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Cambridge's PowerInbox launches API to help users do more with e-mail than just read it

Posted by Scott Kirsner  April 18, 2012 11:00 AM

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PowerInbox has a pretty compelling proposition for both senders and recipients of e-mail. For recipients, the company wants to make it possible to do more than just scan your incoming messages; you're able to take action, commenting on Facebook photos, scheduling appointments, or donating to worthy fundraising campaigns. And for senders, the company says that by making it easier for users to engage — and buy stuff— more easily, e-mail becomes a much more effective tool.

Today, PowerInbox is releasing its Connect API, which makes it easier for companies to deliver these more functional and interactive e-mails, and for users to see them in their inbox without having to download any special software. (That's assuming you use e-mail clients from Fuser, Unified Inbox, or Smak; others will still require a download.) It'll be interesting to see if larger e-mail companies, like Gmail or Outlook, decide to embrace the Connect API.

"We think that interactive e-mail can be as big of a trend as mobile and social are," says Matt Thazhmon, founder and CEO of PowerInbox. (He's pictured at right.) The company isn't yet focused on monetizing the product, but Thazhmon hints that it may eventually be able to up-sell certain services to marketers, in return for bringing more visitors to their web sites or making more purchases happen inside the inbox.

Already, PowerInbox makes it possible to see a live Groupon countdown without leaving your inbox; view a video from Boston-based Vsnap; or make a donation via Boston-based Fundraise.com.

Thazhmon says the eight-person startup is outgrowing its current Kendall Square space. PowerInbox has so far raised $1.9 million from venture capital firms like Founder Collective, Atlas Venture, and Egan Managed Capital, along with angel investors including Mike Dornbrook (ex-Harmonix COO), Russ Wilcox (former E Ink CEO), and Eric Groves (ex-Constant Contact SVP.)

"The hard part of what we're trying to do is creating a market," Thazhmon says. "We need to have both senders and receivers, as well as consultants and contractors who know about interactive e-mails and can introduce them to their clients. Creating that ecosystem from scratch is the hardest part, especially when everyone is so fixated on mobile and social." He notes that while Facebook boasts 800 million users, there are an estimated two billion people who use e-mail.

Here's an example of how PowerInbox makes it possible to favorite and comment on an Instagram photo without leaving your inbox:

Last June, I shared the story of how PowerInbox moved from the Bay Area to Cambridge.

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Scott Kirsner was part of the team that launched Boston.com in 1995, and has been writing a column for the Globe since 2000. His work has also appeared in Wired, Fast Company, The New York Times, BusinessWeek, Newsweek, and Variety. Scott is also the author of the books "Fans, Friends & Followers" and "Inventing the Movies," was the editor of "The Convergence Guide: Life Sciences in New England," and was a contributor to "The Good City: Writers Explore 21st Century Boston." Scott also helps organize several local events on entrepreneurship, including the Nantucket Conference and Future Forward. Here's some background on how Scott decides what to cover, and how to pitch him a story idea.

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