If you're not familiar with Superhuman, it's a $30/month invite-only email app that has caught on like wildfire. $30 per month. For email. Gaining traction in this space at this price point is no small feat. Superhuman describe itself as –
"The Fastest Email Experience ever made."
The team behind this product is top-notch. They've all had previous successes and it shows. Not to mention (spoiler alert) the team spent 2+ years building the product before it saw the light of day.
Impressive to say the least.
But what happens when the novelty of their mystery rubs off? What happens when the rest of the email apps get to feature parity with Superhuman? And how long are customers going to stick around at premium prices?
In full disclosure, I've been a user of Superhuman since July 2019. I requested early access a year prior but didn't realize one had to be referred by an existing user.
Superhuman is as Super as the name.
Obsessed with Product Market Fit.
Superhuman's time spent refining the app (2+ years) was a smart move that's paid off.
When it comes to email apps, you have to be amazing out of the gate. Think about the gravity or inertia you have to have to pull someone away from their existing email app.
Not to mention the cost of $30/mo. to manage your email is mostly foreign to people who have grown so accustomed to free.
This leads to one of the most fascinating things about Superhuman – they have an obsession about finding product market fit. This approach brought a laser focus to gaining their first 1,000 customers and also how they went about building the entire product experience.
Superhuman's founder, Rahul, talks about how he gets the whole "launch and fail fast" idea but he didn't agree with that approach when it came to Superhuman.
We had set up shop and started coding Superhuman in 2015. A year later, our team had grown to seven and we were still furiously coding.
By the summer of 2017, we had reached 14 people — and we were still coding.
I felt intense pressure to launch, from the team and also from within myself. My previous startup, Rapportive, had launched, scaled and been acquired by LinkedIn in less time. Yet here we were, two years in, and we had not passed go.
The product/market fit definitions I had found were vivid and compelling, but they were lagging indicators — by the time investment bankers are staking out your house, you already have product/market fit.
Instead, Ellis had found a leading indicator: just ask users "how would you feel if you could no longer use the product?" and measure the percent who answer "very disappointed."
After benchmarking nearly a hundred startups with his customer development survey, Ellis found that the magic number was 40%. Companies that struggled to find growth almost always had less than 40% of users respond "very disappointed," whereas companies with strong traction almost always exceeded that threshold.Rahul Vohra — Founder & CEO, Superhuman
In regard to reaching 40% of the users responding with "very disappointed" the Superhuman team was extremely diligent, leaving no stone unturned.
There's been plenty of companies utilizing an invite-only marketing strategy – Dribbble, Pinterest, Gmail, Spotify, to name a few.
But the biggest one I've seen to date (in terms of creating hype) was Mailbox. The game mechanics behind their social sharing, the countdown, the number in line. It was a pretty genius marketing campaign at the time.
Rahul was just as bummed as I was that ultimately Dropbox shut down Mailbox, but he took a few things from their playbook as inspiration.
And it's worked. About 150k+ people are still on Superhuman's waiting list to gain access Pretty impressive.
Although, their approach is most similar to Dribbble's invite-only program. Where you must receive an invite from a current user of the product rather than an invite from the company itself.
(Feel free to ping me on Twitter @jrfarr if you want an invite.)
That could be one of the reasons why it is working so well. Superhuman has leveraged their own brand ambassadors to build up the hype for them.
The most unique part of the experience with Superhuman is the onboarding. Here's what I experienced first-hand at the time I signed up –
- Referral email from a friend kicked-off. Quick intros.
- Asked to answer a thorough survey (screening users).
- Demo call setup.
- Before the demo call, "click this link and pay your first $30 payment." Also, download the desktop app. For mobile, download the test flight app, after which we'll send you the app to download from the test flight app.
- The demo itself was very well structured. I was asked to share my screen which allowed Superhuman's rep to see if I used my mouse at all. If so, she'd make me start over using only keyboard shortcuts.
The onboarding was intimate and well thought through. Despite having a fair amount of friction, my motivation (driven by the product's positive buzz and my invite status) and the hand-off between each step made the process feel better than most.
