The death of email has been foretold for at least the past decade. Spam had the opportunity; Instant messaging had a motive; email overload had the means. Yet email has stubbornly refused to die.
Dmitry Grishin, the chairman and CEO of Mail.ru, Russia’s dominant email provider, believes the conventional narrative is all wrong. Email is, if anything, thriving: an IDC study commissioned by Facebook found that email was the most popular activity on smartphones, well ahead of Facebook and web browsing. With instant notifications on smartphones, “it’s become like an interactive tool,” Grishin says. “Email on mobile is moving closer to instant messaging.”
Grishin’s theory is getting a real-life experiment. Late last year, Mail.ru launched myMail, an email service that works only on mobile. According to Grishin, people coming online for the first time sign up for their email addresses on mobile phones. This includes new users in the usual growth areas—Latin America and India—as well as young people in the West. MyMail is specifically aimed at the US market. “Of course people all over the world will use it. But what we’ve seen is that if you’re successful in the US, that helps you be successful globally,” Grishin says from his office in Moscow.
The notion that email will only grow makes sense. As the next billion internet users come online for the first time, they need an email address to register for pretty much everything in the digital sphere. Email addresses form the basis of online identity. Betting against email would be like betting against the growth of the internet itself.
Right now it is Grishin’s bet that is paying off. MyMail was the most-downloaded among third-party email apps such Mailbox or Triage on both iOS and Android in June, according to numbers from Distimo. PrioriData, another app analytics firm, estimates the app has had more than 2 million downloads since it launched last November.
More than mail
Grishin’s strategy is to avoid direct confrontation with the likes of Gmail, Hotmail, and Yahoo. Instead, the app works like an email client, accepting email from a variety of accounts, both web-based and the more traditional POP or IMAP. That way people can keep their existing email accounts, get a new one, and combine them all within a single app.
But email is only the start of Grishin’s plans for the US. Like KakaoTalk has done in Korea, Line in Japan, and WeChat in China, Grishin wants my.com, which includes the companion apps myChat and myGames, to be the default communication for Americans.
My.com’s strategy, echoing its Asian counterparts, is to hook users on the communication apps and then reel them in to the gaming platform. That’s where there is revenue to be found, as mobile gamers typically don’t mind spending small amounts for extras like bonus lives or special powers.
“If you don’t have those games,” Grishin says, “we would need to charge money from users, or put a lot of advertising.”