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Interview with Sproutit CEO Charles Jolley

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I first came across Sproutit via Web 2.0 Central and was immediately intrigued by the blurb I read:

Everyday, small businesses, bloggers and freelancers waste hours answering their e-mail. This fall Sproutit.com will introduce the first software built exclusively for small businesses and individuals to solve this problem.

To this point, few details have been released about Sproutit’s first product – Mailroom. Mailroom is a web based e-mail management system designed exclusively for small businesses. It is set to debut at the prestigious DEMO conference next Monday (2/6) but I’ve been lucky to get a sneak peak – and I’m giving you one too (including a screen shot).

Charles Jolley, one of the founders and the President and CEO of Sproutit was kind enough to give me a demo of Mailroom and to do a little interview. In this interview, we discuss some basics about Sproutit, whether Sproutit is a “Web 2.0 company”, and of course take a look at Mailroom. The interview below was facilitated via Writely. Enjoy.

What’s the story behind Charles Jolley and Sproutit? What’s the origin of the Sproutit name and how did your team come together?

Sproutit.com was founded by Chris Bauman, Peter Gohman, and me in March of 2005. We started Sproutit because we believe that small businesses should have access to the same powerful software tools big business use.

The three of us met in school at Point Loma Nazarene University in San Diego. After graduation, we decided to launch a business together. Once we got to talking about our past experiences trying to find good software to run our small businesses, we knew what we had to do.

Since then, the three of us actually moved to Prague, Czech Republic to help launch our business. This is the internet after all-we can be anywhere. We thought: why not some place that is both exciting and 40% cheaper than California? We will only be here for 10 months or so, but it has made this startup unforgettable! We actually write about our experiences here on our blog, The Big Act.

Before Sproutit, I actually started my first company in 1997 right out of high school. But after 4 years and the dot com boom and bust, I decided that I needed a real education in business so I left the company and started school. During school, I started another business that provided the very first native word processor for Mac OS X, Okito Composer. Later I sold that to Nisus Software and helped them launch their award winning word processor Nisus Writer Express.

We chose the name “Sprout it” because that is what we want to help you do with your business: help it grow.

According to your Our Story page, your “mission is to build a suite of web hosted business applications uniquely designed for very small businesses.” Why web hosted’ and why for very small businesses’?

Business software can save you a lot of time and money. It can free you from more mundane tasks so you can focus on things that are more important, exciting, and fun. Unfortunately, most software is built for big companies. So we decided to focus on small businesses, especially those with 10 employees or less, because we want them to have this software too.

One thing small businesses do not have, though, is time. One of our goals is to make sure all of our software can be setup and used within 10 minutes. The best way to do this is with web hosted software. There is nothing to download and install. Just log in and get to work.

Is Sproutit a “Web 2.0″ company?

Definitely!

Some people think the whole Web 2.0 term is played out, but I disagree.

Broadly, Web 2.0 is about a new wave of innovation on the web. Thanks to tools like Ajax, RSS, tagging, and Ruby on Rails, we can create web-based applications far cheaper than ever before. This has inspired a lot of innovation that everyone should be paying attention to and having a good name helps spread that idea. That is why I think the term “Web 2.0″ is still important to use.

We are using Web 2.0 technologies to make once expensive business software easy and affordable for small businesses. We are one of many doing innovative things with these tools and I think it is good for all of us to be associated with “Web 2.0″

Tell me about your first product “Mailroom”. Why did you decide to start there?

Well, it sounds boring, but we did market research! We actually talked to about 30 small businesses from around the US. We found that most of them were spending up to half of their day just answering emails!

We thought: “what would happen if we could give these businesses that half of their day back?”

So Mailroom can sort, organize and even suggest replies. Best of all, it actually learns how you work. You just start using it like normal and in a few days it will take over and basically do everything for you. Email will be assigned to the right person, tagged and replies suggested. All you have to do is log in to approve the replies. Instead of spending hours on email, you spend minutes.

It’s perfect for mail sent to contact, sales, support, etc.

What’s the most compelling benefit of Mailroom?

Mailroom takes the work out of email.

It not only saves you time, but the time you do spend is not as much effort. You don’t have to organize your emails anymore, you usually will not even need to write a reply. You just get to do the fun part: hearing from your customers and interacting with them.

What are your thoughts on e-mail as a communication paradigm? Is it dead? Is e-mail so 5 minutes ago?

I think that in general there is a movement away from doing everything through you email inbox. The problem is we all get so much email, it’s hard to tell what we need to act on and what we can ignore. By using other tools to work together, you can reduce the amount of email you receive so what email you do receive and get the attention it deserves.

This is one way I think Mailroom can actually help make email more useful. Email from public addresses such contact, sales, or support, can generate the most email to clog up an inbox. Mailroom can take on this email and take it out of your regular inbox. That leave your regular email for what is best for: one-on-one communication.

Can you speak to the pricing of Mailroom and other applications? Will there be any free service or a trial period?

Mailroom is a web-based service. You can try it free for 30 days. We have several plans available ranging from $19 to $199 per month. There is no long term commitment, so you can cancel at any time. We also have a free version that you can use if your needs are very limited.

What should we look for from Sproutit going forward? Is there some sort of roadmap for the release of other applications?

You can expect to see a lot more business software from us designed just for small businesses. We plan to introduce our next product before the end of 2006. In fact, we are already using it to help run Sproutit. It will integrate with Mailroom, of course.

Ken Yarmosh is a consultant who helps organizations get the most out of their technology investments. He works with technology users and creators across various industries, focusing on technology education and strategy. With over 7 years IT experience, Ken has worked with small businesses, non-profits, federal agencies, and multi-million dollar companies.

His online efforts include acting as the Editor for the Corante Technology Hub and authoring the TECHNOSIGHT blog.

Interview with Sproutit CEO Charles Jolley
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About Ken Yarmosh
Ken Yarmosh is a consultant who helps organizations get the most out of their technology investments. He works with technology users and creators across various industries, focusing on technology education and strategy. With over 7 years IT experience, Ken has worked with small businesses, non-profits, federal agencies, and multi-million dollar companies. His online efforts include acting as the Editor for the Corante Technology Hub and authoring the TECHNOSIGHT blog. WebProNews Writer
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