Hiver and the Evolution of Email

Ramon Ray caught up with Niraj Ranjan Rout, the co-founder, and CEO of Hiver, a company dedicated to making email better for business. Niraj started out as an electrical engineer and worked as a programmer writing code for 6-7 years. “That’s when the startup bug basically bit me,” he laughed. 

He started his first business in 2008, ran it for a few years, and then started what we know today as Hiver. Niraj says that since then, they have been a company and a team that’s been “kind of obsessed with making email better.” Although much has changed with the product since its inception, what has remained constant is their drive to help people do their jobs better through email. In the last 2.5 years, they have been able to solve one key problem with email—shared inboxes and collaboration for teams. 

Leadership and Delegating

When hiring for Hiver, Niraj looks for someone who would complete a certain task infinitely better than he could have done if he had attempted it himself. When you get that person who is capable of doing the job so much better than you, you end up having more confidence in delegating it to them. 

“The thing that we all need to be able to do as founders and CEOs is to be able to delegate with confidence.” 

When you delegate with confidence, you give the person who you delegated to the confidence to not only do the job well but to make mistakes well.

What’s the Problem with Email?

Niraj says we need to ask the question, “is email the problem?” For Niraj, email is work. Communication is work. It’s the majority of what we do for a living and we need to do our work well. “We need to do email better, that’s the first thing we need to come to terms with.”

Niraj says that one of the problems with email is that it’s something we spend time on that we really had no intention of spending time on. Many emails you just spend time reading but don’t take any action on. He asks what can we do to minimize emails that just suck our time up without adding any value. As an example, Niraj says that say an email gets sent out to every member of your 25-person team. If all 25 people sit down to read that email, and only 1 person is needed to act on it, the other 24 have wasted their time just to read it. He says, that with Hiver, they’ve created a way to route that email to the person or people who have a need to know, and to hold that person accountable for the action required from the email. 

Hiver allows you to see the status of an email. If it’s open, pending, resolved…etc. and who it’s assigned to. This allows you to keep moving through your inbox and only open what’s pertinent to you. If someone claims an email, all of the other users are “blind” to it, so it’s not even there as a distraction. 

Complementary or Competitive

At Hiver, they use team collaboration tools like Slack. But, he argues that email is still essential to professional communication. Here’s why:

  1. Email has a lot more structure than Slack. Slack was built for fast communication.
  2. Email is synchronous. With Slack, if you don’t respond within, the message goes away. But you can send an email and someone can read it days later. 
  3. Everyone has email. If you want to write to someone in a different company, you have to use email. Even if you want to communicate with a different department within your own company, you most likely use email. Email crosses the boundaries from one team to another that programs like Slack and Microsoft Teams can’t do. Slack is better for working within the boundaries of your team. 

Tips from Naraj

Trying to achieve work-life balance by placing work and life in these “water-tight, clean compartments is very difficult.” Works seeps into your life and life seeps into your work. Niraj says that what he’s learned is that “instead of trying to obsessively segregate your work and life into two different compartments, if you are at peace with the fact that one will affect the other, you will be able to deal with it a lot better.” He says this means it’s ok if he gets a call from a colleague when he’s with his kids, but it also means it’s ok to take a call from his wife while he’s in a meeting. 

Communicating is 60-70% of Niraj’s work. He doesn’t go for “zero inbox,” but he has a system where he uses a star to indicate which emails need more of his attention. Then, he goes back to those emails once or twice a day and tries to get his starred emails down to zero. But, Niraj says there is no one-size-fits all inbox strategy. It all depends on what kinds of work you do. Someone who is in marketing’s inbox will look different than someone who is in HR or IT. 

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