Email Bankruptcy

On Sunday night I sat down at the dinner table after my family headed upstairs and I spent three hours cleaning out my email inbox. When I started I had over 1200 unread non-spam emails. Three hours later I had the number down to 800 and I was wiped out. I went to bed and decided to declare email bankruptcy.

From early April to the first week of May, the number of unread emails in my inbox grew from a manageable hundred to an unmanageable thousand. There wasn't one event that precipitated this situation, it was a number of situations. This happens to me fairly regularly.

Here's how I declare email bankruptcy: I have a list of about thirty people who I email with regularly and who are my most important email relationships. I use two web services, Gist and Etacts, to tell me who these people are. Both are useful. I then do gmail searches on their names and make sure that I have no unread and unarchived emails from them. It would be great if one or both of these services could auto-generate a gmail search on all thirty addresses for me. It would be even better if gmail had this feature built into the service.

Once I have made sure I've read and answered all emails from my thirty most important email relationships, I select all and hit archive. It is a tremendously satisfying feeling.

I am sorry if you sent me an email in the past five weeks and I did not respond. There are over 800 emails like that and so you are not alone. If it is important that I see your email, please email me again.

Longtime readers know that I struggle with email. I hate it but I cannot operate without it. I have gotten hundreds of suggestions on how to become more efficient with email and I have adopted many of them. But the more efficient I get with email, the more of it that comes in. 

My friend Stu Roseman is hacking together yet another web service to make email easier and I was testing it last week. He was seeing my email flow because of that and at one point he sent me an email which said "I am in awe that you can handle this amount of mail."

I am not in awe, I am in pain. And it is a pain that never goes away. That's email and that's why I am yet again bankrupt.

#VC & Technology#Web/Tech

Comments (Archived):

  1. Jitendra

    I have one suggestion. If you are using gmail or google mail app, you can try combination of multiple inboxes, filters and tasks to keep track of mails that are unread or require your attention at later point of time.You can also use filter to categorize mails into say alerts (one time check and delete) and important (based upon the from address list)

    1. fredwilson

      that is basically what my friend stu is building. it’s an automated way of doing that. the issue for me is once it is out of my inbox, i will never get to to it

      1. RichardF

        The biggest part of the problem which is v difficult in your case to solve is pure volume. I’d consider an auto responder (out of office reply in gmail) which says you get inundated and cannot always respond to xyz. Not ideal I know but I think most people would understand.I have standard filters set up in my email which is google apps that would seem to address your 30 contacts scenario if I understand it correctly.Which reminds me I need to email you 😉

        1. fredwilson

          you just did via disqus

  2. Bruce Barber

    This looks like a job for… an assistant?

    1. fredwilson

      nope, not doing it

  3. John Sharp

    Just curious… do you have anyone – an assistant perhaps – that could sit in the middle of all this and provide some “human filtering”? I know that sounds “old school” but that’s a lot of email to sort through…

    1. fredwilson

      that is the single most common suggestion of the hundreds i have received over the yearsbut i won’t do itit’s not me and how i operateif you email me, you get me (or you don’t in the case of the 800 i archived)

      1. ShanaC

        Would you do this with your phone…

      2. Facebook User

        people are using the wrong solution to the problem;rather than filtering the messages at the recipient end; the correct way is to have the sender categorizes the message they are sending. of course that involves fetching categories of emails (you set) from you (need some outlook and firefox extensions to support legacy mail clients and systems)if the sender want their message read; they use the right category; otherwise the message goes into uncategorized box.I’m working on a social network that allows business partners to exchange messages, files, business cases, with their colleagues and clients; and in need for a small angel investment in range of $100K. a lot like facebook, but rather than comments and photos, you share business discussions and files on it (it’s called me know if you want to discuss such adventure. (2be !! d r os @ no spaces or !

  4. Fred Kapoor

    I find the term you have adopted, the “e-mail bankruptcy” very funny and I believe it is very graphic, because it is the same kind of surrender attitude we all take after spending hours trying to clear up the crowded inbox to end up with a large number that would take us even more and more days to clear up. So yes! I couldn’t agree more!!! Besides, if you stop to think that the next day the amount of emails will be twice as large, you will start considering going for an even more drastic term, lol!

  5. JimHirshfield

    Hmm, is this bankruptcy or “strategic foreclosure”, as in the underwater homeowners that just walk away even though they have the means to pay? 😉

  6. LIAD

    #first_world_problems eh?the essence of your problem is that your just too damn popular!SOLUTION: implement an adword style auction system – when people email you they need to set a max bid on their email appearing on the first page of your inbox. You effectively provide a surefire way of getting your attention and in return receive your emails in (quasi) order of importance.Nice cash generative business. I’ll go 50/50 with you on the bid revenue or license you the idea for 20% equity.Deal?

    1. fredwilson

      that seems wrong to mepaying to get into my inbox?

      1. LIAD

        it’s making the best of a bad situation.better to pay to get into it than be arbitrarily deleted and purged from it. -ok, ok, your a tough negotiator. 15% equity – my final offer

        1. fredwilson

          how about earning the right vs paying for the right?

          1. LIAD

            hmmm,would require manual feedback from the host to implement, compounding your problem not resolving it.——the solution is completely comparable to adwords. more search results than searchers can handle, google uses auction-bids to infer level of importance advertisers place on being seen by searcher.your the searcher, the people who email you are the advertisers, your inbox are the search results, and I’m Google.(yippeee) – its all good.

          2. fredwilson

            i don’t believe in paying to get mail thrugoodmail tried that and failedreputation is the answer to this problem

          3. LIAD

            i concur – wouldn’t work anyway as desire to pay has no real implication on importance or quality. – global, decentralised, reputation system utilising some resonance algorithm like twitter’s promoted tweets would be cool. just like the spam IP databases but for reputation.number of false positives/negatives, algorithm tweaks required would be gargantuan. would require huge open-source effort to pull off.

          4. Mark Essel

            Could start simple where each user rates their contacts, spam or positive. Gmail has the data power

          5. eric_bingham

            Agreed – attention is earned and those who “cry wolf” via less valuable/important emails lose attention. I suspect some number of the un-read emails you dealt with Sunday night were from people who earned that less valuable “reputation” over time.

          6. Mark Essel

            I do like the idea of a personal email rating system. That way based on a personal score we may or may not hit your inbox.The charging system would work as a filter but does feel off. How about donating the email wall fee?You only have so much attention to divy up each day. Better to at least have a framework for handling must need stuff first. Then opportunity optional contacts later.

          7. Carl Rahn Griffith

            ‘Strangers’ can demonstrate their provenance via (eg) Twitter – or Disqus – and via such ‘credits’ built over time/trust, can attain better email credentials, maybe? Discussed the idea a little more in a post elsewhere in this thread. Email solicitation is – I feel – far from ideal yet when one has established/witnessed a stranger’s dialogue here or via another SM environment maybe one could grant them an email pathway, discreetly? Just thinking out loud …

          8. Mark Essel

            That’s not a bad approach. If you want to email me, someone I trust has to give you a referral or email credit (one time usage). I really like that, sorta like LinkedIn introductions, without LinkedIn. All of our friends and associates can act as a front line against spam. The more I think about it, the more I like it Carl. Plus we could have limited access (a single message), and the send to target can decide to grant one more message, a handful of messages, or unlimited access.Imagine if you could only send someone X emails per week or period until they granted you more access. You may think more carefully before sending each one. That could be a great improvement for email.

          9. RichardF

            Really like the granting of messages idea Mark combined with an address book/white list/weighting algorithm.I’d like to see goggle apps do this – are you listening GOOG ?

          10. Dave Pinsen

            Or Disqus points on Fred’s blog could qualify you? That would sort of be a vetting by his blog community.

          11. Mark Essel

            Disqus filtering could be part of the email solution.

          12. RichardF

            keep on thinking out loud Carl, nice idea

          13. ShanaC

            And you wonder why social networking took off….lower weight, much more reputation and circle based.

