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PowerInbox, looking to upgrade the e-mail experience, raises $1 million from Atlas Venture, Longworth and Correlation Ventures

Posted by Scott Kirsner  June 20, 2011 10:01 AM

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Back in March, Jeff Fagnan of Atlas Venture was on one of his monthly trips to San Francisco. He sat down in the lobby of the Four Seasons Hotel on Market Street to meet with an entrepreneur who was thinking about ways to improve the e-mail experience, Matt Thazhmon. Thazhmon, a co-founder of the Orlando start-up PowerInbox, was in the Bay Area prospecting for money, and he was planning to move the company there.

"I'd met them through AngelList," Fagnan recalls. "And after we talked for a while, I asked them, 'Why are you locating in California? You're kind of an outsider here.' Matt said he thought it was the place to be, and I said, 'I think there's a good argument for you guys locating in Boston.'"

To help make the case, Fagnan connected Thazhmon with Boston entrepreneurs like Steve Kane of LuckyLabs; Vertica CEO Chris Lynch; and Brian Halligan of HubSpot. Fagnan made the case that the company would find it easier to assemble a team in Boston, far from the Valley's recruiting madness. "Boston is just a better place to build things right now," he says.

But money talks, and with Atlas (based in Cambridge) and Longworth Venture Partners (based in Waltham) joining Correlation Ventures (California) in a $1 million seed round for PowerInbox, the team is in Boston this week scouting for office space.

Part of the PowerInbox crew hails from the videogame-maker Electronic Arts, where they worked on the Madden NFL Football series. Fagnan says, "They have this whole idea of bringing 'gamification' to your inbox, trying to make it more interesting, more engaging." But rather than giving you points or badges for responding to messages quickly, it looks like the PowerInbox app, built in HTML5, primarily wants to weave services you use regularly into your existing e-mail account, allowing you to post on someone's Facebook wall, buy a Groupon, track a package, or tend your crops on Farmville. "They're trying to keep it so you never have to leave your inbox to do things," Fagnan says. PowerInbox is running an invitation-only beta now, but Fagnan says they'll have something available to the public by July.

Atlas seems to be operating a kind of "Come to Massachusetts" campaign that would make any economic development agency envious. Aside from PowerInbox, the company has also been assisting a Montreal travel search start-up, Hopper, in moving about two-thirds of its team to Boston. And last week, the firm announced that it was funding two TechStars Boston companies that came here from elsewhere: GrabCAD (Estonia) and Kinvey (whose founders met in Austin). Both plan to set up shop in the Boston area.

TNW wrote about PowerInbox in March, and here's a video that the blogger Robert Scoble shot with PowerInbox founder Matt Thazhmon back in February:

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Innovation and technology news that matters, on a new website from the Boston Globe, featuring Scott Kirsner and other original reporting.

About Scott Kirsner

Scott Kirsner was part of the team that launched in 1995, and has been writing a column for the Globe since 2000. His work has also appeared in Wired, Fast Company, The New York Times, BusinessWeek, Newsweek, and Variety. Scott is also the author of the books "Fans, Friends & Followers" and "Inventing the Movies," was the editor of "The Convergence Guide: Life Sciences in New England," and was a contributor to "The Good City: Writers Explore 21st Century Boston." Scott also helps organize several local events on entrepreneurship, including the Nantucket Conference and Future Forward. Here's some background on how Scott decides what to cover, and how to pitch him a story idea.

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