news One of Australia’s most high-profile technology entrepreneurs has just hit the accelerate button on his latest startup ZeroMail, winning entry to a global startup accelerator program operated by virtualisation giant Citrix.
In January, Bart Jellema co-founded ZeroMail, a startup which has the ambitious aim of ‘fixing’ what many see as a broken email paradigm through a variety of methods — dealing with automatic notifications in a streamlined way, intelligently adding task management features to aid people using their inboxes as ‘to-do’ lists, and cleaning up the traditionally cluttered webmail interface.
Jellema is well-known in the Australian startup community courtesy of his strong focus on building its foundations through events, as well as the successful exit of his own startup Tjoos in March 2010. Web developer Katrin Suess has also been involved from the start of the project.
Up until now, it appears ZeroMail has been funded primarily out of Jellema’s own pocket. But in a statement yesterday, the entrepreneur revealed ZeroMail had been accepeted into Citrix’s Startup Accelerator program, a global investment operation which offers startups up to $400,000 in seed capital, access to its own products, technology and executive advice, and a home, if they want it, at its Silicon Valley facility.
The number of opportunities for Australian startups to raise capital at the moment are rapidly growing — with a number of startup accelerator programs launching locally and international investors rapidly throwing money at fast-growing Australian companies. The level of interest from venture capitalists also appears to be growing, and private equity firms have also invested in a number of large Australian technology companies recently.
However, Jellema said over email that he was attracted to Citrix’s program because the funding available from most providers in Australia was “too small” for ZeroMail. “We did pitch to some angels in Australia, but in the end Citrix came through. On the choice of a corporate incubator rather than a more independent organisation, Jellema said Citrix’s setup was designed to operate as an independent group.
“From all the incubators that I’m aware of I think the Citrix Startup Accelerator is the best option out there,” he said.
Jellema acknowledged it would be easy to invest in his own company himself, but said that entrepreneurs who did so might not be “critical” enough. “With external investors, just thinking it’s a great idea isn’t enough, you need to convince them,” he said. “This makes you think a lot harder about the viability of your business. Investors also bring more than just money, such as connections, an outside perspective, accountability, etc.”
Citrix’s investment in ZeroMail won’t close yet for another two to three weeks, Jellema said, and he wouldn’t immediately disclose how much the company was investing, but noted Citrix would fund startups to the tune of anywhere up to $400,000 via a convertible note structure.
Although the Silicon Valley facility is available to ZeroMail, Jellema noted he would keep his company in Sydney for now — although he noted he might go over to the San Francisco centre from time to time. One of the reasons for staying in Australia, Jellema added, was the Federal Government’s new research and development tax incentive, which could make Citrix’s investment quite a bit more valuable locally.
Some screenshots of ZeroMail:
If anyone had any doubt before, let that doubt now be dispelled. There are now a huge amount of funding opportunities available for Australian startups. The rapidity with which Jellema and ZeroMail have attracted the interest of global incubators such as Citrix’s Startup Accelerator program bears witness to that fact.
Sure, Jellema’s an experienced and successful entrepreneur who’s already had a valuable exit with his previous company Tjoos. But both as a company and as a product/service, ZeroMail also seems relatively immature at this point — certainly I haven’t seen much hype around it, and I don’t believe the company quite has a business model organised for it just yet.
What this investment by Citrix says is that the company is prepared to back a startup like ZeroMail which is taking a long-term view on solving one of the IT industry’s biggest headaches — out of control email inboxes — going up against the resources of massive incumbent providers like Google, Yahoo and Microsoft to do so.
One last thing: For what it’s worth, I wouldn’t be surprised if much of Citrix’s confidence in ZeroMail is based on the company’s awesome user interface for its email platform. You can view a demo online here. I’ve been playing around with it this morning, and ZeroMail reminds me of nothing so much as Google’s Gmail platform — but a bit more streamlined in places, and with Gmail’s smart spam handling intelligence extended to other areas such as newsletters and notifications from Facebook.
There is the gem of something awesome here — and I think that’s what Citrix has seen in ZeroMail. The IP which the company is building up would lend itself well to an acquisition by a larger company which wanted a great way to boost its email handling capabilities instantly — and I am pretty sure this is what Jellema is betting on long-term.
There’s always going to be value in creating something which reminds people of Gmail and seems to have much of the same style and functionality. It’s about time a smart startup realised that.