          14. kidmercury

            emails filtered based on the fredland badges the sender possesses. fredmail!

          15. robertavila

            How about paying in something other than Money: Fred points? Rate the emails you like, those with lots of high ratings then have points to price out subsequent emails. Might even allow a secondary market in Fred Points someone can advance an associate with a good idea. The system then filters both directions. You signify what was greatly valued while senders husbanding the points they’ve earned for most effective usage….

      2. Dave Pinsen

        This reminds me of a discussion elsewhere (on Matt Mireles’s blog?) about a New York angel investor network that was charging a fee for entrepreneurs to submit business plans. If memory serves, Matt objected to that, and the fellow from the angel network responded that charging a fee kept the number of responses manageable. And that, without one, the only entrepreneurs who would get access would be the ones with some current connection to the angels.That’s not verbatim, just my recollection. But this seems to be the same general situation.I’m still curious about a meta-question: why is it important for you to be able to have strangers contact you via e-mail?

        1. fredwilson

          because strangers are likely the next entrepreneur we want to back

          1. Dave Pinsen

            You could use a form for that, like your friend Howard Lindzon does on his blog.

  7. Radu John

    Hey VC , looks like you haven’t found this address yet. I use it very successful, and it’s free ! I think a VC is funding the development of this one.Use it , you’ll be more than happy with it.

    1. fredwilson

      rapportive is a lot like etatcs, xobni, mailbrowser, and a handful of other email enhancement services. i haven’t tried it but several of my colleagues use it.

      1. rahulvohra

        Hey Fred — I’d love if you’d try Rapportive out. Would be good to get your feedback.As a tech investor, I’m pretty certain you’ll love our CrunchBase add-on:…(It’s currently a little hidden away; click the Rapportive menu at the top of Gmail, then “Add or Remove Raplets”).

        1. reece

          I recently made the switch to Chrome full time. With the Rapportive extension, it’s a powerful combo for email.

      2. Sachin Agarwal

        I’d strongly suggest trying Rapportive if you use the Gmail web interface. It’s rather astonishing to see the pace of developments of Raplets (extensions) to the general Rapportive CRM tools. If you’re using Outlook, Boomerang – – is pretty awesome to handle “I want to get to that eventually, but not now” e-mails. (Disclosure: I’m a TechStars Boston Advisor this summer, and Baydin was in the Summer ’09 batch.)

      3. Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry

        Rapportive is nice, I use it, a VC friend uses it. It’s not perfect though (for example, I’m listed as “Gobry Gobry” when people who use Rapportive get email from me)

        1. Martin Kleppmann

          Hi Pascal-Emmanuel, sorry about the wrong name! Please email [email protected] and we’ll fix it.

    2. John Frankel

      I have used Rapportive. Great idea and great team, but addressing “who is that person” problem, not filtering out a pre-defined list. I would recommend that this is one of the best email add-ins I have seen anywhere. Great productivity tool.

  8. Mark MacLeod

    Two suggestions:1.) A different e-mail address you use for your core business – i.e with portfolio companies, boards, co-investors. Don’t make this address public.2.) Get Tim Ferris to give you some advice on getting a virtual assistant up and running to do a 1st pass on the everything else and only bubble up what needs your direct attention

    1. Radu John

      startupcfo , right on the money … I have about 11 email addresses that handle each 200-2000 users for me.All of them on Gmail. And it is so comfortably that way !Maybe Fred should be better of on doing that.

      1. Fernando Gutierrez

        The problem with having several email addresses is that you confuse the really important people in your communication. The people who are clearly in one area of your life will only write with the appropriate email address, but the people who are part of several areas of your life will jump from one to another and you’ll have problems to keep up.

  9. kidmercury

    email bankruptcy = the dark side of blog stardom, boss…..sorry to hear you’re in the email poor house yet again. damn. the human filter has been suggested in previous instances of email bankruptcy as well as today….i concur, i think human email filters are great for email-intensive people like yourself. IMHO automation can only get you so far, at least until the govt releases all the suppressed technology they have (btw, if you want to learn about govt suppression of teleportation technology, look into project pegasus. there are whistleblowers who have gone public on that. other keywords would be philadelphia experiment and einstein’s unified field theory. careful though, if you wander down the teleportation path you will be dangerously close to becoming a full-blown kook, kid mercury style…teleportation is one step away from stuff like time travel and for many it will end up challenging their spiritual beliefs).

    1. fredwilson

      i’m not doing itif i can’t read and respond to my own email then i don’t want to be using email

      1. Louis Marascio

        Wouldn’t it be better than nuking 800 emails? I mean, those didn’t get responded to either :). IMO, a human filter is much better here. They are infinitely more adaptable, can be responsive without being intrusive, and can help the people emailing you understand your priorities. This is infinitely better than having an email languish for weeks or months before being summarily nuked.Why not use a human filter that lets all “important” email flow through to you directly from the 30 most important contacts you mentioned above. Then let the human filter prioritize the rest of the emails based on what’s important to you: new deal flow, young entrepreneurs seeking counsel, whatever it may be. There is no shame in this, and it leaves you in a situation where you’re actually responding to all of your email vs drowning in it.You’ve declared email bankruptcy. It’s time to institute the court mandated restructuring plan. 🙂

      2. ShanaC

        a) investment in the making (or not) (some people can’t nuke 800 emails)You need to figure out how to deal….

  10. John Frankel

    Gmail has this feature today (and i have been using it for some time). It is under Gmail abs and is called “Multiple Inboxes”. The description under Gmail Labs is “Add extra lists of emails in your inbox to see even more important email at once. The new lists of threads can be labels, your starred messages, drafts or any search you want, configurable under Settings.”

    1. fredwilson

      ooh, i am going to check that out Johnthanks for the tipreally helpful

      1. John Frankel

        It is ugly (as you have to enter the 30 email addresses as a search) but it works. Note that you can have up to 4-5 separate boxes, so you could split the 30 people in family, friends, work etc.

        1. fredwilson


      2. ShanaC

        Note: You have to use it effectively- certain stuff of mine comes up double. It does cut back on some stuff though….

  11. ceonyc

    I actually think this is somewhat useful. It trains people that if you don’t respond right away, and it’s really important, they’ll ping you again. Right now, anyone paying attention knows their last e-mail prob didn’t go through, so the people that *really* want to talk to you are following up. It feels bad, but I think it’s probably more effective as a filter than anything else you have.

    1. Shahar Solomianik

      Sustaining this methodology turns the inbox into a stream. Streambox…

    2. Aaron Klein

      To me, that’s actually part of the problem. If your daily e-mail load is X, you increase it by a factor of 20% to 30% by forcing people to double-send.If I were Fred, I’d have an executive assistant managing my public e-mail. Rules would throw all messages that weren’t from those 30 people (or direct replies to my own message) into a folder that the assistant would pass through. He/she could toss the ones I should see back into the inbox.

      1. ceonyc

        If 95% of all inbound email went to an assistant, Fred would cease to beFred…he’s built a rep on being down to earth, accessable, etc.Accessabilty may not scale but valiant attempts to be accessable reap greatsocial capital rewards.

        1. Aaron Klein

          I agree – but don’t misunderstand what I’m suggesting. A good executive assistant has the skills to take the “real” e-mail from the people Fred wants to be accessible to and put that in his inbox. Then he’s down to a manageable number of messages and the real accessibility starts to happen.

          1. Fernando Gutierrez

            The problem is that maybe those 800 emails are the kind of things he wants to be involved with. If that’s the case then it is a problem of workload, not of email. It would be like a sales rep trying to visit 100 clients per day. It doesn’t matter how much he desires it and how many tools you give him, it’s not gonna happen.

          2. Aaron Klein

            You’re absolutely right. That’s all about how you draw the line with your exec assistant. We can all wish for 36 hour days but they don’t exist. (I’d invest in that startup.)

