Archive for June, 2010

Offline vs. Online Design for Xobni

by Brian Kobashikawa

Xobni has “gone retro” and is now officially in the boxed software business. As such, our product and marketing teams were thrust into the world of package design: a world inhabited by point-of-service displays, office store lighting, bleeds, crops, process colors, and really really large graphics. Our group sits comfortably in the land of desktop software and web applications, so we reoriented ourselves and began to think about Xobni from a new perspective. We grounded ourselves in our core design principles and got out the pens and paper.


1. Define (and redefine) your target audience. Visitors to the Xobni website probably learned about Xobni  from a friend or a co-worker, an article they read or they may have searched “outlook plugin” into their friendly web search engine. By the time these customers get to us, they already have a bit of backstory – not to mention, validation. However, the prospective customer in one of the big box stores may be  in an entirely different mindset. They may have decided to purchase Microsoft Outlook 2010, and start browsing for other software that may be relevant. Or, maybe they’re just making the store rounds after buying their fancy Twilight DVD. Either way, we had to assume that the audience knew nothing about Xobni. So, the first priority was to explicitly call out the connection between Xobni and Outlook, and cultivate our message from there.


2. Distill the message down to the core. On a website, we could (at least in theory) wax rhapsodic about Xobni’s features across multiple pages, product videos, and case studies. With a box, we had limited physical real estate: specifically, four 5×7” rectangles. This led to an extensive exercise with our marketing group to reduce, pare down, and focus the copy on the bare minimum. It also led us to question how we should present ourselves: should we visually communicate our product with symbols and concepts, or through concrete product shots? For the box cover, we opted for the former approach, as it helped us communicate the core message more effectively.

3. Rethink progressive disclosure in the physical world. With those four 5×7” rectangles, we needed to establish a simple visual hierarchy. Presumably, customers will see the front cover first. If they picked up the box, they might turn it around. And if they were really interested, they may open the box flap to see more inside.

So, we decided to have the front cover focus more on the “why and how” – why this product exists, and how it works for you (“Take control of your inbox” is front and center). The inner flap, in the meantime, focused on the “what” – what does the product look like, and what does it do for you. As such, the inner flap reveals screenshots of the product (mostly placed on the far right side, ensuring that they’ll be seen by the customer with minimal “unfolding” on their part.)

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4. Help the customer with the product research. In a giant office supplies store, with a Xobni box in hand, the customer has little immediate access to review websites (such as Lifehacker or CNET) to help offer recommendations or guidance for their purchase. They can’t easily talk to their friends or co-workers who might have used Xobni before. The customer is largely alone.

So, as a newer company with an esoteric product name, we wanted to quickly establish credibility. We bubbled up  reviews and ratings we had received (from such publications as The Wall Street Journal and CNET) on the front and back covers. And as Fortune Magazine points out, we’re very likely “the first to have testimonial “tweets” printed on the outside (of the box) from customers.

5. You can only publish once. Make sure to review, review, review. The great thing about downloadable software is that it’s highly iterative, and relatively easy to correct little mistakes. With a physical box and CD-ROM disc, we had to be much more diligent in checking every detail. The extra time required for all these details was essential: to review trademarks and typos, quotes, system requirements, legal, and all the other minutiae.

Getting a proof from the printer not only helps check for accurate colors, bleeds, and typography, but also follows up on all the points above. Even before that, we printed out and folded some “paper prototypes” of earlier mockups  to solicit feedback from senior management – as well as randoms on the street. Holding the physical (albeit fake) product in ones hand can help reveal more insights and spur more conversations.

All in all, “the box project” resurfaced some really important, yet fundamental, design principles for us here at Xobni – and gave our designers a new fun way to think about our world – even if just for a little while. It was fun while it lasted, but we’re happy to be back to our iterative, fast-paced work online!


Xobni – Coming to a store near you!

by Britton Glasser

This week, Xobni entered new territory – The retail store.  Yes, Xobni, an online software company (with over 5 million downloads in 2 years) has actually gone to the effort to design a box, put our software on discs, and navigate the retail distribution channels to offer Xobni Plus for Outlook in retail stores across the country such as Fry’s and Office Max – as well as on  It seems rather retro, but we discovered big opportunity…

Xobni for Outlook

The idea of putting Xobni in a box was initially met with resistance and doubt, but after a little digging, we saw big opportunity for sales and brand awareness.  From our research, we learned a few things – People of all ages, genders and demographics are shopping in stores.  Many of us do it.  And some people like to feel, hold, and see before they purchase.

We conducted a Harris survey (June, 2010; 2174 responses) which showed that 80% of respondents who plan to purchase software in the next 12 months said they were at least somewhat likely to buy software from brick-and-mortar retail stores (40% said they were extremely likely or very likely).  Being in-store also builds brand awareness and validation.  Something about being on a shelf makes it automatically more trustworthy to some.  According to our survey, nearly two-thirds of respondents said they are more likely to buy software if they’ve seen it in stores.  So while we are confident that being in retail stores will be a rewarding distribution channel for us, we also think it will have an impact on our online software sales.

In addition to the fact that some people are still buying some software in stores and the brand building benefits, it also didn’t hurt that millions will be flocking to stores starting this month to purchase Microsoft Office 2010.  As you probably know if you are reading this blog, Xobni is a great add-in for Outlook, and makes sense for us to have a presence right next to it in stores for consumers to easily purchase.

It’s been an interesting road… a fast-moving, agile online software company stepping into the notoriously slow offline world.  And a note to our environmentally conscious friends: We’re one of you.   All the packaging materials are made from sustainably grown forests.

