Where Orchestra is Headed
About a year and a half ago we started Orchestra with the mission of taking the friction out of working together: we figured that if you make collaboration easier, you increase the rate at which the world is cultivated (even if ever-so-slightly).Last September we launched Orchestra To-do, our first attempt at carrying that mission through to a product. The vision was simple: everyone uses email as a (terrible) to-do list because that’s how they actually communicate with others to get stuff done. What if we made a better to-do list with communication built right in?
The result was a product that was very well-received. Lifehacker calls Orchestra the best to-do app for iPhone. Apple named it the 2011 Productivity App of the Year. And perhaps more importantly, user reviews have been nothing short of amazing. In short, the response has been more positive than we could have possibly imagined.So that’s the good news. But as we analyzed how people used Orchestra, we discovered two challenging facts. First, most people (even the very excited ones) stop using Orchestra over time, in a pattern similar to other to-do lists. And second, no matter how much people use the app, almost everyone still has tasks trapped in their email. At best what you get is a two-tool world: two systems that you have to stay on top of, with one of them (Orchestra) getting used less and less over time. Back in December we started exploring ways to fix these two issues. Why do to-do lists become less useful over time, we wondered. And what do we do about the fact that we aren’t solving the tasks-trapped-in-email problem? We have always believed that the best way to build a great product is through copious amounts of iteration: you take your best shot at solving a problem, see what works and what doesn’t, refine your approach and try again. And again. And again.
Somewhere along that path of iteration we asked ourselves a question: what if we turned our approach on its head? Rather than trying to create a to-do list with email-like functionality, what if we transformed the inbox in which people already collaborate? At first the idea seemed crazy. Email felt like this massive thing that startups don’t mess with. “This path is paved with corpses,” one friend told us. To be really blunt, we were scared. But as we explored the idea and the capacity of our team to tackle it, we felt emboldened. We realized we could apply everything we had learned about building fast, friendly, mobile collaboration tools to the inbox. We can’t replace email, but we can change how we interact with it.We’re currently living in one of those special times in history where everything is being made anew. Smartphones are changing the world, like the Internet before them and PCs before that. These little computers in our pockets are transforming our expectations about what is possible, and in this new world our email inboxes, particularly on our phones, look more tired than ever.
Our relationship with email is broken. The tools we use to process it are clunky, slow, and disorganized. Email makes us feel overwhelmed and out of control, and we believe we can change that. We can create a better inbox, one specifically designed for the mobile world in which we now live. We think we’ve figured out a way to make “doing” email fast and delightful based on all we’ve learned from Orchestra, and we’re building an app right now for just that. We’re calling it Mailbox, and while design, development, and testing are well-underway, we’re not yet ready to reveal it publicly. Please stay tuned if you’re interested — we’ll be sending out information about how to participate soon. What does this mean for Orchestra To-do? Someday Mailbox may offer all the functionality of our current app, but initially it will focus on making email fast and delightful. So for the foreseeable future, we’re going to keep supporting Orchestra To-do. We use it everyday to run our office and build Mailbox — we rely on it, and we know many of you do too. Startups focus or die, though, so we don’t plan to add new features to Orchestra To-do.
Based on everything we’ve learned from Orchestra and its users, we believe that the best way to carry out our mission — the best way to take the friction out of working together — is to transform the inbox. With Mailbox we hope to do just that, and we hope you’ll continue to join us on the journey ahead.