    3. Andrew Shults

      This also works for Fred because he has a widely read, public platform where he can announce his “email bankruptcy.” For most of us, not responding is more likely to be seen as a sign of not being interested rather than I haven’t gotten to that yet. Granted, my email volume is only a fraction of what Fred deals with so I don’t think I’ll have to consider “email bankruptcy” for a long time, but right now don’t think that it would be a realistic option.

      1. ceonyc

        Excellent point

      2. Fernando Gutierrez

        Set up an autoresponder. It’s not so unusual, I’ve already received some from people in very different contexts and I’m never pissed off. I get informed and then I can decide what to do next. Waiting uninformed is always worse.

  12. Jon Smirl

    Gmail can do what you are looking for. You need to turn on some labs features to make it work.First make tags for your top 30 people. Make filters for these people based on their email address (use OR if they have multiple) and filter them to “skip inbox” and apply the label you just made. You may want to start these labels with a special character like “#” to force them to the top of the alphabetized list.Turn on the lab “Hide read labels.”. That will make gmail labels with everything read inside of them disappear (you can get to them via a drop down). I have several hundred labels, they would be unmanageable without this lab.Enable the lab “Mark as Read” button. I also enable the lab “Default ‘Reply to all’.Enable the lab “Multiple Inboxes” Set your extra inbox to have the filer: “is:unread”.Now when you look at gmail to read you mail. First check the tag list on the left for unread mail from your top 30 people. If any of them have unread counts click on the tag and you will see their mail. Once you are done looking at their mail do “select unread”, “mark as read” to clear the unread status of their mail that you don’t care about. Doing this will make their tag disappear from the tags list. Work through all of your tags first, those are you most important emails.After you have cleared all of you tags go to work on the top pane (it is set to “is:unread”). It will contain email addressed to you that is unread but wasn’t picked up by your tag filters. Be sure to “mark as read” anything in the inbox that you don’t want to read but you want to keep. Otherwise delete it.Don’t use email to read anything that has an RSS feed. Google Reader is much better for tracking feeds.I’m able to use this system to process 500 emails a day.

    1. fredwilson

      you are the second person to suggest thisi am so doing itthanks!!

      1. Jon Smirl

        To make the “mark as read” process go faster. Set “Maximum page size” to 100 on the Settings/General page.By using the “hide read labels” lab there is no downside to making hundreds of labels. So you can make labels for your top 30, 50 or 100 people. I put all of my email lists into tags this way.The purpose of multiple inboxes is to create the “is:unread” inbox on top. I never use the other one below it.

        1. Jon Smirl

          To recover some screen space, goto settings/labels and hide – “starred, chat, sent mail, all mail, spam, trash”. That will move those tags to a drop down.I color some of my tags like rvijapurapu suggests. Click on the the white square to the left of the tags to change the color options. Initially I used a lot of colors, but now I only color the most important ones.

          1. leeschneider

            Jon, how does a system like yours integrate with a mobile device (say iPhone)? Since you’ve got stuff skipping the inbox I assume that would mean they don’t hit your mobile device either.

          2. Jon Smirl

            I don’t use mobile. But the gmail app on my wife’s Blackberry can access gmail tags without trouble. gmail seems to push based on the unread status instead of having the message in the inbox.I work on the Linux kernel which is what generates so much email. A majority of the people working on the kernel use Gmail in combination with other tools.

          3. Terretta

            Enable labs IMAP features. In Settings, hide most labels (folders) from IMAP except these “top n” labels. Unfortunately, on the iPhone/iPad you have to navigate into a label/folder to see if it has unread count, UNLESS you reconfigure as Exchange to use Google Sync (Active Sync) then mark the labels you want as push sync. (Tip: also push sync Sent.)

    2. rvijapurapu

      +1Whenever I do a signup these days, first thing I do is add a filter in Gmail to do the sorting.Also persons of interest have separate color labelling – so they are not to be missed. This enables me to query my inbox in a glance & only read the ones which I have marked important when busy & at the end of the day – I go through the inbox and clear out.This is incredibly helpful in keeping my inbox sane.

    3. Mark Essel

      Nice Jon, I’m comfortable with 100 emails a day with my current setup but will certainly try something like your setup if it becomes unmanageable.Sending myself an email of your comment now 🙂

    4. whitneymcn

      Really helpful, thanks! Since shifting to gmail I’ve been moving towards having every incoming message get tagged by at least one filter upon arrival, but hadn’t worked out how to make it really efficient — your experience and tips are a huge kick in the right direction.

  13. Srikanth Thunga

    gmail – create a label where the from email id are these 30 email ids…

  14. JFM

    Fred, there is no need to declare email bankruptcy. There is a new federal bailout program for email!

    1. ShanaC


  15. Laurent Boncenne

    Don’t forget you can auto filter messages in gmail when you give your email address, like Fred+accounts @ gmail will automatically send it to your “accounts” label. you can also leverage the “star” system for your 30 most important (a NYC startup) has some of these features, plus a very nice way to browse the files within all of your email. I used to have an account there, but haven’t checked it out for a long time…

  16. Scott Carleton

    I apologize for adding to the 800 count this morning 🙂

  17. Eric Leebow

    Perhaps you should do what Gary Vaynerchuk does, send out a video explaining your email situation. In his video he explains that he might not get back to you right away. You might want to check out these services and/or in addition to Gist as then you can add notes in the email and get more info quickly.

  18. phcases

    Things may be getting even worse if email providers start to open up the fire hose of updates directly into your email system. It seems to me that you are very focused on managing the relationships that matter, which is one way of approaching the problem. I am surprised though that, in your case, you only have 30. Between your LPs, portfolio companies, member s of your team and Venture Capital colleagues, I would see you closer to the higher limit of what somebody can manage in the hundred range.Your approach sounds like an excellent first step but I would think that the next one would be to organize your email system around conversations. Let’s say that you have a list of portfolio companies, you would aggregate all emails from the perceived players around one of your portfolio companies in one thread and very quickly assert what the topic of the conversations is all about for that specific portfolio company.I also think that you would want a quick way to know who was in your email system at one point and that somebody has ever wanted to reach you and what it was all about.

    1. Mark Essel

      I thought 30 was lean too, could go ultra lean and close that inbox permanently, but keep it for searches.

  19. Dan Ramsden

    So, in light of this commentary, are you quite sure about the net neutrality thing?

  20. fictionornon

    I can’t condone archiving all mail outside of 30 contacts and saying “If it is important that I see your email, please email me again.” This is a really ineffective process. If you’re not reading it, I think the best solution is to divert people from emailing you in the first place. Otherwise, it’s a black hole (unless you imagine you’ll search against at some unknown future time).

    1. Mark Essel

      I think the search against is the rationale behind not bouncing them. A contact could call Fred and say “look up that email I sent you on how to filter your email better”

      1. fictionornon

        Good point. I think it boils down to the expectations of the sender. The guy who sends email filtering suggestions is different from the guy who sends business critical info (assuming both are outside of the 30-person whitelist).

  21. goofydg1

    They’re right. Filters.

  22. Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry

    I’d never hear the end of it if I didn’t mention at this point that a few friends run (and a few others have invested in) a great startup called Kwaga which helps you manage your inbox. They use semantic search and other voodoo to highlight urgent/relevant/etc email.

  23. jchewitt

    Fred, I think you may want to stop talking about e-mail bankruptcy, and begin talking candidly about how Schumer and the rest of the Democrats just stabbed you and the rest of the VC crowd in the back.I mean, right, I grew up two floors below Schumer. I worked for him. My dad handled IPOs for Goldman. I know how this stuff works.All they are doing is appeasing the AFL-CIO to screw over Facebook, Demand Studios, et al to pay back their buddies in lefty media.This is how they repay your loyalty. There is no amount of money that you can donate to these guys that will make them see reason. Just let Washington know that they are too expensive, inflation adjusted, to help them get elected anymore.Hire a few PIs and go hog wild on finding blackmail material. Leak it to the press.End them. Biggest mistake ever made. I tried to tell people how dumb it would be to lobby for “Financial Regulation,” but there you go. The party leaders think that finance should be a “public utility.” They are, uh, how do I say this politely – fucking retarded.

