Cerny '13 launches email productivity startup
As a student, Branko Cerny ’13 found himself inundated with emails and had no way of knowing which were important and which were not. To simplify the inbox, Cerny created SquareOne Mail, an application that presorts emails into categories based on importance, this past August.
“I wanted an email client that would only notify me of messages I cared about at the moment,” Cerny said in an email. “We want to empower users to be in charge of what they spend their cognitive resources on every day.”
A beta version of SquareOne was released this month, and a final version should be ready in January.
Cerny founded the company SquareOne with James Mock ’15, the company’s developer, and designer Sang Lee ’13.
SquareOne imitates psychological processes, such as separating emails into specific categories, to make checking email more efficient. The app will use algorithms and manual user behavior to learn which emails are of high importance.
“Rather than trying to solve the email problem by adding more functionality, we are redefining how users interface with email,” he said.
The company is currently in a second round of fundraising. In its first round it raised money from Wasabi Ventures and Kima Ventures.
Tom Kuegler, Wasabi Ventures’s co-founder, decided to work with SquareOne after meeting the founders at a Dartmouth-sponsored event.
“It’s almost always a bet on people,” Kuegler said. “Technology and ideas come and go. People are permanent.”
He said he would “make the same bet” on SquareOne if the founders approached him today. SquareOne is the first College-based startup that his company has worked with.
Wasabi Ventures worked closely with SquareOne through its launch, advising them about fundraising, business direction and engineering.
“It’s as if we were part of the co-founding team,” Kuegler said.
Cerny initially struggled to find advisors.
“Nobody tells you where to start — there is no corporate recruiting for startups,” he said. “You have to rely on instinct, and work hard on building a supportive network of people smarter than yourself. If you don’t send those extra 100 cold emails, that may be the difference between raising investment, and dying.”
Technology blog TechCrunch reviewed the app, but concluded it is unclear how well it will work because the app remains in beta testing. The algorithms essential to functionality are not yet available.
SquareOne will compete with other email productivity apps, includng Mailbox, Boxer and Boomerang, in addition to traditional email clients.
Before he began SquareOne, Cerny worked as an associate product marketing manager at Google, but left the company to focus on SquareOne.
“I think ultimately being an entrepreneur is not a real choice,” he said. “It’s a temperament, and you can only resist it for so long before you take the plunge.”
Cerny said new initiatives at Dartmouth, including the creation of a student innovation center that College President Phil Hanlon mentioned in his inaugural speech, will help foster community for students who want to be entrepreneurs.
“Startups are hard and it’s objectively speaking a crazy decision to do a startup with an Ivy League pick of job opportunities,” he said. “There needs to be a supportive community that fosters the sense that it’s crazy but it can be done, and that people are not alone in being crazy.”
Kuegler said the College has improved in the last few years at supporting startups.
“There’s a lot of stuff afoot to make things happen at Dartmouth,” he said.
The Dartmouth Entrepreneurs Forum gave SquareOne a $5,000 grant last year, and Hanlon referenced Cerny, Lee and Mock’s success in his inaugural address.
“They’ve founded a company called SquareOne Mail, which provides a mobile personal assistant for prioritizing your inbox,” Hanlon said. “All I can say is, sign me up yesterday.”
The College founded the Dartmouth Entrepreneurs Network in 2000 to help student entrepreneurs. The network has helped support over 300 student-run companies and projects.
The College also hosts events to promote student entrepreneurship, such as the Dartmouth Entrepreneurs Forum and Dartmouth Demo Day, which is run by Mitosis, a student-run entrepreneurship center.
Last year, three students were offered Thiel Fellowships, two-year $100,000 scholarships offered to students who leave college to create technology and science start-ups.
Cerny is a former member of The Dartmouth senior business staff.