Web-first, mobile-first, tablet-first, etc. etc. etc. All startups start somewhere, evaluating several factors (product, market, team, timeline, competition) to determine the right strategy.
One of the less common approaches is the email-first startup. Email-first enables startups to:
- Validate ideas quickly. Generally it’s faster to build an email-first product than a full website or mobile application. The sooner you can get your product into customers hands, the sooner you can learn what does and doesn’t stick.
- Fake it ‘til you make it. Email is largely asynchronous, allowing room to fake functionality with manual processes (see Wizard of Oz experiments).
- Force focus. Email doesn’t afford feature-creep. Email-first products are limited, forcing you to be succinct and focused on particular use case.
- Create habits. We check our email several times a day. If done right, email products can become a part of users’ daily habits.
- Be ubiquitous. Everyone users email and email doesn’t discriminate against devices or operating systems.
- Transfer to other mediums. Up/cross-selling to web or mobile offerings is easier when there’s a reliable channel for communication.
- Timehop - began as 4SquareAnd7YearsAgo emailing Foursquare check-ins from exactly one year ago.
- iDoneThis - created over a weekend, simply email iDoneThis with the tasks you accomplished that day and the following morning an email will be sent to your team.
- Thrillist - created a hand-made, email newsletter on men’s lifestyle.
- AngelList - narrowly focused on providing a curated list of angel investors delivered via email weekly.
- Sunrise - morning email of your day’s schedule each day. Simple. Useful.
If your product and market fits the medium, consider an email-first strategy.
Update 3/1/2013: I’m surprised by the overwhelming positive response. Visit HackerNews for more examples of email-first startups and interesting discussion.