  24. tamccann

    Fred,Thanks for the Gist mention. I have been using Etacts and Rapportive too, which are cool and useful, but do not help at all to prioritize the email. Gist is very focused on this issue of “who is most important” to help you make decisions on what to do next with all kinds of their content and to only see what is “most important”. To date, we have focused on News, Blogs, Tweets and Facebook updates in our reader, but we have considered email there as well, which could give you a least a way to read what is most important and once you have done this, you can delete the rest or just keep that view open and plod through it at your own pace. As new messages enter, they would just fall into their appropriate rank. I am interested to talk to people who would want that for Outlook or Gmail.

  25. Mark Essel

    At the level of email you have, I think you have to consider a permission based alternative. Unsolicited emails can be handled by a staff member. Seriously, think about what else you could be doing unshackled from an unceasing inbox. By the way, I’m not emailing you unless I have something real – no reason to add to your pain.A permission based email system will only accept mail from an approved list. Otherwise something like a wall of tweet like streams of unsoliticited emails would serve you better from non-business essential mail.I’ll think about this a little harder, there’s a handful of popular folks like yourself that are over whelmed by email but don’t have a better alternative. (Seth Godin, Robert Scoble)

    1. RichardF

      Seth did a post on email not so long ago here…The bit I liked best was this:”a bonus tip from Cory Doctorow (who got it from danah boyd). Cory gets more email than you and me combined: When you go on vacation, set up an autoreply that says, “I’m on vacation until x/x/2010. When I get back, I’m going to delete all the email that arrived while I was gone, so if this note is important, please send it to me again after that date.”

    2. Fernando Gutierrez

      Robert Scoble wrote somewhere that he could keep up thanks to gmail filters. I can’t remember the number, but he had a huge number of them.

      1. Mark Essel

        he get’s overwhelmed sometimes, I get the response “my emails rates have gone over a rate I can currently handle”. I think it’s a function Robert turns on when he has other priorities to juggle

  26. immad

    Apart from multiple inboxes and filters that other people have suggested I would recommend using keybindings. Here is my process for going through gmail.1. I do a pass through all my email in about 20 seconds where I archive everything that is obviously not worth replying. Using ‘j’/’k’ to go up and down email ‘x’ to select and ‘a’ to archive2. I do a second pass through my email where I click on the top one and I skim it, if its important I skip past it by pressing ‘j’ so it remains in my inbox if its not important I archive using ‘[‘. If I need to be aggressive because my email is very busy then I ‘[‘ more emails.3. I go from the top and read the email. If I can reply quickly then I do it. If its going to take too long and doesn’t require immediate response then I put it in my waiting label that gets moved to a second multiple inbox. If its important but not quick I leave it in my inbox. Those last ones are the most time consuming but impossible to avoid.Often i don’t get back to the waiting label for a long time, but that’s okay since if its important enough I remember it or it comes back to me.

    1. immad

      Actually in step 1 ‘y’ does archive.

  27. sigmaalgebra

    Here’s an outline of a solution to your e-mail problems:I start with an example success I had and, then, using that, outline how to solve a wide range of such e-mail problems easily.Most client e-mail software has most of my favorite examples of unnecessary, self-inflicted, unanesthetized, root-canal procedures. OUCH.In 1994 I bought a computer from Gateway with Windows 3.11, promptly loaded OS/2, found that the OS/2 GUI e-mail would kill itself just doing its GUI things, took out two days, wrote my own e-mail software directly from the SNMP and POP3 standards and direct usage of TCP/IP sockets, and used that software with great pleasure for 11 years, converted to Windows XP in 2005, loaded Office 2003, have used its Outlook e-mail since, several times have shouted myself hoarse at Outlook and its PST files, and keep threatening just to return to the e-mail software I wrote on OS/2. That software was written in Rexx and made heavy use of my favorite text editor KEdit with macros also in Rexx and, thus, will also run as is on Windows.Note: What is Rexx? It’s an interpretative programming language developed by Mike Cowlishaw at an IBM location in England. Rexx is elegant: Has a dirt simple syntax, with nothing tricky, that is easy to read, and even complicated code can look good on the screen. The Rexx design assumes that much of the work will be processing strings and has tools to do so that are beautiful and powerful. It also has 50 digit exact whole number decimal arithmetic. It was the main means of programming ‘service virtual machines’ (think SaaS) that long were the main source of administrative and end user computing in IBM — it’s not a toy.More recent version of Rexx, called ObjectRexx, have some object oriented features, and there is a nice collection of functions for TCP/IP sockets. On Windows there are some GUI calls, and recently I wrote a little ObjectRexx that is now by far my most heavily used program on Windows — the program does a screen ‘rearrangement’ I like to keep the screen all nice and tidy so that I can find things easily!With TCP/IP sockets, ObjectRexx can do well at the basic sending and receiving of e-mail and subsequent standard manipulations and also be the means of a huge range of ad hoc queries and other operations.For something that most people would do in spreadsheet, I use ObjectRexx instead and greatly prefer it. E.g., once I did a complicated Monte Carlo multi-period business model simulation with ‘controls’ for ‘dynamic decisions’ during the periods (so, the decisions were not all fixed at the beginning but were able to respond to the randomness of the Monte Carlo — ‘optimal’ decisions, of course, would be stochastic optimal control which is usually at least a super computer application). The 50 digit decimal arithmetic makes it easy to generate high quality random numbers, e.g., X(n + 1) = A * X( n ) + B Mod C where A = 5**15, B = 1, and C = 2**47 (Coveyou and McPherson from Oak Ridge via Knuth — passes the Fourier test). I also wrote a nice auto acceleration simulator with gears, aerodynamic drag, coefficient of friction and wheel spinning, and more, in Rexx. Recently I wanted to generate some curves for product growth and market saturation, found that spreadsheet was horribly slow, so wrote a little Rexx quickly that ran quickly and wrote data that Excel could easily turn into nice graphs.KEdit, my favorite text editor, brilliantly designed by a guy in Paris, powerful, very programmable, is, except for my little screen rearranger, by far my most heavily used program. I do most of my reading in KEdit and essentially all of my typing — e-mail, software, technical papers, own notes, lots of simple data base work, e.g., manipulating lists of file names, small calculations, random facts, grabbing a phone number from a line and dialing it (uh, any software that will write to a COM port on a computer with a standard FAX modem card with the phone line running through the card can dial phone numbers with just a few lines of code). I have a few thousand HTML files of software documentation with summaries in files maintained with KEdit; to find something, I look in a summary file, and then a single keystroke opens the right HTML file. KEdit is my most important tool.For e-mail KEdit can provide nearly all of the user interface.Computer viruses via e-mail were long a major problem: Not for me. With that e-mail software, there is no way in this solar system I could get a computer virus via e-mail, on OS/2 or Windows. F’get about it. To be clear, they could send virus code, but it would only be treated, safely, as data with no chance it would get executed!Why not use my old e-mail software? Main reasons:(1) I have 5 years of e-mail in Outlook not so easy to extract. And, after pain and agony actually have Outlook working about as well as it can (that is no better than awful — e.g., searches are awful and reasonably general ad hoc searches are just impossible; backup is a disaster; etc.).(2) My old e-mail software didn’t do anything nice with Web pages sent via e-mail; so I’d have to write some Rexx code to handle Web pages in some reasonably nice way.Hmm: The latest version of KEdit has, for its version of Rexx, some ‘global variables’ that could be a nice aid in programming a nice e-mail UI.Points:(1) Actually SNMP and POP3 e-mail, at the client, is dirt simple. It’s just lines of 8 bit text. The first blank line indicates the end of the header and the start of the body. A line in the header indicates the ‘schema’ of the body, e.g., MIME parts or not. Yup, even the pictures, sounds, video clips, etc. are all just old 7 bit ASCII text thanks to 64 bit MIME encoding, which is trivial to decode (I wrote en/decoding in Rexx, but C would be about 20 times faster and not much harder to write; likely there is lots of open source for the en/decoding).(2) For”It would be great if one or both of these services could auto-generate a gmail search on all thirty addresses for me. It would be even better if gmail had this feature built into the service.”then in this case ‘greatness’ is easy: There is no end of such features, each such feature with a small audience.So, how to have such features? Sure: Write a few lines of Rexx. I did such things frequently: E.g., send e-mail according to a mailing list with some ‘customization’ for each e-mail message; had ‘nicknames’ for the people sending to; did ad hoc searches of wide variety easily.Given your e-mail in some reasonably simple-minded format close to the SNMP and POP3 standards, any such feature might take you about an hour of programming Rexx. Then you’d have it forever.Of course, one would guess that should somehow make use of the free, single-user version of SQL Server. Okay, but in that case make SURE that do NOT get rid of the simple format of the raw SNMP and POP3 e-mail itself. Most of the searches can be just of the raw e-mail as received or at most of a cache of decoding of the MIME parts.With some of the e-mail data routinely stuffed into SQL Server, some searches could be very fast.Yes, the SQL Server manipulations would be in ADO.NET in an EXE file from, say, Visual Basic, but both Rexx and KEdit can run an EXE file, synchronously or asynchronously.So, (1) Decide on a simple way to store your e-mail — likely one directory for each e-mail message sent or received. Maybe have the decoded versions of the MIME parts in the directory with the corresponding message. The e-mail message itself, sent or received, is always just a very simple text file. (2) Have some simple Rexx do the POP3 send and receive. (3) Have KEdit do the user interface. Yes, in KEdit have great ability to define special keystrokes — control, alt, shift plus nearly any other key. (4) For both common operations and also ad hoc operations and queries, handle those in Rexx.Rexx is a very nice piece of work, but there would be some wisdom in using a more recent and more popular scripting language or just using, say, Visual Basic .NET.For KEdit, Emacs should be a replacement.One of the keys is to have the main e-mail software do LESS so that writing more code for ad hoc operations is EASIER.

