Are you sick of receiving hundreds of worthless emails? Well thanks to Eli Holder, you no longer have to search through all those emails to find the important ones. Unblab.com automatically knows what emails are important so you don’t have to waste time finding them. Young Money recently interviewed Holder to find out more about Unblab and how it controls email overload.
YOUNG MONEY: Tell us about your company
ELI HOLDER: We started Unblab during the summer of 2008. Initially, we worked on a few different iterations of a webmail service that got a lot of great feedback, but was ultimately unviable from a business perspective. When we got into Launchbox Digital, in the summer of 2009, we were able to shift gears a bit and refocus on the parts of our product that provide the most value. We went from an email company that uses A.I. to an A.I. company whose first offerings solve problems in the email market.
Officially, Unblab builds software that solves the problem of email overload. Using proprietary artificial intelligence technology, our cloud-based software can intelligently predict which emails are most important to any individual email user.
The first product we’re releasing is GTriage, which saves Gmail users time by automatically finding and labeling the important messages within their Gmail inbox. We’re releasing this gradually over the next month or so.
We’re running GTriage as a “pilot product” and soon we’ll transition into our bigger offerings that will bring the benefits of our technology to the enterprise markets.
YM: Tell us about your background (education, etc)
EH: I’m from Greensboro, North Carolina and I graduated from UNC-CH about a year ago as a computer science major. I took the “entrepreneurial plunge” straight out of school… It’s amazing how much I’ve learned since getting out of school. In the first year I split my time between my consulting business and Unblab.
I co-founded Unblab with Anthony Deloso, who I met while I was still in school. Anthony is a sales/marketing genius. He can sell anything. He’s like a slightly-less-evil Steve Jobs.
While I get a kick out of pitching and selling, my responsibilities are more on the geeky side of the business. I take care of the code, the A.I., the model, and anything else that has to do with numbers or technology.
YM: What gave you the idea to start this business?
EH: One of Anthony’s clients from NBC was telling him about how he’d given up on email because he got way too much of it. He said he was switching entirely to Twitter, so he at least wouldn’t have so much to read. After that, Anthony came to me and said “What can we do about this?” So our original idea was to create an email service that would only accept emails that were roughly tweet-sized. Over the last year or so the idea evolved into what we’re currently doing, which is using artificial intelligence to help you cut out the blab in your life.
YM: Where did you get the funding for your business?
EH: Our first two private investors gave us a small amount of seed money to supplement our bootstrapping efforts and then our most recent funding came from Launchbox.
The next round is TBD, but we’re very pleased with the responses we’ve gotten in North Carolina. Besides growing events like CapitalConnects in Greensboro and funds like NC-Idea, there’s a very determined attitude towards building the startup community in NC.
As an example, since we’re still small and flexible, our plan was always to locate the company wherever our biggest investor wants us. We figured it would be somewhere near D.C. or the valley. In the last meeting where I explained this, though, the response I got was “We will make sure you stay in North Carolina”. And that seems to be the general attitude.
YM: What was the hardest thing you encountered while starting your business?
EH: The hardest thing for me is maintaining a healthy work/life balance. I have a tendency to get overly excited about what I’m doing and the next thing I know I’ve forgotten to eat lunch again or the sun is coming (back) up.
YM: What would you do differently?
EH: One of the biggest questions web startups will continue to face is “Well that’s really cool, but who’s gonna pay for it?” Not that a minor thing like “making money” has stopped other companies from reaching $1B (grin), it’s just something we should have put more focus on earlier.
YM: Who’s been your biggest influence in starting your business?
EH: Probably my parents. They started their jewelry store in Greensboro (Mark Holder Jeweller) only a year or so before I was born, so I pretty much grew up at the same time their startup was growing. I’m sure I picked up all kinds of lessons by osmosis, but I think the biggest was just their confidence in working for themselves. It made it a lot easier to turn down those first few job offers from “The Man.”
A close second is Tim Booras, who runs Freedom Beverage (also in Greensboro). Tim was one of my first consulting clients after graduating and he’s been a crucial resource for answers and advice ever since. Tim also has a unique style of doing business; it involves a zero-tolerance policy for B.S. and occasionally yelling very loudly into his cell phone. But even if you’re on the other end of the phone, it’s clear that he’s watching out for you. I admire that.
YM: How do you get your name out there and get customers? What has been your most effective marketing technique or tactic?
EH: For a geeky software company, marketing is one of our strong suits, thanks to my partner. What seems to work for us, at least from my perspective, is (1) for Anthony to do one of his awesome designs, and (2) for one of us to show it off. For example, I presented a chopped down version of his slide deck to SocialMatchbox in D.C., we won their “Sticky Pick” award, and that led to all kinds of good PR.
YM: What effect has the recession had on your business?
EH: It’s put a lot more emphasis on having a clear path to revenue, especially in terms of investor expectations. Overall, we’re happy to have started in a recession. We admit that it would be nice to have enough funding to buy a jet with “Unblab” embroidered on the rugs and curtains. However, I think that the foundations we’re laying now for running lean will pay off in the future in terms of a more responsible corporate ethos.
YM: If you could offer one piece of concrete advice to other people, what would it be?
EH: Approach everything as an experiment. And by “experiment” I don’t mean just occasionally saying “Well let’s see if this works”! I mean come up with a clear hypothesis and a cheap way to measure and test it. This will help you to not only make better decisions, but also to optimize just about everything you do.
YM: Is there anything else you would like our readers to know?
EH: Unblab is constantly doing new research and studies on how people communicate and interact with each other and we’re always looking out for new people to participate. If you want to help out and get a sneak peak at what we’re working on, send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.