Dubious Startup Ideas #1: Simple Email Workflow

February 12, 2007

About a couple of times a week, I have an idea for a startup.  Most of these ideas likely wouldn’t make for good startup companies (or for that matter, even a product for an existing company).  But, one person’s dubious idea may be another person’s brilliant insight (or possibly lead to it).  So, I thought I’d kick off a series of these and share some of the ideas that occur to me in the hopes that someone says:  a) it’s already been done  b) it shouldn’t be done   c) it can’t be done or d) hmmm.  Interesting.


So, to kick off the series, here’s my first dubious idea.


Dubious Startup Idea #1:  Simple Email Workflow With An Outlook Plug-In


I send and receive lots and lots of email.  My life runs on email.  But, I find most of the current email clients lacking a few basic (but very useful) features that I think would be easy to implement.  So, my idea is for an Outlook plug-in (I pick Outlook simply because that’s the client I use) that would do the following


  1. Response Expected:  Let me flag messages I send out as being “response expected”.  Once a message is flagged as such, the system would monitor to see if the message actually ever got a response from the recipient.  Once such a message comes in, the original message would go back in to “normal” state.  If a response didn’t come in, it would show up on a list somewhere (see below).


  1. Response Required:  I’d like to flag incoming messages as soon as I scan them as being “response required”.  This is a mental note to myself that a given message requires some response on my part.  Similar to #1, if I don’t respond within a certain time (hopefully, user configurable), the message will show up on a list of messages requiring attention.


  1. Someone Should Respond:  This is similar to #1, except that I’d use it when there were multiple people on the “to” list of a message.  In this case, the system would “watch” to see if someone responds to the original message (likely some other party on the “to” or “cc” list).  If so, then the message is considered “handled”.  If not, then it would show up on the “attention required” list.


  1. Sender Significant:  I’d be able to mark any sender of a given email as being “significant” (this would be a toggle).  Until I turn this flag off, all messages from this sender would show up on the “Response Required” list (or otherwise be highlighted).


  1. Delegate:  This would be an extension of “response required”, except it would be an email forward to a designated recipient with an automatic “response expected” flag turned on (to make sure the person who received the delegation acknowledged).


That’s it.  Ideally, each of the above could be done with a single keyboard shortcut.  Something like this would likely do wonders for my email productivity (and ensure that emails get handled appropriately). I can’t tell you how many times I meant to handle an email, but then just had it slip through the cracks.  Outlook supports it’s “flag” feature, but that just doesn’t cut it for me as it doesn’t go far enough.


What do you think?  Is this idea dubious, or is there a need for something like this?  If such a tool existed, would you use it?


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