The workday is almost over. Papers are returned to the drawer, feet are on the couch, but the e-mail has not yet arrived. One more mail message, but one on which your future depends. The final query from your potential investor, the last round of forms to close the big deal. However, working hours in the US are different from here, and so you find yourself opening the computer every five minutes. The evening hasn't begun, and work hasn't finished.
Perhaps you are not really heavy users of e-mail; once every few days a colleague's joke or a photo of your friend's child arrives from overseas. So why bother to open the computer so frequently, and look for the longed-for e-mail?
NECS, better known as MailPush, was set up to provide a solution for these situations in March 1997. The working assumptions of the founders, Zvika Eadan, Yoni Amit, Moshe Gelber and Noah Amit, was that an increasing number of people are conducting an increasing amount of business via e-mail compared to the telephone. Yet, while the telephone rings whenever it fancies, e-mail remains buried deep inside the mail server until the precious moment it is hooked up.
That is how the MailPush idea was born. It is a service that advises subscribers over the telephone that mail has arrived. The notice can be served via the telephone (regular or cellular), a pager, by fax or by dialing a computerized station. The notice starts with a human voice telling you, "You have new e-mail," after which a computer reads to you, using 'text to speech' technology, the sender's name and the subject - without the attachment of course.
It is also possible through the voice menu to request a printout of the mail notice, after you have been advised of its arrival, from a fax machine whose number you can key in. You can also receive an SMS (Short Message Service) on appliances capable of enabling this. In Israel, the service can be used only in the technology used by Cellcom.
The Americans loved the idea, at least on paper. The announcement of MailPush's service was published through several media channels, online, sparkly, chrome. It was the peak of a public relations campaign invested in the US, but it should be recalled that not every press release waved about by an anonymous start-up is taken up by ZD Net-1 news.com.
Returning to the service, the idea is all well and good, but then the questions arise. Zvika Eadan, retired fighter pilot who serves as company general manager, says that it turned out that many subscribers to the service used it as a pager. In other words, if the computer takes the trouble to read you the subject, why doesn't it send you the e-mail message?
Let's return for a moment to registration. The site (www.MailPush.com) gives the impression of being completely professional and well-designed, and in contrast to other blue-and-white (Israeli) sites, browsing the site is a simple and user friendly procedure. You need to answer several basic questions in a fixed menu, fill in required perimeters in all four service options (telephone, pager, etc.)
You can limit the notices to certain hours, to avoid getting an electronic ring in the middle of the night. You can screen the notices that you want to receive through different parameters, among them the sender's name and the message contents. But, wonder of wonders, the default on the telephone item is Cellcom, and this is not incidental. Cellcom entered the company at the seed stage, putting $500,000 on the table, for what in the meantime appears to an excellent deal, in exchange for 51% of control in the company.
MailPush received a strategic roof over its head, with the name Bell South (Cellcom's partner) not expected to cause any real damage to the small start-up's planned global spread.
Another private, anonymous investor entered the company, receiving only 10% of the company, for three times the price Cellcom paid - $1.5 million, based on a company value of $15 million after money.
How does all this work? According to Eadan, MailPush developed algorithms capable of sampling one million mail boxes from a simple server within ten minutes. The service functions independently to the Internet server's identity, but does not yet function on Internet-based e-mail.
"Globes": What about security? Can you also read message contents?
Eadan: "No-one can access the passwords and messages."
No-one? Not even your employees?
"If one of our programmers wants to open a mail notice, he can, but we have now applied to the government office for databases to inspect the process and accord us official approval on the security point."
In the meantime, MailPush has 10,000 subscribers, 8,000 of them in Israel. Overseas, the product is still in the beta stage. The company is currently in the throes of deploying dialers (servers with dialing cards that are capable of sending the messages on local dialing). The deployment process includes strategic partnerships with Internet access and cellular providers, and telephony companies. MailPush requires these partners in order to install access servers in the various countries of the world. In exchange, it provides them with a competitive advantage by offering the service, and increased revenues through the sharing of profits.
So far, MailPush's services are not available everywhere. Dialers have been installed in the US, Switzerland, South America, Brazil, Chile, Venezuela, Colombia, Hong Kong and Japan, and are expected to be installed shortly in Germany and Britain. The fat market in South America arose from MailPush's hit following a lecture by Eadan about the company at a Bell South cellular phone convention in South America, that enthralled the participants.
Why should ISP (Internet Service Providers) hook up to you? ?You take away subscribers' surfing time by reducing the number of connections.
"Everyone today works by the monthly service package method, which enables you to surf unlimitedly for a fixed amount. But it is correct that they lose money on it, and there is a clear trend of going back to hour-based charges. Nevertheless, we give them the chance of offering an additional service and profiting from it. I have a good opener when I visit them and offer the service. I tell them that 'I want to apologize for serving your customers without your permission. I will therefore give you one shekel for every monthly subscriber I have.'"
The company already has several cooperation agreements with local companies, mainly at the start-up stage and engaged in the SMS fields, such as Netology (a Comverse Efrat subsidiary), Unitel, engaged in unified messaging, and others. Despite the cooperation, the name MailPush evokes annoyance in these companies, although their fields of endeavor do not overlap.
The disadvantages versus the competitors are obvious: MailPush does not offer an integrated mail service, designed for organizational users and according clear advantages such as cross referencing messages from various sources and transferring them by various means, or a follow-on service that Unitel provides, for example, which follows after you with urgent messages through fire, water and even your mother-in-law. On the other hand, the service is cheap, swift and immediate, although limited to e-mail and the private user. According to Eadan, the company is at the height of negotiations "with one of the world's largest companies," to integrate the product in organizational software.
There is another product that competes with MailPush in the home user niche, but it is not yet certain whether it will succeed. It is an Israeli development called Roster, a sort of colored box attached to the telephone that shows the number of e-mail messages received off-line. The major disadvantage is that there is no information regarding the contents or the sender, and all the copies notices must be directed to the company's server.
How can MailPush make money?
"We charge a subscription fee, according to the service package, use and strategic partner."
But with all the expenditure you mention - dialing, deployment, royalties to strategic partners and the voice engine - what remains?
"We are considering combining advertising. There are many entries into our site and we can put banners there. We are also examining the possibility of voice advertisements."
MailPush expects to accumulate millions of subscribers by the year 2000. The company plans to expand its customer base with the entry of Internet-based e-mail and by "bundlings" - including the product in hardware manufacturers' software packages.
MailPush's developments are original, refreshing and in the meantime accord it the advantage of being unique. However, the company will now have to stand its products to the market test, and design a clear business model in order to make the company truly profitable. Unless someone comes along and purchases it.
Published by Israel's Business Arena November 11, 1998