Ideas and Validation September 30, 2020

Would love some feedback on my idea!

Adam Bowker @adboio

Hey everyone!

The other day I had an idea and built a prototype, then put together a quick landing page, so I was hoping for some feedback from you all :)

I subscribe to a ton of newsletters with amazing content, but I found myself never actually reading them. I use Superhuman for email which urges me towards "inbox zero", so when I get up at 8am and my inbox is flooded with these newsletters, I'm more likely to archive them than take time to read them immediately.

I know I'm missing out on a ton of content just to keep my inbox clean, and I wanted to fix that, so I started working on a solution.

I built it just for myself at first, but after a ton of positive feedback on Reddit, I decided I'd take it a step further and release it for anyone to use.

The product is called Shelf, a super-easy way to declutter your inbox and enjoy your newsletters on your own time.

You can either use a custom "you@shelf.news" email address to sign up for newsletters, or forward them from your existing email address, and view them on your Shelf via the website or mobile app.

You can check it out / sign up for the waitlist at https://shelf.news. I'd absolutely love to hear anyone's feedback or questions, and I hope some of you might be interested enough to beta test in the near future :)

Thank you! 🚀

  1. 5

    You can either use a custom "you@shelf.news" email address to sign up for newsletters

    You got me with this line. This is the killer-feature for me. The main reason I'm very hesitant to subscribe to newsletters is that I have to enter my E-Mail address I usually use for private as well as "business" related stuff.

    My E-Mail address isn't a secret and all over the internet but I've been burnt by Newsletter signups which weren't really informative and sales pitches most of the time (think Amazon "Newsletters"). A lot of times it's hard to unsubscribe or even worse you're on dozens of other lists you never subscribed to in the first place.

    I used a similar app in the past (can't recall the name) but it was super slow and buggy, so I stopped using it.

    One feature I'd be interested in is some kind of summarization. Basically a TL;DR of the most important topics across all my newsletters. That way I could make a more informed decision as to what Newsletter I should really dive deep into.

    You could also use the data of your overall userbase to gain insights what topics and Newsletters are trending.

    1. 2

      I'm basically sold for the same reason!

    2. 1

      Thanks so much for the feedback! I really like your reasoning behind wanting a dedicated email address. I’ve heard lots of mixed things about custom addresses vs. forwarding and that makes perfect sense. I’ve also ended up with way too many spammy newsletters coming into private inboxes and always struggle with unsubscribing from them.

      I’ve also tested a few similar apps over the past couple days and agree that they tend to be slow/buggy... I happened to find a few of their developers on various forums while doing research and I think I’ll be able to take a different, more reliable approach to quick email delivery for each user’s Shelf.

      Absolutely love your feature suggestions! I think having a TLDR would be super useful, since even though all the newsletters are in one place, some will still be more worth reading than others. I’ll have to look into some AI tech that can generate summaries, or maybe VAs... either way, it’s definitely possible! And the trending newsletters thing is genius, I’d love to see what newsletters were popular within certain topics. I mostly only sign up to newsletters via friend/colleague referrals so a discovery tool would be sick.

      1. 2

        Thanks so much for the feedback!

        Sure thing!

        since even though all the newsletters are in one place, some will still be more worth reading than others.

        Exactly 👌

        I’ll have to look into some AI tech that can generate summaries, or maybe VAs

        The AI / ML technique is called "Abstractive Text Summarization" (or sometimes just "Text Summarization"). You might find this useful as a starting point: https://towardsdatascience.com/simple-abstractive-text-summarization-with-pretrained-t5-text-to-text-transfer-transformer-10f6d602c426

        If you really want to get deep into it I can recommend paperswithcode.com. They have (as they claim) academic papers with their corresponding Open Source implementations, all in one place. Here's the topic page for Abstractive Text Summarizations which shows you the current State of The Art: https://paperswithcode.com/task/abstractive-text-summarization

        I mostly only sign up to newsletters via friend/colleague referrals so a discovery tool would be sick.

        Same here. Would love to see something like that. Now that I think about it more I haven't seen something like that in the wild 🤔

        Best of luck and let us know how you're progressing with this.

  2. 2

    I was dabbling with this problem and wanted to build a solution. There were some people trying to solve this (possibly a good indicator of demand), but none really solve my problems.

    I'm not planning to solve this anymore. So, sharing whatever I could find from my notes. Take them if you find them valuable. All the best with your project :)

    Problems

    • I have subscribed to a lot of newsletters. It pollutes my email inbox. I would like it if that's not the case.
    • Sometimes I miss important newsletters as they get buried in my email.
    • There is the problem of discovery too. If I want to find a newsletter on a particular topic, it is a lot of work. It's not a click away.
    • I would like some of the features of Pocket with my newsletters. Organizing them properly. Some newsletters are too big to read in one go, I would like something that remembers where I left off.

