Sell to Win

This company tripled its revenue by not using email

Kaitlyn Wightman
Kaitlyn Wightman

This business doesn’t use internal email – at all. Instead, they created their own email alternative that’s in line with their team culture and company values. Here’s their story.

Klick is doing something right. This Toronto-based digital marketing agency has won over 125 awards for its client work, company management and team culture, including making the Technology Fast 500 list three years in a row.

The secret to their success? They got rid of all internal emails.

"We weren’t satisfied with email," says Klick’s COO Aaron Goldstein. "The fact most people use a tool doesn’t necessarily mean it’s the best tool to use."From the very beginning, email was a challenging tool for Klick to use as a company.

"While email makes for a decent communication tool with clients, internally it doesn’t facilitate collaboration and basic workflow," says Leerom Segal, CEO of Klick.

"Email has no intelligent mechanisms for prioritization, lacks context, lacks a framework for knowledge management and saps accountability."

As Klick grew, so did the number of projects for everyone on the team. Email didn’t keep up in helping their team manage their increasing responsibilities. In fact, it did quite the opposite.

"We’ve all been on an email thread where people are answering questions but really just creating more confusion," says Leerom.

Klick isn’t the only business struggling with email. According to the McKinsey Global Institute, the average worker spends 28% of the workweek managing email. That’s over 11 hours a week dedicated to reading and answering emails.

clock-face

Leerom knew that a change was needed. "We looked for tools to help us better manage our basic workflow.

"Their first solution was trying out testing systems. On a work ticket, a team member would state the problem, jot down all relevant information for the task and assign it to a peer. When the task was finished, the work ticket would be routed back to the originating team member to verify the project was complete.

Aaron explained that work tickets created visibility and accountability of tasks that often get lost in a full inbox. Everyone now assumed a higher level of accountability to meeting deadlines on projects.

But this system was also failing. The new workflow was affecting their company culture and team collaboration.

"The systems we explored all seemed unnecessarily bureaucratic," says Aaron. "We want people to drive systems, not systems to drive people."

After more investigation, they couldn’t find the right solution. So they decided to create their own.

"We don’t want to remove the human side from decision-making, but we do want our team to make decisions that are always informed by data."

The goal was to create a workflow management system that preserved their company’s culture while still giving them a strategic advantage.Today, they call this system Genome.

"Our initial goal was to ensure that Genome was adopted naturally," says Leerom.

Creating Genome was a team effort. Everyone’s suggestions were taken into consideration, from trying different interfaces to different mandatory fields and prioritization algorithms.

"We wanted our employees to want to use the system, so everything it did had to save them time and effort," says Leerom. "Once we developed a habit of incrementally improving the platform, Genome started to evolve in ways we never imagined."

genome-profile-page

The team found that Genome could accurately predict project and schedule integrity. This competitive advantage helped Klick’s revenue triple over the past five years.

"It didn’t take long for us to investigate additional ways to keep everybody on our team as forward-looking as possible," says Aaron.

Leerom says it’s a representation of Klick’s identity as a brand and a company. Aaron agrees.

"By moving away from internal email and creating a system that truly supports our employees," says Aaron, "we do a better job of separating signal from noise so our organization can make small course corrections earlier in the process."

Even large companies like WordPress don’t use email – and love it.

Just ask Scott Berkun, former manager at WordPress."95% of the email I received while employed there was from people at other companies," he says. "While all employees had email accounts and were free to use them, they rarely did."

As Scott explains in this article, the technology of email wasn’t the issue.

"If a technology annoys you, it probably has more to do with how the people around you use it than the technology itself."

WordPress designed a blog theme called P2 that supports teamwork collaboration. It was also how the company stopped using email.

"All the specifications and spreadsheets that might be sent over email are simply posted on blogs for each team or project," he explains. "Most discussions happen in comment threads, chat rooms or on Skype. If you care about that project, you follow the blog. If you don’t, you don’t."

Not all solutions need to be self-created for a company to stop using email. There are many alternative solutions to email that are easy to setup and use.

But before you run for the next quick fix, Scott advises that you make sure email is the real problem.

"It’s culture that defines these habits, not the tools," he says. "Culture bends technology to its will and not the other way around."