Still using email for work-related messaging? It could soon be obsolete given the new messaging standard being developed by the Fleep team in Estonia. In 2012, former Skype employees got together with the ambitious goal of disrupting the corporate messaging market. Today, they’re competing not only with Google and Facebook, but email itself.

Fleep is the new email

“It’s funny, but it’s easy to compete with giants like these — says Fleep founder Henn Ruukel. They have a strategic focus on their area of strength, but everything else they do is very slow and very predictable. Facebook sells ads, so they’re only interested in users as a source of revenue. It’s the same with Google. Similar to Facebook’s messenger, Gmail is just a sideline to the business of selling ads. Consequently, people buying ads are of much greater interest to them. Small teams can change focus quickly and grow fast, so they are much more dangerous for Fleep.”

It all started in 2012, when a group of Skype employees decided to take on something new and ambitious. They looked around and realised that email was built in the 1970s and based on how postal mail worked and how people exchanged letters. That needed to change.

“Letters were pretty much brought to the electronic form, says Henn. but these days text communication is faster, much more conversational and much shorter in terms of message length. Of course you can use email for chatting with your team, but email is not optimised for conversation among the specific members. Every email message has its own life, so to say. For example, if someone removes somebody from the copy list, the person who added them will not know and will still expect an answer. That’s why the letter-style old system is not too effective, especially when it becomes a group conversation with messages going back and forth. It is very hard to manage if you think about the perspective of all the participants.”

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That’s why the Fleep team created a tool specifically designed for conversations for smaller teams and businesses. It is free and easily integrated with email. The main difference from Viber and WhatsApp is that it’s not a closed island and there’s no need for everyone to have an account to use it. You can add people to the conversation who are not Fleep users simply by adding their email address. If they decide not to use Fleep, they’ll receive messages as a normal email thread. But their replies will flow into Fleep chat as chat messages. One more exciting feature is the file folder where all attachments are stored and can be easily accessed. However, the strongest feature that users mention is a search tool for both specific chats and the entire group of chats in a user’s account. The search feature is also very well integrated with the attachments folder so all attachments are always at hand. It basically opens the door to the new generation of messaging, built specifically with teams and their workflow in mind.

Early adopters

With about 500 employees, Bigbank, a company that provides banking services across Europe (Spain, Sweden, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Finland, Germany, Austria and the Netherlands), is one of Fleep’s early adopters. Their marketing, IT and HR teams have been conducting all internal conversations via Fleep for the past year and a half. They’ve noted the convenience of pinning important information to the conversation pinboard, seeing who has or has not read messages, and noting the last time a specific person read messages. It allows teams members to see what’s going on simultaneously. Fleep doesn’t send messages instantly, but allows a 30 second delay to let the user check for typos or make sure he is sending the right files.

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“Fleep helped me to streamline the communication that I have. Instead of having to answer Skype messages, emails and the other types of internal messages we have, I now have one program in which I can find everything. And I can also save time”, says Jim Seltenrijch, the Bigbank scrum master who manages the information exchange process within the company.

“When Henn came to me with the idea to start Fleep I immediately jumped on this because I saw it as an opportunity to continue my input into this asynchronous communication world”, says Jaan Tallinn, Skype co-founder and Fleep investor.

All in one?

“Skype and other conference calling services, where people dial in to a conference call, are useful, says Henn, but text conversations are much more useful because they do not require the physical availability of participants at the same time. Sometimes voice is faster, but generally voice group conversations require more time from each person than text ones. In February 2015, I totally stopped using email and went on to Fleep. It saves so much time. Based on mine experience as well as that of other users, we constantly evolve. And we know that our product will never be ready, like Facebook is never ready. We will constantly be changing. However, even now, at the angel investment stage, Fleep is already safer than email. This should be sufficient for most businesses and individuals out there.”

Thirty-five thousand people are now using Fleep across Europe and the USA, with the main revenue stream coming from the fee Fleep will charge for additional features such as control over conversations or accounts, which will be very useful for companies. For the general public Fleep is free.

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“Our ambition is pretty big, says Henn. If it were small, we wouldn’t have started. Being at Skype taught us to be ambitious, so now we would like to replace group email conversations with Fleep. We don’t expect people to use it to send newsletters or invoices, but it’s ideal for internal conversations between people, especially inside companies, and for communication by teams within the team. At the moment we’re competing with the email habit, so Gmail is our main competitor. And at the same time, we compete with team messaging market players such as Hipchat, Slack, Facebook Messenger and Skype. We’re at the crossroads of those two markets, but we don’t look to integrate everything into Fleep because in doing so we would lose the strengths of the different services. We’d simply end up with the service only using the features that are shared across all of the services, which would result in a negative user experience. Moreover, integrating other companies’ messengers would be hard because if they changed their side, the experience for our users would be bad.

With email integration it is really ambitious. That’s the biggest thing out there! It’s the standard! But it is also easy, because email is not owned by anyone. Maybe that’s why it is a bit outdated for today’s realities, when many people work remotely and teams are spread across countries and time zones. The area of communication is very interesting and the idea that I can help people to solve problems with communication drives me. I see that there is huge miscommunication if there is no will to understand each other, but the field of communication technology can really help. I am also fascinated by the idea that today people don’t have to share a room to get work done”.

Fleep Founder Henn Ruukel
Fleep Founder Henn Ruukel

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