An e-mail tool Superhuman closed a 33mil. USD investment from Andreessen Horowitz’s star fund last week. The investment evaluates the whole company to $260m. A bubble? I have personally tried Superhuman, I went through the whole onboarding process and used it as my main client for a few weeks. And I would like to put in my two cents as you might have a similar experience with other startups you read about in TechCrunch.
Let’s start practically — with numbers. Superhuman is a service that costs 30 USD/month. Which is, let’s be honest, quite a lot. If we realize, that even without this service, we can use e-mail completely for free. What Superhuman is charging for is the user’s experience. An ability to help us deal with e-mails more efficiently. Regardless of this, the service has 15 thousand users today (450K USD in revenue per month if every one is paying the full price.) And next 180 thousand people on the “waiting list” looking forward to receiving the invitation.
By LinkedIn data, there are 42 employees working at the company. And the company itself was founded 5 years ago.
If we think about all of this, we’re talking about the company that got into the phase of having ~50 employees and monthly turnover 450k USD in just 5 year period. Small and “functional” company ( ~10K USD/revenues per employee).
If I look at companies around me, I think I would be able to find a lot of them working very similar. And in many different areas. Like coffee shops, industrial companies, media agencies and/or startups at various segments. (We have much better ratio ourselves, but we don’t write about it anywhere, hah).
My way to the Superhuman
I got in touch with superhuman around the end of 2018, before the issued press release. After my experience with three e-mail clients (Polymail, AirMail, and Sparrow) I was hoping someone is finally developing a tool that will really make my work with e-mails easier.
I deal with around 30 e-mails a day (not a lot in comparison with 90 e-mails a day I was dealing with 3 years ago). My ultimate goal is an inbox zero, establishing the most effective flow of the conversation and reacting to e-mails in such a way that will prevent more unnecessary questions. Maybe that’s why I’m spending >3 hours every day just on e-mails.
I am a Gmail user. So I was telling myself this. If people from Superhuman were able to take the basis of what Gmail offers, boost it with new functions and increase the speed of my work → they got me hooked for quite a long time. It is good to say I’m not really sensitive about the price when it comes to work tools.
Why the hype?
In the last few years, I have seen many e-mail tools on ProductHunt, but I have never decided to try some. Understanding the flow of the new tool, learning new shortcuts and getting used to the new environment takes time.
Last year I’ve seen the Superhuman everywhere. From all entrepreneurs, I follow on Twitter there was not a single one that didn’t mention it. Media were praising the tool so about a month ago, I applied for an invite.
What followed next is the reason, why I think Superhuman is so popular.
Personalized e-mails, Twitter replies and really great onboarding process… well, I’ll describe it to you more in detail.
Right after signing-in to the Superhuman, I received an email from the company’s founder Rahul Vohra. It was written in such a way, that I was really interested in filling the questionnaire. Very specific, mentioning the price and a clear benefit (“twice as fast as before”).
Shortly after filing the form I got an offer. The Superhuman specialist offered to connect with me via Zoom to help him understand how do I use an e-mail and also to explain how can the service help me. The whole process was really smooth. Easy choice of call time and immediate invite to Google calendar event so I’m sure I won’t miss it. Long story short I got through the call and Ryan was awesome! We talked about his ex, which came from the Czech Republic and stuff :D
If every SaaS tool would offer a call like this, their churn rate would be at least 50% lower (it was much harder for me to send a cancelation e-mail to Ryan after this call).
Briefly about the service
It’s weird how I fell in love with a brand of Superhuman and the company itself, even though I didn’t write a single letter about the service yet. It’s weird because I canceled my subscription last week. And I’m not planning to re-subscribe, at least not for now. Why? My e-mail work didn’t get quicker, it is even more complicated and takes more time. I’m not attributing this to the fact of the need to learn new shortcuts which Superhuman advice me to (basically same as in the Gmail browser.) But it’s because the service has a few shortcomings I don’t want to get through.
Inbox Zero background — ok, I may be a fascist about this, but I just don’t want to get used to constantly changing background pictures. I don’t care. All I want is a black and white background and that’s it. No pictures of landscapes, polar bears or sunset. If I wanted this, I would buy a Windows PC.
Work with files — today I work mainly with two types of files. Contracts and invoices. I want to read the contracts in the quick previews and to save invoices right to the Drive for an accountant. The Superhuman can do quick previews, but not direct saves to the Drive. So instead of 3 clicks, I have to download the invoice and upload it to a Google drive.
Confusing options — somehow I closed the “tab” with one of the two mailboxes which I had connected to the Superhuman. How to reopen it? It took me 15 minutes to figure that out.
Besides that, I have to admit that automated opening of the next e-mail (if you’re done with one, next opens automatically) is something that saved me a couple of seconds every day. However, it’s not enough for me to stick with the service. UPDATE: you can activate this in your Gmail too (Gmail Labs > Auto Advance)
Back to startups, valuation and subjective opinion
Superhuman is a great service but a very average product. It’s like a restaurant with an awesome service but average food. Maybe you will come back but you won’t pay 30 USD/month for such a thing. And this is perhaps the similarity I see between Superhuman and other startup. You get a very standard and average product wrapped in cool Patagonia vest (appreciate the vest).
I wish Superhuman good luck to become a functional company. But today I will not become their customer.
But what about the e-mails? I don’t know yet. I will continue to work with the Gmail and secretly hope that the Basecamp founders will create an e-mail management tool with the customer being truly in the first place.
Until that time, I’m afraid that no “hundred-million-dollar company” in the field of e-mail management tools will be created. And I mean real value. Not the value that VCs are willing to pay in San Francisco. We’ve seen that uber-many times before.