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Disrupting mobile email with gusto

A live screenshot of how the Gusto App displays images.
Krystal Shannon

Smartphones can do everything from remotely unlocking your front door to waking you up to the smell—that’s right, smell—of sizzling bacon.

Yet even though our smartphones provide us these wondrous (some might say frivolous) applications, there’s one thing we do more on our phones than anything else. You might think that the number one thing we do on our phones is update our Facebook statuses or retweet celebrities or watch YouTube videos of cats. But you’d be wrong. In fact, the number one most popular activity on a smartphone is checking email.

Seventy-eight percent of people regularly check email on their phone and 57 percent say their email app is the one app they can’t go without—not even for a day. To put that in perspective, more people would rather go without their phone’s alarm clock (31 percent) than their phone’s email. Although, to be fair, alarm clock apps that wake you up to the smell of bacon were not included in the survey.

It’s clear that with 51 percent of emails now being opened first on a mobile device, people need inbox access no matter where they are. So, why then are so many email apps designed as watered-down versions of their desktop counterparts? If people are using email more on their smartphone than anywhere else, then why are features that are commonplace on your desktop email, like the ability to attach a file to a new message, missing from so many mobile email apps?

Like field medics making do with what they have until they can be air-lifted to a hospital, most of us use mobile email apps just to buy enough time until we can return to our desktop. The mobile email market is ripe for disruption, and there’s a new player called Gusto that just secured a $1.3 million investment and is quickly setting itself apart from competing mobile inboxes.

I recently had the chance to interview Gusto CEO Shawn Schwegman to learn more about how he hopes to change how people think about mobile email.

Krystal Shannon: There’s no shortage of email apps out there. What makes Gusto different?

Shawn Schwegman: Our goal isn’t just to help people be more productive on email—it’s to help people bring order to the chaos of their digital lives. Technology is supposed to make our lives easier, but when you consider that the average person manages multiple email accounts, uploads hundreds of photos across different social networks, and uses a bunch of different cloud storage services to store documents, it can make you long for the days when it was just landlines and typewriters. We designed Gusto to combine mobile email with built-in cloud storage so all of your photos, files and documents are right where you need them when you need them. Just as Google organizes and helps you find the world’s content, you use Gusto to organize and find your content.

KS: What was the “Ah-ha moment” for Gusto? When did you know you could have something big?

SS: My own personal frustration with email inspired me to produce something better. The more I talked to other people, I realized that they also had this pain. I am constantly on the go and having my life so spread out across other platforms made me think about why an app had to do one single function. Email on the go has never been more important than it is today. Being disappointed in current email capabilities inspired me to build something that simplifies basic functions.

KS: What are some of the features that you tried to bring to Gusto that aren’t available in other email apps?

SS: The two things that Gusto users always talk about are the ability to attach any file or photo to a new email message, and the ability to search their inboxes using more than just keywords. We’ve all had that experience when you all of a sudden needed to send a PowerPoint presentation or Excel spreadsheet to someone, but you were nowhere near your computer. Or how about when you need to find a specific email or attachment that someone sent to you, but your search keeps finding hundreds of emails because your keyword search isn’t specific enough. Those are frustrating experiences, and our users love that Gusto solves those problems.

KS: Why do you think it’s taken so long for mobile email to catch up with its desktop counterparts?

SS: I think that in an effort to keep mobile email apps simple, developers focused on reducing the number of features there were available in the app. That’s why things like the ability to attach files and photos to email messages got left on the cutting room floor. Ironically, developers’ efforts to keep things simple actually made mobile email apps more difficult to use. With Gusto, instead of cutting features that are common on desktop versions of email, we focused on optimizing those features for people who are always on the move.

KS: Who should use Gusto?

SS: One of our biggest goals when developing Gusto was to make sure that anybody could pick it up and use it. Whenever we create a new feature, a few of us will have some of our not-so-techy friends or parents try it out to see if it’s easy to use. Tests like that help us make sure that it’s not just geeks like us that know how to use the app. Anyone who’s familiar with smartphones and email apps will be immediately familiar with Gusto. Of course, we’ve also added a few simple features to make things even easier—things like being able to pinch to expand each message for easier reading, or view files and photos in a tiled view instead of a list. We like making subtle additions that can add a lot of value.

KS: The Gusto app is free in the iTunes App Store, so how does the company make money?

SS: Right now we’re focused on introducing as many people to Gusto as possible. Eventually, we may introduce some premium versions of Gusto that offer more features and integrations, but our goal is to keep a version of Gusto free of charge forever.

KS: What’s next for Gusto? What are your plans for Gusto in the future?

SS: Right now, Gusto only works with Gmail so we’re in the process of adding support for Yahoo Mail, Outlook/Hotmail, AOL, Exchange, iCloud and more in the coming months. And, while I can’t give away too much, you can look forward to seeing some features that make it easier for people to access files and photos from social media and cloud storage accounts within the Gusto app.