May 23, 2022

If you’re not drowning in email these days, then either you don’t have an email account or you’re a very young person that marketers don’t understand yet (they will!).

To counter the onslaught, San Francisco-based 10-month-old startup Gated has come up with the concept of helping overwhelmed email recipients and will hopefully benefit society at large. Big Idea: Get unknown senders to donate to a non-profit organization chosen by the email recipient so that they come to their inbox. Want to tell strangers about your event, grow your business, sell your gadget next month? That’s good, but it will cost you—probably a lot, depending on who you’re trying to contact.

Gated, founded by Andy Mowat, an angel investor who most recently served as VP of development at employee acquisition startup Cultureamp, works by creating a separate folder in his Gmail account. According to Mowat, the software automatically generates a list of allowed senders based on who the email owner has previously communicated with; When unknown senders contact them, they are immediately taken to this separate folder, where they are told that they can only access the user’s mailbox if they donate to a charity of that person’s choice. The individual sets the price—starting at a minimum of $2 per email—after which 70% of the payment (verified) goes to the nonprofit. The rest goes to Gated, whose software is free.

It’s no surprise that venture capitalists, who do hundreds of pitches every day, love the idea. Indeed, Gated announced that it has raised $3.3 million in seed funding led by Corazon Capital with participation from Precursor Ventures, Burst Capital, Tuesday Capital and other early stage funds.

Of course, while this concept resonates with potential users (at a wave of the hand), it also raises questions about putting privacy first.

Gated, for its part, claims to never read the contents of the message. “We’re only looking at metadata — to and from,” Mowat says. However, there are so many people who have so many inboxes that Gmail’s filters aren’t enough. Some of them are probably influential in their own way, and Gated may not like to analyze their connections over time.

Not everyone uses Gmail, which is the only platform that allows Gated software. (Mowat says the company is doing a “next round of evaluation” with Microsoft, noting that some email platforms have “burned a few other partners in the past” so they’re going to “do a security evaluation for everyone. Let’s go.”)

Gated is also not a profitable business to start with, although as with most startups, this is certainly subject to change. As Movat reports, a significant portion of the revenue that Getted receives will eventually go into payment fees to cover all of these transaction costs. While she and her small team are already thinking about micropayments to keep Gated from being eaten alive by credit card payments, it’s not there yet.

Aside from articles like this about Gated’s evolution, the organization initially relies on a heavily viral component to get the message across. This seems like a reasonable approach, given that Gated already had a waiting list of 2,500 two weeks ago, which Mowat said hasn’t been publicly launched yet.

Later, Getted also plans to develop a product for the business, and marketers working with Getted will develop a budget that will allow their sales teams to send a certain number of emails per month.

By the way, in case you’re wondering, an email recipient using Gated is not required to reply to an email, no matter how much someone paid to receive it in their Gmail account.

According to Mowat, the company’s response rate among novice users is above average. “40% to 60% of all donated emails get answered, with some users responding to every email because they really appreciate people who respect their time.”

Others, he says, still answer “very rarely.”

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