AppMesh's intelligent mobile productivity platform takes the suck out of maintaing a CRM

By Michael Carney , written on April 8, 2013

From The News Desk

Traditional CRM systems – which are little more than empty spreadsheets with a custom interface – are the kind of thing that managers love, but sales reps hate. Managers gravitate toward the ability to turn to one centralized database and monitor rep activity, as well as forecast future performance. Reps, on the other hand, loath the need to manually input data following each customer interaction.

AppMesh launched its mobile platform today with the goal of redefining what it means to track customer engagement. The app, which is available for iOS-only at launch, is a bit like a real time, omnipotent CRM and smart assistant hybrid that lives in your pocket. The contextually aware software monitors all activity within core iOS apps, including phone, calendar and email, logging all interactions with contacts and leaving users free to focus on more productive tasks. Each interaction is timestamped and geotagged for future reference.

“Traditional CRMs like salesforce were meant to be the 'system of record' for an enterprise,” InterWest Partners partner and AppMesh investor Bruce Cleveland says. “AppMesh is meant to be 'system of use' and is focused on helping the individual perform their job better. This is a purpose-built system that rethinks the CRM space from the rep backward, looking at their day-to-day functions.”

It’s not just managers who need access to customer engagement data. It’s critical that salespeople know when they last interacted with each client, so that they can manage their future engagements. Whether it be a hot prospect, or a loyal customer, it’s important to keep the conversation fresh, but not overwhelmingly so. Knowing that you last called 11 days ago, and last emailed four days ago is key to doing so.

Appmesh puts this information at sales rep’s fingertips, without the need to spend excessive and unnecessary amounts of time tracking their communications contacts – or avoiding doing so entirely, leaving their CRMs incomplete and thus ineffective at their etymological task of managing customer relationships.

The AppMesh app is designed entirely for use on touch-based mobile devices. First, its persistent engagement tracking limits the need for manual data entry. Next, the swipe-based user interface puts a premium on limiting the number of touches required to complete any action. Finally, the app stores all data locally, and only syncs to the cloud for backup purposes. The result is that AppMesh is both extremely responsive and also available offline, when connectivity is unavailable.

AppMesh’s "Agenda" tab, follows the “get things done” methodology by combinating scheduled appointments with time-independent to-dos that automatically populate upcoming blocks of free time until marked completed. The adjacent “People” tab allows users to view detailed interaction histories for each contact or to swipe to quickly initiate a phone call, text message, email, or create a calendar appointment without having to open up an individual contact. In the iPad version, the app includes a number of additional interfaces, including a "Deals" tab that tracks the progress of prospective deals, and a "Metrics" tab, which monitors the number and frequency of customer interactions.

The AppMesh platform is designed for small teams – whether that means small companies, or small working groups within larger enterprises – and enables customized syncing across groups of devices. This way, team members or management can maintain access to updated information for mutually relevant contacts. When a user first creates an AppMesh account, the can import existing contact databases from Salesforce as well as from their iOS device – with the option, in the latter case, to select only business contacts.

AppMesh will ultimately be offered as a freemium product, although it’s entirely free today. Potential premium features include analytics, business card scanning, social contact integration, deduplication, and customization, among others. No price has been set for the paid version, but the startup is cognizant that reps are price sensitive. This is important given that the company plans to sell directly to the end users, hoping to penetrate SMBs and enterprises from the bottom up, rather than from the top down. Interwest’s Cleveland suggests that $10 per user per month is the upper limit of tolerance, if they expect end users to pay out of pocket

When it comes to reimagining enterprise productivity software for the post-PC era, it’s startups who have the edge. It’s certainly not for their resources, but rather for their ability to start with a clean sheet, devoid of all the compatibility and legacy architecture baggage of the desktop cloud incumbents. That said, if you were to conjure up the perfect team to build these products, you’d be wise to include a few industry insiders who can bring years of insight and experience to the table.

As the product of two Salesforce veteran founders, Leo Tenenblat and Tom Tobin, AppMesh fits the bill. The pair have been building their vision for the future of customer engagement software since April 2012, and raised a thus far unreported $900,000 Seed round in June of last year from InterWest Partners and Opus Capital.

“Their Salesforce background is an unfair advantage,” Cleveland says. “I invested in Marketo when it was ‘three guys, a dog, and a whiteboard.’ I look at Tom and Leo as being similar to that team – incredibly product savvy. They will learn a ton during the process and will iterate quickly.”

AppMesh has created a compelling initial product and longer term vision, but it faces a number of obstacles. First of all, while it’s great to be “mobile first,” it’s tough to be mobile only. Without a desktop or Web version, users are left with clunky workarounds like BCCing themselves on emails to record interactions. Given that the purpose of the app is to reduce manual record-keeping, this is less than ideal. The same applies to the inability to utilize the platform’s analytics and deal-tracking features via a PC.

Secondly, while iOS is arguably the dominant mobile platform among business users, many of its core apps are not so popular. Many users have replaced the core Mail and Calendar apps with one of a number of alternatives including, Gmail, Sparrow, and Mailbox, in the case of email, and Sunrise, Tempo, Cue, and others, when it comes to calendars. It is unclear how this will affect syncing and interaction tracking, but AppMesh would be wise to allow users to utilize their apps of choice to the extent possible.

Finally, expanding to Android will be a necessary step if AppMesh is to make a real impact. This is something that its founders know well, however they’re focused on perfecting the product and feature set on a single platform, before trying to address others.

“Tom and Leo’s big challenge is going to be to fight the constant pressure to provide more features and more functionality,” Cleveland says. “Look at what Salesforce has added in the last 10 years. These guys have the challenge of making this simple and end-user consumable.”

As business professionals increasingly view their smartphones and tablets as their primary device, solutions like AppMesh will be increasingly necessary. Many of the app’s obstacles are simply a product of the fact that we’re still in a transition between the past and this inevitable future. With their enterprise experience, Tenenblat and Tobin are more aware than most where this market is heading. With the clean slate of a startup finally available to them, it’s no surprise that they’ve quickly leapfrogged the existing solutions in the market.