We’ll be posting another blog post later this week about the adjustment our awesome in-house designers had to make when learning the ins and outs of designing a box that sits on shelves!

box2 - love again

Xobni Featured on Google’s Developer Blog

by Terra

Today, Google posted a guest blog post from Jeff (Xobni CEO) on their Apps Developer Blog for our work porting Gmail contextual gadget development into Outlook. Jeff covers off on the trials and tribulations of working in Outlook, and how we’ve harnessed our Outlook ninja to help Gmail gadget developers get their gadgets into the world’s biggest email platform – with no additional work.

In Jeff’s words from the post:

“…The first step was to get Google on board.  We weren’t sure what to expect from them when we explained our plan. The first response we got from the Google team was puzzlement. Why and how would we do this? In a short amount of time, Google’s mood progressed from quiet to excited (phew).  So we set up the war room in the office, cleared our calendars and weekends for the foreseeable future and started cranking away.”

The result: Developers can now write one application for Gmail contextual gadgets and will soon deploy not just to the millions of Gmail users, but also to the millions of Outlook users: the same code available in both worlds. Thanks to Google’s simple but powerful platform (and the hard work of Xobni’s engineers), you just write your gadgets for Gmail and they are ready to be used in Outlook as well.”

Want to give your gadget a spin in Outlook? You can get the build here (note: the product is in “Developer Preview now”). We expect to put our first gadgets live in Outlook in the coming weeks.

Gadgets in Outlook

OUPW: Sue Rothberg, Video Production Company Principal

Sue Rothberg

  • Name: Sue Rothberg
  • Position & Company: Principal, Sue Rothberg Productions, a Boston-based video production company specializing in a documentary-style storytelling approach for clients.
  • Xobni user since: the Beta days (over a year ago)
  • Product she uses: Xobni for Outlook
  • Favorite feature: “the way Xobni indexes all my emails with sub categories such as attachments, network of other people, etc. What used to be a very time consuming task of searching for an email is now a breeze.”
  • Product request: Xobni for the soon-to-be-released Outlook for Mac

Taking care of email to get to the real work

As she runs her own video production company, email is not the core component of Sue’s business (that status might be better granted to, say, producing video), but the time she spends in Outlook is still vital for client relations and putting the pieces in place for her work to get done.  We originally set out to help people spend less time searching their inboxes, so hearing accolades such as the following gets us PSYCHED.  Sue said of Xobni for Outlook: “I would say it is one of the best applications ever invented…and I am not kidding.  I have been an Outlook user for the better part of 10 years, and Xobni has made the application easier to use, more robust, and most importantly, it has made me more efficient.”  Awesome.

File deleted?  Not a problem if it lives on in your inbox

Sue’s Xobni to the Rescue story: “Once I had deleted an image, but when I searched, Xobni found the attachment within an email. There have been many other times where it saved me by finding something that was deleted or by getting to an email address very quickly so I could locate a file that had been exchanged…this application is a must for anyone who is an Outlook power user.”

Many thanks to Sue for sharing her Xobni experience.  Have a Xobni story you’d like to share?  Want to be featured in One User Per Week?  Let us know in the comments!

Xobni Has a New CTO and Change in My Role

by Adam Smith

Four years ago, Xobni was still an idea, and I was 21 years old. The company and I have come a long way since the early days in my dorm room at MIT. Now Xobni has been downloaded over five million times, the company has raised over $30M, and at 25, I can finally rent a car without additional fees!

Founders’ roles change almost daily in a fast growing startup. For me, I was able to move off the engineering critical path when we convinced Frank Cort to join Xobni and lead our engineering team. Based on his great work, we promoted Frank to VP of Engineering last year.

In the last four years, the engineering team has accomplished remarkable things. Initially we were told that what we wanted to do in Outlook couldn’t be done. Later we were told that what we had in mind for the BlackBerry wasn’t technically feasible. And even people inside the company were dubious when we announced the time frame to port Google’s brand new contextual Gmail gadget platform to Outlook. It quickly became part of the culture to build things where others had failed; we thrive on hitting high notes nobody thought possible.

And it is in this spirit, I am excited to pass the flag to Peter Monaco.

In our quest to find the best and brightest CTO, Peter stuck out as the sure winner. Let me just highlight a few the things that impressed us. Peter earned his undergrad degree in CS from Dartmouth College, and his Masters in Computer Language Processing from Cambridge. After time at the world-famous Stanford Research Institute (SRI), Peter co-founded Nuance (NUAN) in 1994, and helped take it public in 2000. It is still the leader in voice recognition today. He was later vice president of application engineering at recognized technical leader Tellme, which was acquired by Microsoft for a reputed $800M in 2007.

The reference checks we made on Peter were remarkable. Everyone we spoke with about Peter raved about him. We heard over and over again, “one of the best in the business.” In fact, we felt challenged to find someone to say something bad about him, so we poked around for the grumpiest engineers from his former teams. But, alas, all we got was “about the only manager in my career I would work for again.” Just amazing.

I am pumped to have Peter join Frank to lead technology and engineering at Xobni, and I look forward to collaborating with them on our plans for world domination. And while I will remain actively involved in helping Xobni, I have decided this is a good time for me to give up my day-to-day role at Xobni and pass the reigns to Peter and Frank. I am keeping my seat on the board of directors and I will be actively involved as an advisor wherever the team needs me.

I’m more confident and more excited than ever about Xobni’s future. We’re in great financial shape, have solid revenue, strong leadership, and, most importantly, have a kick-butt engineering team to build the best products in email search and relationship management. For me, I need a little rest and will start dabbling around on some new ideas.

Thanks to all of our loyal customers and the amazing Xobni team for your support.

All the best,

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About Xobni

Xobni’s contact management products offer lightning fast email search and organization of your inbox, as well as an innovative and comprehensive address book for the mobile device.


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