the right way. We had the fortuity of learning what VC’s and angels are looking for, and what to do, or not do, when seeking funding.

Here are some highlights of Startup Fest.

Here are our highlights from Startup Fest!

Adam Daw is a Hack! Officially.

Adam Daw - Hacker. Winner.

Openera kicked off our activities at StartupFest with our hacker-in-residence, Adam Daw (@adamdaw), competing at Context.io‘s hackathon at Notman House, and wouldn’t you know you know it – he took first place!

Adam Daw, you are a Hacker! What better way to kick things off for us – congratulations Adam! (enjoy the iPad!)

We knew right away…

…this conference was F*@%!ng Different!

There was certainly no shortage of amazing presentation from some incredible speakers. While Dave McClure ( http://500startups.com) (King of the F-bombs!) may have had entrepreneurs and founders curled up in the fetal position crying for mommy with his in-your-face keynote “Why *NOT* do a Startup” (I especially love the term “Wantrepreneur”), thankfully it wasn’t enough to make us run away screaming. Here are just a handful of presentations we attended that had a huge impact on us, as well as links to the decks on SlideShare where available:

“Startups are hard, but don’t give up”

Sarah Prevette‘s awesome napkin slide presentation “Your first Startup” and Tara Hunt‘s “Lies, Damned Lies, and Startups” (The cake is a lie!) – were sharp, witty, and authentic… Definitely the stuff a bootstrapping startup needed to hear to stay motivated.

“Lean, Mean, Startup Machines”

Ash Maurya‘s “10 Steps to Product/Market Fit“, Dan Martell‘s “Understanding the lean model“, and Ed Roman‘s “Lean Startup Cases” provided invaluable insight into the Lean Startup Model, and helped validate for us that we’re on the right track, and are doing the right things.

“To fund or Not to Fund” and “Exit → This Way”

Jeff Clavier‘s “Startup by numbers“, Stephan Ouaknine‘s “It’s all about shareholder value” gave us a lot to think about with respect to funding, VC’s, and Angels. Anand Agarawala took us along BumpTop’s journey from startup to being acquired by Google last year and gave some great advice in “The Art of the Hustle“, and Jeremy Edberg walked us through “A brief history of Reddit, the first YCombinator success“. Both were inspiring and insightful.

Art of the Elevator pitch

Openera at Schwartz's

StartupFest did a terrific job providing entrepreneurs with various opportunities to pitch their ideas to VC’s, Angels, and potential partners and/or customers. This included, pitching to Grandmothers (your pitch/product should be so easy to understand, even your Grandma “gets it”.), delivering your elevator pitch … in an elevator (literally), and, for a handful of startups, the opportunity to pitch on stage to a full audience.

We couldn’t resist: Openera Pitches SmartCloud in an elevator.

We weren’t planning on pitching at this stage in our development, but who could resist doing an elevator pitch, in an elevator, to a couple of VC’s sitting on couches? It was awesome! The feedback was exactly what we needed to hear. Hearing a VC say:

“You’ve got a great idea, you’re going to make money, but you’re not thinking BIG enough!”

Well, that was pretty inspiring. Message received. Thinking bigger!

Startup Fest was about a lot more than just presentations.

Bowling with Hippos

Bowling with Hippos

Way more than just presentations. People. Smart people. Entrepreneurs willing to build something, take chances and help each other. There was a LOT of fun to be had as well. Besides the Montreal nightlife, cuisine and electric atmosphere on the Main…there was bowling with hippos! Feel free to ask Scott Annan from Network Hippo to clarify!

Huge thanks to Phil Telio and his team for spear-heading this fantastic event. We hope to see this event back in Montreal next year!

What did you learn from StartupFest? Do you think this will become an annual event?

Big Important Things

Analytics is great for analyzing online data and metrics. How do we bring Analytics to the offline world? Is there a tool that can help us make better ‘offline’ decisions? Hiring, promoting, firing, disciplinary decisions, which forecast to trust? Which rep is doing the wrong things? Are our contracts being managed and are we compliant?

Analytics is important but we don’t make decisions based purely on exact science. We make gut decisions all the time. Analytics is no replacement for good gut decisions. How can we make better gut decisions? We don’t need all the data, we only need thin slices of data to make good gut decisions. (refer to ‘Blink’ by Malcolm Gladwell.)

Focus on the big, important pieces of data that actually matter to the offline world.

Wired in and hacking markets!

Coders get ‘plugged-in!’ when they are in the zone immersed deep in code and building their cool tech. I’m not a tech entrepreneur, I don’t code and build products. However, like tech entrepreneurs, I can get ‘plugged-in’ too. My hacking doesn’t include JSON or rails, network protocols, bandwidth, restful API’s or UI’s…I’m hacking dollars and markets, needs and wants, tweaking value props and pitches. I QA our message with customers and partners, and potential investors. I’ve heard really good golfers talk about ‘seeing the line’ to sink a long put. They don’t just see it, they feel it and everything else blurs out of their vision. That happens when I see niches in markets, problems that, with the right solution and right sales & marketing mix, can address huge markets. That’s when I am plugged-in, in the zone – I’m grocking the market. (another blog post: grocking the market)

My own cloud history (Part 1)

This is a partial re-post of a rather verbose post from last year. I’ve been thinking a lot about my own personal cloud history lately and this story is worth sharing again.

The Birth of Document Management | Interleaf was known for their technical publishing software (Interleaf 5 and 6 at the time) that ran on Unix and later PC. Because the documents our clients were creating were quite complex, we needed to provide them with ways to manage the documents and the Document Management industry was born. (It was a relational document management system sitting on an Oracle database, they called it RDM…very creative!) This was a fundamental that Interleaf got right. They listened to their customers and filled a need they were willing to pay for.
There was a real excitement over the future of document management and one of the most exciting times came when a developer web enabled RDM and our viewer technology called WorldView. (Way better than Adobe Acrobat at the time but Adobe decided to give away their viewer for free… well played Adobe. Well played.) This was in the heyday of Netscape and we called this web enabled viewer of business documents “Business Web”.
We went after our base and began selling. It was early, bleeding edge, but still garnered purchase orders. I began packaging services with the license and branded it the Business Web Starter Kit to get early adopters. It worked and at $50K a deal, we started doing quite well. Not mainstream success, but validated a need. I got more creative because I had to hit my quota. Working with GE Capital, I started offering customers a way to lease the licenses and roll in the services over 3 years. This approach brought PO’s from a few key accounts that had stalled. Then as objections arose around implementation, we began hosting business webs for clients who paid an annual license fee plus ‘maintenance’. We were able to secure a few clients before the wheels began to fall off at Interleaf and RDM was re-branded Quicksilver and the company sold to Broadvision.
Looking back on that time in the late nineties, I realize that it we had created a business model that made sense, but the technology was too bleeding edge at the time, and not mature enough to succeed. Most companies in the document/content management space eventually went to a hosted or ASP model by the mid 2000’s and Salesforce.com and Amazon matured the business model while addressing the security, performance and support aspects that made software-as-a-service (SaaS) mainstream and branded as “the cloud.” The technology was great, but it was the business model that made the biggest difference. We focused on the fundamentals and listened to our clients. They wanted to try bleeding edge technology to prove concepts and move the business further faster (one of our tag lines) but had limited capital budgets. By changing the business model, we tapped into operating expense budgets and reduced the friction of the sale.