    1. Mark Essel

      Whoa Sigma, that’s a blog post not a comment. Got me curious about Rexx though.

  28. andyswan

    Personally I think the current system is great. Variable reward systems tend to have the most addictive results.Sometimes Fred responds in 20 seconds, other times he never does and you see a blog post saying “Fuck you, you’re dead to me.”I love it.

    1. Mark Essel

      “other times he never does and you see a blog post saying “Fuck you, you’re dead to me.” “heheheh, stomach hurts after that laugh.

    2. Dave Pinsen

      An interesting glimpse into the Fredland social order. So, even though you’ve met Fred in person and shared Pappy with him, it’s still hit-or-miss whether he responds to your e-mails.

      1. andyswan

        I was using the generic “you”. Pappy tends to up response rates. 🙂

        1. Dave Pinsen

          That would be one way to cut down on the message volume, limiting it to folks who have bought you Pappy.

          1. andyswan

            Shhh trade secret

    3. ErikSchwartz

      Pretty much my experience too.

      1. andyswan

        It’s how it should be. Scarcity is what makes the world turn.

  29. joshuakarp

    You should create a 1 page web site where people enter the topic they wish to converse with you about, and you can then invite your followers (authenticated via DisQus, etc.) to prioritize which ones you reply to (they can comment, too). You could designate certain people as “high priority,” and their topics would automatically be brought to the surface. I’m guessing some large percentage of people send you unsolicited e-mail – why not yet the talented people who follow you help to judge what you should respond to. Sort of a group e-mail with one intended recipient.

  30. jenslapinski

    Hi Fred,Sounds to me as if most people think of a filtering solution. Yet it sounds to me as if you want a sorting solution that enables you to see emails sorted by order of ‘closeness’ with the person who writes to you, and then by date.This could be automated if you had a little database that counted that number of emails that YOU have sent to a specific email address/contact. Say, you have sent 100s emails to your family members and business partners. These are clearly important to you. All emails from them should sit at the top of the pile. Then, in descending order, you would see emails from people you only have casual acquaintance, further down to the ones whom you actually don’t know. All emails that are bulk emails are likely down the list, as you never sent any emails to them.When you get overwhelmed, you can simply focus on the important emails first and then archive all emails from people way down the list.Does that sound like a solution?

    1. Mark Essel

      That’s a great answer Jens, I really like the simplicity of the weighting algorithm, engagement and interaction measures.

    2. onsip

      Very cool idea, Jens. Weighting algo – Of course, this mechanism could eventually become self serving as the user continuously responds to those at the top and missing those at the bottom. Maybe you’d need a second signifier to “star” new favorite recipients as you go. I like it.

  31. Courtland Allen

    You should try Syphir Rules ( It’s a new service that lets you create powerful filters for your Gmail account. For your particular situation I’d recommend the following:1) Syphir has a “reply probability” condition. It predicts what emails you need to reply to based on your past history with the sender. Create a filter that says, “If this email needs a reply, then apply label <label-name-here>”. This works quite well in combination with Gmail’s Multiple Inboxes feature, as now you can have an inbox that only includes emails that need a reply!2) Syphir has an “age” condition. It allows you to apply filters to old emails that have been sitting in your inbox. Try a filter that says, “If this email is over 3 days old and doesn’t need a reply, archive it and apply label <never got=”” to=”” it=””>.” Should help keep your inbox nice and clean.3) If you have an iPhone, you can use Syphir’s “alert iPhone” action. It sends a notification to your iPhone when new email arrives. I’d recommend a filter that only alerts your phone when a new email arrives from one of your 30 important people.And this is only the tip of the iceberg, there’s much more to come. Disclaimer: I’m a co-founder of Syphir.

  32. Adam N

    Emails on which you’re cc’ed or bcc’ed should go to independent inboxes and skip your real inbox. They can then be skimmed on a regular basis and the entire box can be purged regularly without fear that somebody expected something specific from you (otherwise they should have used to). It’s old school but it should help reduce your load by about 20%.

  33. Michael Langer

    Now I don’t feel so neglected anymore. Are you trademarking the term “email bankruptcy?” Can I?

  34. Paul

    Have you checked out — might be a solution for automating mail triage, while not introducing a human assistant into your flow.

  35. William Mougayar

    …which reminds me that you owe me an email reply Click here and it will find it:… 🙂 These Gmail tricks are priceless! I will use them now. Thanks a lot Jon.I use Rapportive with Gmail and the LinkedIn connector with Outlook. Seamless integration of social networks contact info into email is a must nowadays.

    1. Mark Essel

      Yeah good stuff William.

  36. kenberger

    what about *comment* bankruptcy? the volume of comments on this blog has grown a lot lately, we are mystified how you possibly keep up on all of it.

  37. Dan Rollman

    I’d emailed you directions to a suitcase filled with cash, caviar and a Daft Punk album that won’t be released for another five years. Hm. Guess I’ll send I’ll forward it to someone else.

    1. Mark Essel

      😀 was waiting for that one.

  38. Vijaya Sagar V

    With 1300 unread mails in my inbox, I think I should follow your way. Future generations will thank you for this amazing invention called ’email bankruptcy’ 🙂

    1. Mark Essel

      Vijaya what’s your take on outsourcing some email filtering?Say I have a public facing email: [email protected] that get’s human filtered first and then only handle what I’m capable of that day/week and get the rest compressed into a stream something like:Mom: pictures of stuffMichelle (fiance): seating at the weddingFred Wilson: your freaky tools are confusingTyler (tech lead cofounder): yoho read this articleTyler: hey check out ThinTyler: I’m using Padrino, read up on it Tyler: XMPP is awesomeTyler: Node.js is sickTyler: datamapper as a back end is epicTyler..Of course I treat Tyler emails as action items, it keeps me from resting too often. But I don’t have an overwhelming amount of email. I even have some Google alerts running to monitor my company name, twitter name, blog, etc.

