Thoughts on entrepreneurship, startups, and tech.


I’d Like To Have Some Superhero Powers One Day

We have such an intimate relationship with email, probably because for a lot of us, it was our first experience with the Internet. Before its birth, we wrote letters which were an expression in itself and we waited impatiently for replies that nourished our deepest dreams. Writing was an art back then, and the romanticism of it all slowly melted away with the arrival of technology but curiously enough, has left an unmistakable odor hanging in the air. Rare are the innovations in this space that is so tightly intertwined in one of our fundamental means of communication that the arrival of something novel in this space merits our most in-depth attention. Superhuman is a new email app (though it’s been in the works for a couple of years — which is an important fact to remember) and on top of many of its (extremely) sophisticated functionalities, has reintroduced the “beautiful” in SaaS, and returned the pleasure of email.

Creativity must be about questioning the way things are, and doing them differently. (Dave Trott)

Now I am not related in any way, shape or form to the folks at Superhuman nor have I been asked by anyone to write on this subject. But I do have over ten years of experience in this space, have founded, co-founded, advised and worked at more than dozen startups, and I’ll admit, this is the first time I’ve penned a post on a specific project. When something new appears, clouds of flies materialize out of nowhere competing for attention. But what’s considered standard practice in the art or music industry (benevolent admiration and applause) is not in digital, and I’m weary of reading journalists and application reviews that can’t help but pick to pieces years of work and digging holes in “market fit” and “feature sets” to try and gain readership. So my first motivation in penning this piece is to simply praise the work of the team behind Superhuman. Recognising the work of this courageous team (that is definitely going against the flow), is the first and foremost thing we need to do if we consider ourselves a constructive member of the industry. Projects going “outside of the box” are what we need more of today because, just like the vast majority of prominent human works from cuisine and art to literature and science, they tend to take time and patience to both create and appreciate. And if we as a society want more social and economic reform (amongst others), it’s time we all take a minute and reach out to the people moving forward and give them a thumbs up.

The next thing that got my pen (keyboard) stirring was the remarkably innovative UI/UX — I haven’t been struck by something this unusual in years.Sure there have been some memorable forays by Pandora, Uber, Medium, Apple, Quartz & Tinder to name a few but in such an established category like email?! But this is a delicate subject because it is riddled with all sorts of biases and under the umbrella of intangible personal tastes so I’ll leave the appearance element out of it. Innovation also brings with it the inevitable resistance to change, and the thing I hear repeatedly is “who would be crazy enough to ‘pay’ for e-mail anyway?” Everyone already has one, and it’s free. That’s the problem.

Technology changes, humans don’t. (Hugh Macleod)

People don’t like change and “loss aversion” produces inertia, meaning a strong desire to stick with your current application. But that’s not the only reason for inertia, people have a more general tendency to stick with their current situation, and that’s referred to as the “status quo bias.” We humans follow (more than we think) a practice or a tradition not because we like it or even think it’s useful, but merely because we imagine that most other people like it too. But as most people learn from others, which is how individuals and societies develop, that’s why I’m writing this post. SuperHuman basically brought me back to email (from chat & Slack). I’ve rediscovered the wholeness and pleasure of reading and writing thoughtful text once again vs. reacting to the never-ending flows of often spontaneous and incoherent synchronous blurbs. Superhuman achieves this through a timeless blend of design. It has both a beautiful yet minimalist interface (desktop & mobile) and astonishingly powerful yet effortless navigation. After a few cycles of technological development over the past 20 years (since email was launched), more than ever, our senses are finally taking back control, we now crave experiences that are more tactile and human-centric. This is key to understanding the modernity of it all and what’s surprising about Superhuman is that it looks toward the future of technology, without forgetting the past.

Yet the one thing that jumps and strikes me the most with Superhuman is the onboarding process (which I thought we were going to be the first to use at my latest gig lol) and the extreme personal attention throughout the first weeks of usage which overshadows even the most focused customer service organizations today. This topic is subject to so much advice and belly dancing it’s a wonder every startup doesn’t follow through on it! But at the same time, I also worry that in raising all apps to a plane of unprecedented niceness (think of all those Ai bots that are in the makings), it’s going to create a drearily level playing field. Luckily there aren’t many internet companies going out of their way to show that they care because, they reason; more services, and products are being purchased today without the help of human interaction and as a result, the fewer customers feel connected with the brand. Wrong. Companies are continuing to miss out on tremendous opportunities to put a human touch on their brands. The simple truth is, customers today don’t have to be loyal, they can just move on to an array of other competitive companies without sacrificing quality or convenience. But what most decision makers miss is they will continue to engage with those companies that go out of their way to support and show their appreciation for their service. That’s a significant difference in how a business will thrive andSuperhuman is one of them who is creating some outstanding emotional resonance with its customers and in a world full of faceless email applications, the style and method are so admirable.

Oh yes, I could have underlined some of the underlying technologies and functionalities that make it so amazingly fast. Technology has indicted a loss of patience, our gadgets train us to expect near instantaneous responses to our actions, and we get frustrated and annoyed at even brief delays. Our representation of time is easily distorted by context, and it changes with our emotional state, and what more elegant example of impatience is email — and this is also where Superhuman shines.

Asking what superpower a person would love to have is a fun pastime that we have all taken part in. The answers, of course, all depend on the age of the person. Kids tend to choose cool powers like flying or superhuman strength yet adults prefer invisibility, mind-reading, and teleportation. Sure, selecting a superpower based on personal gain is the most significant factor in these debates, and that’s the proposal I’m leaving you with. If your time is precious, like mine, you might want to use Superhuman until which time, you discover your superhero powers, and the Avengers give you call.

SaaSAndrew PatersonComment