Wichita developers’ e-mail app a leap in technology

10/12/2013 11:55 AM

10/12/2013 11:55 AM

Jonathan George likes to race motorcycles. He also likes to build software companies. To him, they’re inherently similar.

George, 30, is an edgy, restless kind of guy in an edgy, restless kind of business. He is in the midst of developing his third software company, Evomail, which he promises will revolutionize e-mail.

He has secured $100,000 in funding, brought in equity partners and employees, and opened an office south of Intrust Bank arena. The company launched its initial version of Evomail for iPads in May, then added iPhones. In August, it launched a version for Android phones. Now, they’re killing bugs, adding features and working on the next version.

It’s an app that improves e-mail on mobile devices. Soon, though, it will revolutionize it, George said.

E-mail works well, he said, but it relies on several standards that were agreed upon by multiple companies back in the mid-1990s. Making significant improvements would require a monumental act of diplomacy by everyone who makes and sells e-mail software – or a leapfrog in technology. They did the second, he said, by creating a “cloud layer” of information around each e-mail that will dramatically increase the functions and features.

He likens the effort to a home improvement project. In the past, improvements to e-mail would amount to a new coat of paint. Evomail means building a new foundation underneath, he said.

It includes a feature he calls “triaging” that allows users to sort through e-mail quickly. Users can put their e-mail on snooze to read later and control it using hand gestures.

In the tech world, companies often don’t deliver a finished product. They put something out and rely on the interplay with early adopters to fix bugs, improve the interface and dictate the product’s future. That’s in part why George and his staff add features weekly.

George is the CEO. His co-founders are developer and programmer-in-chief David McGraw, who makes the product work, and Dominic Flask, the designer who makes it look great.

They aim to build something revolutionary, but it’s hard to know exactly what that means. In the wisdom of Henry Ford and Steve Jobs, men who largely created whole new categories of essential products, people won’t ask for what they don’t know exists.

So, they built the platform and now will experiment, adding features and watching to see what is embraced.

“If you can make it 10 times better, they will switch and they will switch in droves,” George said. “We build it and put it out there and we are learning what they want in their e-mail.”

The app is free and can be downloaded from www.evomail.io. They expect to make money on a premium version.

The potential market, they say, is vast with billions of e-mail users around the globe. But success doesn’t come easy.

When McGraw was asked how many hours he put in, George just smirked.

Sixteen to 18 hours a day, every day, McGraw said.

“It’s in my blood, for whatever reason … for me, what I really like is making things. I’ll put 110 percent of my effort toward that.”

Building a reputation

Evomail isn’t the first tech company George has built. In 2009, he started, built and, last year, sold Boxcar. Boxcar was a company and application for smartphones that assembled and pushed notifications from platforms such as Twitter, e-mail and Facebook. He’s done the whole working-18-hours-a-day, pitching-venture-capitalists and flying-off-to-New-York-and-San-Francisco-every-other-week thing.

And that’s critical to the success of Evomail. It has to look great, be significantly better than its competitors – and the partners have to have the personal connections to get notice from opinion makers and technology reviewers.

“A lot of it is personal branding,” George said. “Everything I’ve learned, all the personal relationships, I take those with me to the next company.”

In an industry so young, with so many new faces and so few institutions, personal reputation carries a lot of weight. His success with Boxcar earned him more than money, it earned him credibility. That helped connect with the talent, the financing and the publicity needed for the next venture.

While McGraw and Flask develop the product, George has to figure out what it must do and who is supposed to buy it. He said he understands how to make it stand out in a world crowded with apps.

“That’s the hundred million dollar question,” George said, of how he gets people’s attention in a sea of products. “One of the biggest problems is how do you make people pay attention, right? In this industry, a lot of it is based on building a good product, but also it’s about longevity. If you’ve been around for seven years … you understand how the industry works and made relationships. Everything is based on that.”

A born entrepreneur

George is a small-town kid from Coffeyville, but never had small-time aspirations.

His father, David George, who today is Coffeyville’s mayor, said that his son always had an entrepreneurial streak.

“When he was six or seven years old, I had built a new house and was laying down a tile floor, and a neighbor came over and said Jon had been selling the leftover tiles around the neighborhood as coasters for a nickel apiece,” David George recalled. “He was a little salesman.”

In the mid-’90s the elder George grew bored with the family real estate business and, with a partner, started up an Internet service provider, Terra World Communications. He soon hired his 14-year-old self-taught-techie son as tech support.

He attended Kansas State University, but dropped out to work at a software company in Oklahoma City. In 2005, George started a tech company, StikiPad, an application that allowed users to share pages, in Wichita. It lasted about two years before failing.

After it painfully crashed and burned, he took two years to get his nerve back. Eventually, he tried again and scored with Boxcar.

“He’s scrappy,” said fellow software engineer Barry Welch. “He’s not put off by problems. He not negative, he’s uber positive and doesn’t let things get him down.”

He’s also unafraid to build such a company in Wichita. The confluence of technology, society and family make it make sense to do it here, he said.

Wichita has developed a bit of a tech scene, producing enough talent so that McGraw, Flask and others were around when George went looking. And, if enough talent can’t be found locally, there are technologies to allow Evomail employees to work remotely.

And, George and his wife, Tamaira, have a nearly 2-year-old daughter. He has come to realize the value of family.

“The day she was born, we were closing a financing deal … probably a very sore point with my wife,” he said with a rueful laugh. “I might have been answering e-mails in the birthing room – before anything was happening. It was a mess. But after she was born I was, like, I’m going to stay home. I can do everything I want to do from home.”

He’s even given up racing motorcycles at the request of his wife.

Still, at heart, he hasn’t changed much.

“I see this as my life’s work. Why would we be here if we weren’t? … This is our baby, this is the company we chose to build.”

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