  39. Lauren Halagarda

    I can’t help but feel that “declaring email bankruptcy” is just a band-aid solution. If your email volume is truly that high AND business critical, then you need to bring someone in to assist you. If it’s not business critical, then what is it? Can it be eliminated before it comes in (or routed elsewhere)?The heart of the matter is determining where YOU get stuck and why…implementing someone else’s solution because it worked for them is where I see most people struggle with getting email under control.Finally, rather than looking at it as an email management issue, perhaps it’s really an action and decision management issue. How are you converting those emails into decisions and tasks to be acted upon? If it doesn’t require an action or decision, get it out of your inbox!OK, off my soapbox now…

  40. Carl Rahn Griffith

    Is it worth considering encouraging other general contacts – ‘T2’ people maybe (as I describe them!) ie, those outside of immediate friends/family/associates – to DM Twitter you that email has been sent or even the Twitter DM has a URL link to the email body? I love how with Twitter one has full control of the messaging/DMs duplex. Priceless.Hope that makes some sense – as usual I have not fully rationalised the idea but am sure there is scope for Twitter being one’s pre-filter for legacy mediums such as email, etc.

  41. Aaron Klein

    I have come really close to doing e-mail bankruptcy before but I’ve never done it. I can sense the combination of frustration and relief, Fred. I have a feeling that your issue is at a level that technology can’t solve, at least in the near future – and an executive assistant filtering all but your 30 key people + replies is the only solution that can prevent this in the future.For most people who don’t have quite that load (but still an unbearable load), I think the key is:1. Ruthlessly unsubscribe from things (I learned that from this blog a long time ago)2. Use Twitter and/or Google Reader as your inbox for content and bankrupt those two early and often3. Use task management rather than e-mails as tasks4. Get to inbox zero twice a weekI know that may sound ridiculous to those contemplating e-mail bankruptcy, but it’s almost the equivalent of cutting up the credit cards. By:* “eliminating a lot of your spending” (unsubscribing)* “never getting charged double” (using tasks rather than reinterpreting the task behind an e-mail over and over)* “making regular payments” (getting to inbox zero)……you end up avoiding the 20% to 30% interest charges of people resending messages and adding to your total volume.As for how to get to inbox zero, I have a system that works really well for me and has stood the test of time. I documented it here, and I hope it helps someone:

    1. Mark Essel

      Solid advice Aaron.

  42. fkahlert

    I think this post puts an ironic spin on your investment in returnpath. I do feel your pain though.

  43. ppearlman

    i just ignore shit sometimes.

    1. Yule Heibel

      Apparently, this came up in an O’Reilly webcast on gov2.0 today (also referenced here): “See everything. Ignore a lot. Improve a little.” Attributed to a pope – John Paul II? So, there ya go – papal blessing on ignoring, um, stuff! 😉

      1. ppearlman

        totlly agree.

    2. Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry

      Oh man, do you ever. 😉

      1. ppearlman

        youre blocked.:)

  44. Michael Lisse

    Fred:I have found OtherInbox to be very useful in separating and prioritizing my email. You can set a “ghost” email address (like “[email protected]) to deliver to gmail (or not) and eventually you can look at only that “ghost” inbox. Like Twitter, its something you need to use before you “get it”. I pay for OtherInbox – they do a great job. Gmail tabs might accomplish the same thing, but I also like the ability to create a new email address on the fly (“NewShoppingSite@…”) which also decreases my clutter.MEL

    1. Fernando Gutierrez

      You can also create as any new email addresses in gmail as you want. They are [email protected] (don’t forget the +). Emails sent to that address will be labelled with whateveryoulike and then you can set up a filter to act on that label. If you want to kill that address you just have to tell it’s filter to delete every email arriving there.

      1. Michael Lisse

        That’s excellent – hadn’t seen that before – thanks for the tip!!

      2. Michael Lisse

        Fernando – I tried your solution – the email that came to my gmail was *not* labeled – any ideas?

        1. Fernando Gutierrez

          You are right. I checked my set up and they are not auto labelled. What you need to do is create a filter with that ghost address in the “To:” field and tell it to label it and to do any other action you want to do with those emails (skip inbox, delete, forward…).I’m sorry for the mistake, I arranged everything a couple years ago and remembered it in a different way.

  45. Nancy McGough

    To all the people who are suggesting that Fred get an assistant: If Fred cares about and is investing in email tools, then he should be trying to figure out an email strategy that will work for him and the many people on the planet who have the same problem and can’t hire an assistant. If he figures out a solution for himself, it will be a big clue about where to invest.

  46. Harry DeMott

    Birds do it, bees do it, even eminent VC’s do itLet’s do it, let’s go bankrupt!the Greeks do it, Zell did it,all sorts of LBO’s and Mel did itLet’s do it, let’s go bankruptWell at least there’s no stigma with it anymore!On a more practical note – what I find most interesting – is that you have led the charge to live as openly and transparently as possible – encouraging discussion and conversation with you at the center – and the result of this overwhelming success is that you become overwhelmed. Sounds like a business opportunity for someone – whether it is as simple as someone to go through the blog everyday and summarize the hundreds of comments (most are on similar themes) so you can react en masse (I’d love to see a good summary of 300 comments as a reblog) – or to go through your e-mails (google filters or a human one) to tease out and reorder those of most importance.As Sting once sang: too much information running through my brain – too much information driving me insane!

    1. Tereza

      Hey Harry — did you just create this profile? We live 10 minutes from each other.

      1. Harry DeMott

        I’ve had it for a while – but when I was playing around with it last night – uploading a photo etc… I think I unlocked the thing so you could actually see the details. I’ve enjoyed commenting on Fred’s blog – among others – can’t help myself – even started writing a bit myself – although to have the iron discipline like Fred is very difficult – and to not be derivative is very difficult – although I like elaborating and expanding on stuff I’ve read.

  47. Mark Geller

    Fred, Here is a somewhat random suggestion… is your issue only with the number of emails or the amount of time it takes to read and respond to the legitimate ones as well? If it is the latter, what about a system that imposed a Twitter-like limit on the length of the email (and the response!), which could be based on the relevance/closeness of the person to you. For example, your top 30 could send unlimited length emails and you could reply accordingly. For everyone beyond that, if they sent you an email longer than N characters (140?), they would receive a message back that due to the high volume of emails you receive, you request they reword the email with a max of 140 characters, and you will respond with a similar limit. Then, as you mentioned, folks could earn their way to sending (and receiving) longer messages. Just a thought.

  48. ttunguz

    I’m a big believer in email templates and text expansion.Gmail Labs and others have “canned responses” to form the base of emails you might receive commonly. I used these extensively when I worked in customer support and they saved a huge amount of time.Additionally, tools like TextExpander allow you to create short cuts, like “cih”, my mnemonic for “can i help” which is instantly converted to “Let me know how I can be helpful to you in the future”

  49. akharris

    No shame in email bankruptcy, it was a pretty common event at my former company. One senior marketer simply stopped reading any email that he didn’t know about through another channel. Of course that could lead to an entirely different set of problems.Fred, I’m curious about what you think about situations like this, where communication effectively kills communication through sheer volume. This problem is getting continually worse with the diffraction of communication methods (Social networks, email, twitter, blogs, telephones, and, dare I say it, face to face communication). While a lot of interesting tools are popping up to deal with the effects of the problem, the root causes are not really being addressed – it feels a bit like all these tools are just fingers in the holes of the dyke. Filters will get overwhelmed, and need their own filters, etc. etc.At some point, we’re either going to have change the number of people we are willing to communicate with, or change the standards of how we communicate.

  50. John Lynn

    Email is an ugly cycle. The more you respond, the more responses you get. If you don’t respond, then you have less email but lose out on the communication.

