Acompli  has built an enterprise email app for iPhone that works with Microsoft Exchange and is simply pleasant to use for both IT managers and users. But to reach that goal, Acompli CEO and co-founder Javier Soltero says the company had to deconstruct what makes mobile enterprise email so hard in the first place.
The company, which is announcing $7.3 million in venture funding and emerging from stealth this morning, had to trace a path between the market's overall focus on the consumer (see the insane initial popularity of Mailbox ahead of its acquisition by Dropbox ) and the pressure that IT puts on vendors to provide a manageable, scalable solution. Even when users are encouraged to bring their own device to work, they're at the whims of the IT department and forced into using apps and tools that are often unwieldy.
"I totally appreciate that IT has a big responsibility," Soltero says. "[But] there's something very, very wrong with that whole dynamic."
There's also the problem that most email innovation has focused on tools with a strong consumer presence, such as Gmail. Even though Microsoft Exchange is the de facto standard for email for the vast majority of companies in operation today, Gmail is more visible and far sexier to investors and developers alike, and so Exchange often goes ignored when hip new Silicon Valley startups go looking for ways to disrupt email.
"Planet Earth runs on Exchange," says Soltero. "The Bay Area runs on Google Apps."
To solution was to build an email app that works so well that users would want it even if IT weren't supporting it, says Soltero, who was formerly the CTO of SaaS and application delivery at VMware. That's easy to say, but it takes some deep research into user habits and a lot of UI polish to accomplish.
Acompli has a few features designed to simplify things like label management and foldering. But its biggest innovation is its focus on bringing multiple features like calendaring, contacts, and file management into the application to ease the pain of application switching.
For example, whenever you get a meeting invitation, your calendar, imported from your phone, pops up next to it to show what that day looks like. It's a little thing that saves you the trouble of switching over to your calendar yourself. It also keeps a file archive of every email attachment you've sent or received so you don't have to dig through looking for that one Excel spreadsheet you've forwarded around ten times. Another neat party trick: Acompli lets you insert contextual items like an embedded Google Maps location along with a meeting invitation.
This all points to a more context-driven mobile email experience, with the end result of letting you do more on a phone and relying less on your computer for any message longer or more detailed than "yes, that sounds good" or "what's your address again?"
But there's a caveat: Acompli's service relies on using their cloud service as an intermediary between your Exchange server and your phone. Soltero claims it's for a noble reason: email itself, for all its ubiquity, has a relatively primitive interface on the backend. You need a custom-built infrastructure in there somewhere to do the new things Acompli is trying to accomplish.
Regardless of the approach, there's an overarching theme recently that email, the venerable old stalwart of enterprise IT, is broken. Some companies like Asana  tackle the problem by removing email from the equation entirely. But given how entrenched email is in our daily lives, it seems like there's way more room to disrupt it from the inside out with context and with an overall more pleasant UX than many investors may give the market credit for.
Acompli is currently in a closed beta, with a planned release on the Apple iTunes App Store later this year. You can apply for early access at their website .
The company's Series A funding round of $7.3 million was led by Redpoint Ventures, with participation from Harrison Metal and Felicis Ventures.