    Possible Solution

    • Something like Google's Podcast app, but for newsletters.
    • An app where I can read the blogs that people have written in simple readers' views (Safari Reader's view).
    • Get notified when they release a new newsletter/blog.
    • I just organize the things that I like on my app the way I want. It remembers until the place I have finished.
    • Like Spotify but for reading things on the internet.
    • I can share my reading list with others.
    • I can quickly snip a quote and tweet it out.

    Problems while moving a solution

    • They have subscribed to many newsletters, they want to import them as is to the new app without doing any work.
    • They want to bulk unsubscribe and clean their email inbox.
    • They want to store that in their drive maybe as a backup maybe.

    Existing Players

    People asking for it on Social Media
    https://twitter.com/eladgil/status/1287760417758932993
    https://twitter.com/JensBackbom/status/1286969768285810689
    https://twitter.com/alzxy/status/1303779836016689153
    https://twitter.com/BenjaminGCox/status/1272714022765293569
    https://twitter.com/MikeCoopers/status/750325845311488001
    https://twitter.com/debggr/status/1174394881885622272
    https://twitter.com/Admore/status/1296971336670162945
    https://twitter.com/steve_tenuto/status/1279907168888557568
    https://twitter.com/dannytwetes/status/541029170575183872
    https://twitter.com/DotDotJames/status/1299355649726439426
    https://twitter.com/PatrickLarsen/status/1295793208077639680

  3. 2

    The short answer is this problem has already been solved by multiple companies. With that said, none of those solutions work for me. I do not want to take the time to figure out how to change my email address for the newsletters I subscribe to. Nor do I want to take the time to forward emails so I can read them later. What would be more useful to me is to add a feature where a gmail plugin would handle the forward for me with a filter or something similar. Make it super easy for me to get my newsletters out of my inbox and into your app, and I'm in.

  4. 2

    Seems like a pretty decent idea. I want to see what approach you will take on consuming the newsletters themselves.

  5. 2

    First of all, love your validation process. Great to hear you getting feedback before building anything tangible.

    Love the concept of your product. Are you planning to charge users for the product?

    1. 1

      Thank you! I’ve spent way too many hours building products only to realize they’re not as useful as I thought, haha. Feels good to build something that solves my own problem, then find out other people might be interested too :)

      As far as charging users, I’m actually not quite sure yet... I need to monetize it somehow, but I’d hate to have a free tier that restricts the # of newsletters users can sign up for or bloats the Shelves with “sponsored newsletter” ads or something like that. To ensure the best experience for everyone I’m leaning towards just one plan that’s maybe $5/mo, but definitely need to do some more research in that department.

      1. 2

        Sounds good, looking forward to following the journey.

  6. 1

    Signed up! Been thinking of this problem myself, and how I'd solve it. It seems to me like we need a modern day solution like RSS for mailing lists—something that makes them into the feed I want to read on my own time.

    Can't wait to check out what you've got.

  7. 1

    Hi Adam, I currently solve this problem by having a second gmail account that I use exclusively for newsletters. Is there something about Shelf that would be better than this? If so, it's not obvious to me.

  8. 1

    It's funny I was thinking about this problem just yesterday.
    I feel exactly the same about newsletter! excited to see your product and just signed up!

  9. 1

    Adam, great idea. I have the same problem and would pay for a solution like this, with a few caveats:

    1. I would not grant shelf or any third party the ability to read my emails, for security reasons.
    2. I would want the flexibility to see a "shelf" within multiple email clients, the most important being Apple mail.

    It's not so critical to me that it looks visually like what you have put together (even though that looks nice). It's more important that emails are aggregated in a single place.

    Do you think it's even possible to create a product that meets these requirements?

    1. 1

      Thanks so much for the feedback!

      I totally understand the concern with third parties reading your emails. Just to clarify, Shelf would never access anyone's existing inboxes -- it would only ever see emails that were forwarded to Shelf, or sent directly to Shelf (i.e. newsletters that were signed up for using the custom you@shelf.news email address). My assumption was that most (if not all) email being sent through Shelf would be public newsletters, like Product Hunt Daily or TheFutureParty. In this case, I hadn't imagined security would be a huge issue, but of course measures will still be taken to ensure no data will be exposed to any other parties. Were you more concerned with a third party reading your existing emails, or being able to see the content of your newsletters?

      I like the idea of a Shelf in email clients -- could you elaborate on that little more? Are you thinking something like a folder or tag group within the client? If so, I'm not sure how that could be implemented... perhaps something with parsing inbound emails using the Gmail API.

      1. 1

        After reflecting on your comments, I think you're right that mass emails from email lists probably carry a lower security concern. And yes, I was thinking like more of a folder or tag group.

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