When the number reached 12,000, I knew I was in trouble. Missing business and personal emails because of all the spam in my inbox, I watched powerlessly as my productivity and peace of mind declined. Surprisingly, my family life was far more impacted by my email woes than my business life. The missed appointment with my daughter’s teacher was the final blow. My daughter’s teacher sent me an email detailing the time of a mandatory parent-teacher conference, but I totally missed the email and then missed the meeting. Assuming I was one of those lackluster parents who weren’t fully invested in their child’s educational progress, the teacher then called me by phone to ensure that I heard her displeasure. It’s brutal to be scolded by your daughter’s 26-year-old first grade teacher. My wife was even less forgiving.
My experience is not unique, of course. All over the world, business moms, soccer dads, and seasoned corporate executives must contend with the reality of flooded email inboxes that stifle productivity, sour attitudes, and impact businesses. In addition to disrupting the “bottom line” of the businesses supported by those dealing with flooded inboxes, individuals wrestle with the effects on the homefront and in their broader personal lives. Before I took control of my email, I felt like I was letting a lot of important people down. There were some apps out there that promised to tidy one’s inbox and restore one’s sanity. But I found that most of the opportunities that lauded great service and great outcomes always missed the mark. I didn’t need the software to simply improve the organization of my inbox; I needed it to keep the unwanted emails at bay. When I stumbled across Unroll.me, I knew everything was about to improve.
From Frustration to Opportunity
I count myself among the millions of email users who deploy a powerful software tool that curates inboxes, keeps spam locked out, and gives consumers more control over their time. Amazingly, the service I’m referencing doesn’t cost me a thing. I also love the backstory connected with this breakthrough. Interestingly, Unroll.me wasn’t birthed in some clandestine software R and D facility; it was born of the frustration shared by two college kids just beginning the journey of adulthood.
Jojo Hedaya and Josh Rosenwald, co-founders of Unroll.me, designed their popular product a few years after meeting at Yeshiva in Israel. “We were the only two people with international BlackBerries,” recalls Hedaya, who notes that a rabbi in Israel introduced him to Rosenwald, thinking the two Westerners might kindle a friendship. Fueled by a shared love of technology and a passion to succeed in business, the two young entrepreneurs returned to the U.S. prepared to design, market, and improve products that impacted the culture and potential clients.
Initially, the failure of another product gave rise to Unroll.me. While deepening a friendship and developing a platform for sports content, Hedaya and Rosenwald exchanged countless emails. Many of the emails were buried in a pile of spam and other unfiltered content. “He wasn’t answering my emails,” Hedaya said of his business partner. “He could never find them.” Although the sports content platform didn’t survive, the frustrations of failed email communication in those days led to the rise of a novel idea and a noteworthy product. Our product was definitely born out of a personal frustration,” says Hedaya. “Realistically, 80 percent of the emails that come to your inbox are newsletters, subscriptions, and updates. We knew there’d be a better way to do this that none of the major ISP’s provided.”
The Rise of Unroll.me
“My inbox is a personal place. I use it for personal communication and, when brands keep blasting messages to me, I can’t do what I need to do,” said Rosenwald back in 2012 when he Hedaya launched Unroll.me. Realizing that there was no middle ground between having an email account and existing without one, the partners looked for a solution that would cultivate productivity without adopting the most drastic measures. “You get the best of both worlds,” Rosenwald said at the time. “You get to see the offers you want to see without the inconvenience of the emails throughout the day.”
The middle ground that the partners launched was viewed from the beginning as distinctive and functional. Matt Miller of Forbes called the breakthrough, “shockingly simple.”
“The young founders of the new site… understand these nagging little 21st century problems that can turn into a keyboard-smashing rage blackout and have provided a shockingly simple solution. A user – overburdened with notification emails or special offers from companies – simply goes to Unroll.me, logs into the site with a Gmail account, and a list of all subscription emails is generated. From there, the user can unsubscribe from those subscriptions with the click of a button or keep them and have them all delivered in one manageable email a day (a sort of daily digest of inbox litter called the rollup).” – Matt Miller, Forbes
Simplicity at Its Finest
The real power of the Unroll.me application is that it is incredibly simple to use. For starters, Hedaya and Rosenwald designed the product to be compatible with the bulk of the widely used email providers in the marketplace. This is important, given the fact that, even with the proliferation of Gmail, there are countless email providers vying for subscribers. Unroll.me affords its subscribers complete ownership of the email curation process. Engaging the subscriber in the curation process instead of making all the decisions on behalf of them, the Unroll.me platform sequesters the “grey emails” in the user’s accounts – those emails tagged as malicious, spam, newsletters, subscriptions, etc. – and then gives the subscriber the tools and the power to determine if the curated information should be “rolled up” by the software or continue to arrive in the user’s inbox. PC Magazine believes the Unroll.me platform and emphasis on subscriber empowerment is a gamechanger.
“Unroll.me is a simple tool that helps people get control of gray mail, email they don’t really want, but sometimes need, usually from subscription services. These messages clutter your inbox, distracting you from meaningful email. The free email service Unroll.me consolidates subscription emails and newsletters. Instead of getting 20 emails, you get one summary email. This helps you clean up your inbox and focus on the messages that matter.” – Jill Duffy, PC Magazine
The question I had when I first engaged Unroll.me was elementary. As a subscriber, how do I receive that rollup digest created by the application? As I soon learned, the subscriber has the power, working with the application, to choose what will appear in the rollup and when it will be delivered to the subscriber. Duffy believes that productivity is further enhanced because the subscriber controls when and how information will be received. “After you decide what to include in your Rollup,” says Duffy, “you choose to receive it daily, weekly, or monthly, and in the morning, midday, or at night.” Duffy adds that “those are useful options that help you minimize getting distracted by the digest itself when you’re trying to be productive.” Unroll.me also gives subscribers the power to curate the layout of the digest, allowing them the opportunity to review information in a timely, tailored manner.