  51. JLM

    Fred, simplify your life. You will be in your grave soon enough. Enjoy life. You are in the sweet spot of life. Pace yourself and just learn to rein in the breadth of the demands clawing at you to save the breath of your own life. You can do it. Right now you are just reacting. Take control and act.

    1. Mark Essel

      I appreciate the way you and Phil Pearlman said pretty much the same thing, but in completely different ways.

    2. Dave Pinsen

      In the last six months, Fred’s taken vacations to Buenos Aires, Vail or somewhere similar in Colorado, and Paris. So he seems to be taking some time to enjoy life. If he took more time than that away from the VC business, I’m guessing he’d get bored.

      1. JLM

        The key to life is to be always working and always vacationing and always vacationing and always working. Taking your work to more interesting locales is a step in the right direction.

        1. Dave Pinsen

          Let’s discuss something more interesting. Your company still shows an Altman Z”-score in the distress zone on Short Screen. Granted, that model does show false positives 20%+ of the time, but when it doesn’t, it predicts bankruptcy. I’d be interested in a CEO’s perspective on why the model is wrong in his company’s case. If memory serves, you had drafted an e-mail to me explaining just that last year, but it got eaten by the aether. Any chance you’d be willing to take another stab at it?

  52. Matt A. Myers

    I am surprised at all of the options for helping organizing emails. I never thought to even look.

  53. Scott Peterson

    I’m declaring email bankruptcy as well. I’ve only done this twice in my 15 years of using email. Both times were just in the last two months. More use of project/task tools…less use of email. The ROI (time/money/effort) on using email as a productivity tool is quickly reaching zero for me.

  54. falicon

    I’ve been thinking about integrating email into my concept a lot lately…what I’m envisioning is basically a people based view that aggregates data across all your networks (so for example, you would have 1 Kevin icon, it could have a number like 25 with the icon which would state that there are 25 unread emails, tweets, blog posts, etc. sent/shared from Kevin)…this would give a user a very quick and easy way to see who you’ve got stuff from, how much from each, and then pick what to deal with and what to just quitely jump over…I’ve especially been thinking of doing it initially as an iPad app (the interface just feels like it would be a nat. fit for the iPad)…but haven’t had time to sit down and do it yet…but it’s working it’s way up my priority list quickly 🙂

  55. Jan Schultink

    My contribution to the comment bankruptcy here: colors in gmail labelsIn “other actions” use “filter emails like these” to set up filters for relevant peopleCreate a few clever labels for emails using these filters (portfolio company names, family, etc. etc.)Assign colors to these labels: much more easy to recognize than the label text itself

  56. Dave Pinsen

    Why not just create a new e-mail address and e-mail it to your 30 key correspondents, and then shut down your current e-mail address. And don’t make your new e-mail address public.

    1. Mark Essel

      Fred wants to be able to be publicly contacted, but wants better tools to handle large volumes of mail. Deleting his old mail wouldn’t quite work for what he wants Dave.Carl had some pretty groovy idea, that I slapped some thoughts on top of. Message introductions, and # of messages. If the number of messages we could send each other was limited, it would change how and what we write to each other.

      1. Dave Pinsen

        That’s an interesting idea. Another idea would be to replace his e-mail address with a physical mail address and then use a service such as Earth Class Mail to view it electronically. That way, new people who want to contact contact Fred will still be able to do so, but they’ll have to print out their message, buy a stamp and mail it. Those additional hurdles will probably knock the volume down by 80%.

        1. Mark Essel

          ha, that’s an interesting bulk filter

        2. Gus

          Not very environmentally friendly!

  57. waseemsadiq

    [warning: partly shameless self-promotion below]Inbox has a button called “next important item” and this will – based on some secret sauce and the knowledge about your contacts and your communication patters with your contacts – bring you to the very first item in your inbox you need to look at. Not by content, not by some smart (but pointless) heuristic but by determining WHO sent the message.This is a very very tough problem to crack but I do feel we are well on our way to solving it (or rather our users tell us we are well on our way). Take a peek at, might just help here and there 🙂

  58. Shannon Ferguson

    Sarah Perez from RRW thinks Silentale could help you find all your messages across emails, social networks and more (confession, i’m on the team there)…and it would also backup all your emails in case you need to search for something after you’ve declared bankruptcy. Altho I have to confess that we’re a bit scared you might crash the site 😉

  59. Venkat

    I am starting to believe that there is no such thing as information overload, and by extension, no such thing as email overload. We get into situations like this due to messed up expectations, not messed-up technology.Email is traditionally viewed as a ‘must process’ inbox rather than a ‘sampling’ medium like RSS or Twitter (or this blog’s comments). In other words, people who send email have an expectation that what they write will at least be cursorily examined. But given that this is a medium without gatekeeping, this allows the world at large to impose ‘attention debt’ on you without your consent. All those gatekeeper services that email you back and say ‘do x, y, z to get on my list’ are unworkable because they have the perverse effect of turning away the people who you most want to let through (somebody selling you something/asking you for something will take the trouble to get on your ‘list’, someone who is doing you a favor, looking to buy will likely go away).But open-ended debt imposition is obviously unrealistic. It is like broadcasting your credit card number and allowing anyone to charge to it. No amount of technology or human help can help in the limit. If your attention is in sufficiently high demand (say you’ve discovered the fountain of youth and 3 billion people now suddenly have an incentive to get in touch), you cannot offer the “will get to it” guarantee on any medium.So you did the right thing. Save a bunch, nuke the rest. It is the only strategy that can scale.Which means ’email bankruptcy’ may be the wrong term. It makes it sound like an exceptional situation. Perhaps what we need is a more commonplace and accepted ritual of ‘wipe the slate clean’ for everyone. I was just reading this great article on the history of debt, and it noted that historically, all major cultures had kings periodically wiping the debt slate clean. Once every 7 years in the Jewish/Christian notion of ‘Jubilee’ for instance.All debtors could get a universal write-off and return to zero.I think we need a similar notion for email. Email clients should have a ‘declare jubilee’ button that auto-emails all unprocessed email with “This email user has declared a jubilee. If you are awaiting a response, please resend.” Maybe entire large email collectives (like a large company) could declare a ‘Jubilee week’ for internal communications.Fortunately, though my email is threatening to get out of control, I am not yet in need of a Jubilee, but that’s also partly because I move as much communication as I can to other media with no expectation of response.Venkat

    1. Gus

      I like this idea – perhaps what is required is some functionality within the email client to autorespond with a ‘please resend again, you message has been purged’ message to any email that has been not been filed (and therefore subsequently actioned – GTD enthusiasts out there) or replied to in a specified time.

  60. Alexander Uslontsev

    Fred, take a look at I built it to fight resume spam from Craigslist jobs ads, but it may work out for you too. Though it could be pretty brutal to require security deposit for each incoming message :). Btw, with Craigslist resumes I see 50-100x (not 100% – 100 times) drop in “resume spam” by asking for just single $1 in escrow account that I promise to give back in 3 days. Go figure….

  61. Greg Solovyev

    Sounds like you need to switch to Zimbra for your email. GMail tags and filters are nice, but not nearly as useful as “saved searches” in Zimbra. You can save a search query in Zimbra and make it appear as a folder, you can edit it easier and faster then changing a filter in GMail . You can even make the UI show you results of a search query instead of just inbox when you open it. Plus, of course you can include tags and folders as part of search queries. Ask @satishd how he does not go email bankrupt 😉 I am using YMail, GMail and Zimbra and my Zimbra mailbox is always the cleanest one although it is also the busiest.

  62. Matthew V

    You really need to implement the email saving tips in the book “4 hour work week” by Tim Ferris. Check out his blog too: http://www.fourhourworkweek…It ranges from autoresponders, to outsourcing secure virtual pa’s to filter emails and send the ones you need to you for around $5/hour.

