news Long-time Australian email company FastMail.FM has announced that it has been bought back by its own employees from Opera, just three and a half years after it was sold to Norway-based browser firm.
The Melbourne-based company achieved a great deal of press coverage — much of which is still available online, in the early years of this decade after founder Jeremy Howard — a former management consultant with McKinsey and A.T. Kearney — created it in 1999 with school friend Rob Mueller.
The service quickly attracted hundreds of thousands of users to its platform because of the strength of its technology when compared with more monolithic platforms such as Microsoft’s Hotmail. But it has lost attention over the years as others — notable Google’s Gmail offering — have started to offer similar features and much larger storage capacity. In 2010 it was sold to Opera, with FastMail saying at the time that it needed to make some big investments to take the next steps forward.
However, in a statement published on its website this week and first reported by ZDNet, FastMail wrote: “The developers and staff of FastMail have now bought back the company. This means that FastMail is once again an independent company, dedicated to building the best possible email experience for our users. We have big plans for the future, and we will continue to roll out new features and enhancements over the coming months.”
FastMail wrote that it wasn’t in “trouble” financially. “Opera has undergone an internal change of strategic direction and an email service no longer fits within their long term vision,” the company wrote. “With Opera’s investment in development and infrastructure over the last 3 years, FastMail has continued to increase its rate of growth and profitability. We came to the mutual conclusion that FastMail’s future would be better served as a separate company.”
The company is keeping all of its existing staff, and noted that it believed it now had all the resources and talent it would need to “keep developing and growing FastMail now and going forward into the future”. Its current service will continue to run as they are now, and it has a number of improvements planned for the future, such as a “hugely improved mobile interface”, CardDAV support to allow synchronisation of contacts between devices, a calendaring service and improvements to its backend and searching performance.
“All these things are currently in active development and slated for release within the next year,” the company wrote.
FastMail’s place in the email pantheon has become vastly overshadowed over the years by competing services such as Microsoft’s Hotmail (now Outlook.com), Yahoo’s Mail service, and Google’s Gmail, all of which offer free options to users, supported by advertising. In comparison, FastMail charges users a fee ranging between $4.95 and $119.95 per year for its service (as well as other options for businesses and families), delivering an ad-free experience.
“Tell your friends that there’s a real alternative to the big corporations,” the company wrote in its statement. “One that doesn’t show ads, respects your privacy, and is fully committed to keeping the service going forward. Tweet about us. Post about us on your blog. Make you and your boss happy by switching your work email to FastMail.”
In the wake of scandals sweeping the US with regard to companies such as Google, Microsoft and Apple providing access to users’ email for agencies such as the National Security Agency, FastMail also reassured its users that their privacy rights would remain intact.
Interesting to see FastMail still operational — I’d more or less completely forgotten about it, as a relic from Australia’s first dot-com boom. I’m sure its subscription model is more or less keeping it afloat, but I do wonder what potential the company really sees for expansion. Not many people pay for services like FastMail these days, when you can get world-class offerings from major suppliers for free.
Having said that, if FastMail could offer a highly secure, encrypted email experience, I’d personally be interested in trialling it. I’m currently using Gmail for all my email, as I have done for a decade, but I’m not convinced anymore that it’s anything close to a secure channel, following the NSA revelations outed by Edward Snowden. And I’m sure I’m not the only person feeling this way. The caveat is that such a service probably couldn’t be hosted by FastMail in Australia — Australia’s own laws granting law enforcement agencies access to our email are almost as bad as those in the US.