“The Rollup has two display options as well: grid and list. In both displays, the messages are grouped together into categories. Having similar messages lumped together makes it a little easier to skim them and decide whether there’s anything of interest. For example, if you have your next vacation already arranged, you can skip all the deals about flights, hotels, and vacation packages. You can change the category of any email, but you can’t create your own custom categories.” – Jill Duffy, PC Magazine
Not to be outdone by the positive reviews from PC Magazine, PCWorld’s Michael Ansaldo gave Unroll.me props for effectiveness and ease of use.
“Just go to Unroll.me and sign in with your Google, Yahoo!, Outlook, or AOL account (if your provider is not one of those, you can sign in with your email address). Unroll.me then displays a list of all your subscriptions with three options next to each one: Add to Rollup, Unsubscribe, or Keep in Inbox. Click the Unsubscribe button next to each one you no longer want to receive… Inevitably, there will be some subscriptions you want to keep. In those cases, click Add to Rollup to have them added to a daily digest of newsletters to be sent to you each morning, afternoon, or evening. Rollups can be viewed as a list or grid, and you can add or remove subscriptions from them at any time. You can also opt to have Unroll.me notify you monthly of your new subscriptions.” – Michael Ansaldo, PCWorld
Michael Gainnulis, a well-known business coach and entrepreneur, joins Ansaldo in lauding the ways Unroll.me has changed his life. “If I had one complaint about the Unroll.me service, it would be this,” Gainnulis quips with a boyish smirk. “They didn’t prepare me for the emptiness I would feel opening up my Gmail and only seeing one or two emails.” Simply put, Gainnulis was stoked by how simple Unroll.me was to use, and the outstanding impact it had on his inbox, work productivity, and personal calendar. “I know this sounds funny, but it’s strange for me now,” says Gainnulis. “I check my email habitually and am used to a certain amount of volume. Now, I can go hours with only receiving four or five emails total. I guess that’s what happens when you unsubscribe from almost 1,000 newsletters.” Gainnulis also says that “as we march on into the internet age, [he] can see cleanup and organization becoming a bigger and bigger component of people’s digital lives.”
A word about the mobile experience. As a person who lives and dies by what I can accomplish on my smartphone, I am very dependent on applications that offer strong mobile functionality. Unroll.me obliges. With a few taps to the phone display, I am transported to the Unroll.me digest even when I am sitting in a parking lot eating lunch behind the wheel of my hybrid. Thousands of miles from home or 10 feet from my home office, I can grab my phone and see what needs immediate attention in the email inbox.
A Free Service
As I said earlier, Unroll.me is a free service. How does it do this? Unroll.me’s parent company Slice Technologies uses data from all that spam that tries to infiltrate your inbox to “build an anonymized market research product that analyzes and tracks consumer trends.” This is ingenious, in my opinion. Basically, Unroll.me goes after the data of the companies that go after your data. While engaging in this process, Slice Technologies filters all your personal data out of the process (name, email, address, or anything else that could identify you). The sophisticated software and algorithms behind the Unroll.me process can deftly determine if the emails that it mines for consumer data are personal or from an e-commerce origin. Slice Technologies can use the data to improve its software and consumer experiences, while the subscriber gets to enjoy a clean and organized inbox with no financial outlay.
Collaboration v. Control
In my business life, I like to be the decision maker. Whether I’m deciding who to fire or where to shift business priorities, I want to be the one making the important calls. In my digital experiences, whether it’s buying and selling stock or just scrolling through my email account, I’m unwilling to vanquish control to a third party, let alone artificial intelligence. Before I learned about Unroll.me, my colleagues told me about all the misses they encountered when they deployed Unroll.me’s rivals. While it’s not necessary to list the “wannabes,” it is important to acknowledge that some platforms trumpeting their ability to end consumers’ email woes actually create nightmare scenarios because they take control away from the consumer.
My colleague Shelly, for example, enrolled in one of Unroll.me’s pay-as-you-go rivals and was quickly trying to resolve a mess that wasn’t of her own making. “The software was making all the decisions for me after supposedly learning about my email preferences and patterns,” she says. “When my manager called me into her office to inquire as to why I hadn’t responded to her emails, I knew my subscription was pulling emails out of my inbox that actually needed my immediate attention.” Shelly’s cautionary tale informed my decision to go with Unroll.me. Because I get to choose what does or does not get rolled up into the daily digest, I am “on the hook” if I miss something important from my client or my daughter’s teacher. In her review of Unroll.me, ABC’s Joanna Stern affirms the importance of engaging software solutions like Unroll.me that give the subscriber ultimate control over the larger curation process. “The service allows you to select what emails should go into the daily Rollup,” she says. “For instance, I had it put all my sales or newsletter emails, ones from J. Crew, Dictonary.com, Fab.com, etc., into the daily digest.”
Unroll.me Saved Me from My Inbox
My Unroll.me story begins with the number 12,000. With so many unwanted emails in my unorganized inbox, my frustrations over inefficiency and lost messages became both overwhelming and paralyzing. When my email problems started to sully my family relationships and responsibilities, I was desperate to find a solution. This morning my number is 17. That’s how many emails passed the scrutiny of the Unroll.me algorithm I helped to establish. While there are 17 emails in my inbox, there are 145 in my Unroll.me digest. That’s 145 emails I do not need to review, because I am confident that the software has eliminated everything that’s not worth my time or consideration. With the time and efficiencies I’ll bank today, I will be volunteering in my daughter’s classroom. After all, I’ve still got a heck of a PR job to finish with my daughter’s teacher.