  63. etactsinc

    Fred,Thanks for mentioning Etacts. We built the feature that you requested. On the left sidebar of our Gmail plugin (under Inbox, Buzz, etc) you will see a new link “Unread from top contacts” that will do a Gmail search of all unread emails from your top contacts. Let us know if you have any more feedback or feature requests.Evan

    1. howie liu

      BTW you won’t need to install a new extension–you should notice the update automatically next time you open up Gmail (if you have Etacts enabled)

    2. Gus

      Just noticed this today – great new feature.

  64. Bankruptman

    ATL needs to do a story about how many lawyers endured through 20 hour per days and 300+ hour per months, how many partnerships crumbled due to the absence and stress related to lawyers trying to help save a business, how getting a car service to take you home at 4 a.m. is not a pleasure but a must because the lawyer is so fatigued that he might not make it home if they chose to drive themselves, use a taxi or some form of public transportation.

  65. Liam Lowe

    I have only 1 rule set up in Thunderbird – if email sender is not in my <personal> address book, then auto send to deleted folder. That way only have small # of inbox emails and all else goes automatically to deleted folder.So if not in my buddy list, goes to deleted folder, but not yet deleted so still have opp to review & haul back.Works on basis that most of these emails are probably for the high jump.

  66. rajatsuri

    I’m going to post a comment I wrote on Mark Suster’s blog post on email bankruptcy because I think it applies here as well. I don’t know you at all Fred, but your post elicited similar strong feelings from me, and I’d love to get your input:Mark you know I’m a huge fan and think you’re one of the best VCs out there so please don’t take this personally, but I’ll be honest that I just don’t understand the complaints about email bankruptcy from VCs. Many VCs have complained to me about it, but to me it just severely highlights the difference in position between entrepreneurs and VCs.It’s always struck me how bootstrapped entrepreneurs are sitting in poorly-maintained messy apartments coding away to chase their dreams, often totally ignored, with dwindling bank accounts and strained personal relationships, whereas VCs are in plush offices with admins at their beck and call, earning great salaries and complaining about how many people want to tell them about their dreams.The differences in lifestyle are so stark , it’s no wonder entrepreneurs think VC is the dark side. How are the two groups supposed to do business together, when their basic lives are polar opposites?It seems to me that VCs are in a privileged position in that you have the power to boost entrepreneurship and startups, and to essentially pick which people you’re going to give the shot of their lives to pursue a dream. Given the privilege and comfortable lifestyle, the pain of getting too much email seems pretty much irrelevant to a humble entrepreneur like me.

  67. vrikhter

    If you could get your hands on a killer speech-to-text product for all of your real emails and above, wouldn’t that help? Generally speaking, on an email longer than say two sentences you may be more efficient. Rough calculations, you may be able to type 70-80 wpm? You should be able to speak 150wpm. Wouldn’t that cut down half your time? This is all assuming you can get a killer speech-to-text product. I’m sure you’d fund it if you found it.

  68. Yule Heibel

    I don’t have anything remotely resembling your email problems, Fred, so take my suggestion with a grain of salt, but I recommend checking out the advice Alexandra Samuel gave at her talk at Northern Voice (the Vancouver personal blogging conference) this past weekend. She blogged the gist of the talk here, 5 solutions for coping with social media. Email is one of the five demands she addresses, along with other social media demands (and distractions). Alex has lots of great tips – her email tips in particular echo what Jon Smirl said wrt setting up filters.

  69. Chris Voss

    Thanks for Etacts referral I’ll check it out – I love Gist – great stuff.

  70. tommy payne

    thanks all. i have my own manner of GTD but now i’m back to 0 emails today… hooray!

  71. racingbase

    Disqus comments

  72. racingbase

    Disqus is nice for posting comments

  73. Bastien Laterza

    While I was looking for interesting french start up this morning, I hit up this website:… and it reminded me of your post :Kwaga™ BirdsEye singles out your important emails and delivers them to you anywhere – even while you work in other applications! Install our intelligent widget and just let it run. You’ll know the moment an email worth your while has been sent to any one of your email addresses – without ever opening your email apps!who’s it for?Chances are you already have plenty on your mind – Kwaga™ BirdsEye alerts you when you receive emails that require your attention – only the ones that matter! You’ll no longer waste your precious time obsessively checking your inbox to see if your boss replied to your request or miss the fact that a meeting time has changed at the last minute.Hope you’ll find it usefull-Bastien

  74. paramendra

    “But the more efficient I get with email, the more of it that comes in.”LOLI think this is a great opportunity for a slew of tech entrepreneurs.The ultimate solution would be, you log in, and you tell your inbox, I got 30 minutes, show me all the emails I can handle, and your smart Inbox shows you just so many emails that you can handle in 30 minutes.I have blogged about this, I will blog about this again. The Inbox is ripe territory.Search, Social, The Inbox?

  75. Kyle Hansen

    Don’t be a VC and don’t be so open if you can’t handle the volume of emails! You’ve put yourself in a position to get this many emails, so unless you change your level of openness you may have to stop whining about it!

  76. Andy Moles

    To Counter this problem I would highly recommend you to try Team Inbox from Taroby

  77. marfi

    In your third paragraph you clearly define what the e-mail service of the future will do 🙂 I am sure there are enough enterpreneurs like me that are carefully reading and analyzing what you say and they might even provide you a solution, what is best you may even back it up with capital 🙂

  78. David Ashwood

    Email & social networks need, at some point soon, to understand the context of your connections – and then to help you curate it

  79. anshul gupta

    I hope you are not struggling with a similar kind of situation here in reading these comments:180+ !!!

    1. fredwilson

      I read them all. Its a priority for me

  80. Richard Burton

    I’ve always wondered why this isn’t a feature in Gmail. It’s such a cool way of handling interactions.

  81. Jose Paul Martin

    Great post! How about turning your thinking around…. from email “receiving” being a problem to email “sending”. Here’s what I blogged about last year on this…Here’s a whacky thought.Force email providers, to charge for every single email SENT!Look at it this way, before email, there was mail / letter / post / telegraph / telex / fax – you had to spend to send. There was a cost attached. I’m sure that you counted your every word, to make it concise (if not MECE – Mutually Exclusive Completely Exhaustive) before paying up.Perhaps if we were charged for each email we sent, we’d send fewer emails – be more careful in communicating things properly. Thinking twice or thrice before hitting the send button.Perhaps we could eliminate SPAM, JUNK, Information overload, and consequently save TIME.Don’t think its a workable model? Well, ask telecom operators – they’re still charging you to make a call right? Just imagine, if all phone calls were free (you’d have a whole lot of new junk calls from spammers and marketers to deal with!Read with emphasis at

  82. carolecopelandthomas

    Well, Fred, hate to say that I just added two emails to you list. Today, May 14th, I sent a specific request to you, and hope that at some point you will have an opportunity to read my emails from [email protected].I am delighted to now follow you on Twitter and subscribe to your blog. As a 23 year social entrepreneur specializing in multiculturalism, global diversity, and empowerment I hope you will have an opportunity to dig through your pile and open up my emails.Have a great weekend. Glad to connect to you.Carole Copeland Thomas

  83. SharelOmer

    Dear Fred,I believe that a lot of the the changes and blooming in the internet industry, along side the success of blogs like venturehacks, BothSide etc. is thanks to amazing people like you, who passionately write blogs, Invest capital, network people, share their experience and let others grow… Seth Godin write about it, and specifically about you and your early VC day his latest book Linchpin…I can relate to your pain in this post, and want to thank you for writing your blog, and answering some mails, at the end of the day amazing people like you and Mark Suster, Nivi and Naval inspire others to do great things! we can learn from you, understand the mind of a VC or an angle, learn the industry state of mind and leverage it into raising capital, build successful enterprises, and creating amazing products that will change the world.I live in Israel, and the insights and encouragement we get by reading this blog, or sending a mail once in a while are beyond words.So i want to thank you, and encourage you to keep on writing answering mails and inspire others to make this world a better place :)Thanks,Sharel

  84. Kapil Tundwal

    I am working on solving the problem as well. Mind helping me out by taking a 10 question survey on your email use? Thanks…