But the biggest takeaway from it all was the connection that was built between myself and the team. Aside from learning the product, I felt like I had created my own connection with the Superhuman team itself.
Superhuman touts speed as the biggest feature and benefit in using their product. And rightfully so.
Aside from the keyboard shortcuts that are at the heart of the experience, they also make good on the "100ms rule".
The creator of Gmail, Paul Buchheit, had a rule: every interaction should be faster than 100ms. Why? Because 100ms is the threshold where interactions feel instantaneous.
We've brought back the 100ms rule. Everything you do — start-up, search, sending mail — is blazingly fast.
Experience the fastest email in the world. There's no going back.
Back to the keyboard shortcuts. Almost every function you can imagine can be done via a keyboard shortcut within Superhuman. They also have a simple menu (using "cmd + k") that pulls up all kinds of options. Again, only using the keyboard.
Within a matter of minutes, you can flow through a relative full inbox without ever touching your mouse.
It should also be noted that the product design of the app itself is gorgeous. Less is more when it comes to Superhuman.
Because of the effort put into the clean UI — you'll immediately feel a sense of focus when you're in the product, particularly the desktop app.
This simplicity of the product's design can't be overstated. It provides an experience that's perfectly matched with the speed it delivers.
Superhuman is also still human.
To their credit, Rahul, responded head-on to each of the issues. He acted in fully transparent manner and the company didn't hide behind policies or industry standards.
They also laid out exactly how they planned to resolve the issue. Some still don't agree with the fix.
On this note, recently the creators of Basecamp announced they'll be releasing an email product — Hey.com. It will be interesting to see how this move shapes the space ahead, seeing as how vocal Basecamp is are about email tracking.
Seeing as Superhuman works with Gmail, one would expect the Google calendar integration to go hand in hand.
Don't get me wrong. The current integration with the calendar has some amazing features to it. Things like as I'm writing "can you meet today or Thursday" and my calendar automatically opens in the right-hand window pane.
It's slick and contextual. But it stops there.
In order to create calendar events, it pops open a new window to your Google calendar. It's a bit of a disconnected experience.
You'd think they've gone this far with the integration why not stay focused within Superhuman to create the events on the fly?
There are other features between Superhuman and Google calendar I'd love to see including a dedicated calendar view within the app itself but I also understand their current focus.
But the billion dollar question is... What's their moat?
Superhuman is valuable today because they've done a better job than the competition at understanding what's most important and effective in getting email done – focus, speed, and staying out of your way.
Currently, this experience warrants its high price-tag for many users (myself included). What Superhuman has accomplished in performance and design has also done an impressive job at keeping the competition for these kinds of users at bay, for now.
However, it's only a matter of time before other email products begin to offer similar experiences. What will keep Superhuman users from leaving - or continuing to pay premium prices?
Will it be a constant race of newer, better ways to do email – or an extreme focus on doing a few things that matter exceptionally well and resisting the constant temptation to add something 'new'? (Basecamp has provided a great example of how to win in a crowded space with the latter strategy.)
Admittedly, the majority of the people I know who've used Superhuman have canceled their account, citing price – saying it was ridiculous to pay $30/month for an email client.
On the note of canceling – this area is a big dent in Superhuman's experience today. Currently, there's no easy way of canceling via an automated flow. As a customer, you have to reach out to the team, making it even hard for people to leave. If I'm being honest, it might be a reason as to why I haven't left. Not the best way to leave on good terms – Good news is, we can help with this 😉
I'm sure there will always be people who value a a premium experience, but as new competitors offer 'good enough' products this pool becomes increasingly smaller and smaller.
Time will tell.
The team at Superhuman is most likely already thinking of how they stay ahead of the curve.
On the flip side, I wouldn't be surprised if they get romantic with what they've built and they dig their heels in on adding more layers to the product.
Time will ultimately tell how this all plays out.
Until then, I'll enjoy my time with Superhuman until the next hyped up email client drops.