02 Apr 2014

Sharing your inbox for fun and profit

Some of the best solutions are born of laziness. To be a programmer, after all, is to find the laziest solution to a problem. So it's quite handy that my solution for our Hello Code email addresses turned out to have a valuable side effect.

Virtual inboxes

Rather than shelling out for Google Apps For Your Domain (not free) or setting up a full POP/IMAP server (lots of effort), I opted for the minimum effort solution — virtual inboxes. When using something like postfix, it's quite easy to set up inbox aliases which just forward email to another address. Each line specifies that emails to the first address get sent onto the destination address.

b@hello-code.co personaladdress1@gmail.com
j@hello-code.co  personaladdress2@gmail.com

This saves us the effort of having yet another account to check and manage, as emails just come to our personal inboxes. And it's easy to add a filter for these emails if we want to keep them in a separate spot.

Sharing every email

Something we noticed quite quickly was that we were forwarding each other a lot of emails. Nearly every email that came in concerning Hello Code or Exist was worth the both of us seeing — even if it only required action from one of us, the other would want to know about it.

Fortunately, my earlier laziness made it trivial for us to share emails. I just needed to change that destination address into a list of several email addresses. Each incoming email to either of us would now be sent to both of us.

b@hello-code.co personaladdress1@gmail.com, personaladdress2@gmail.com
j@hello-code.co  personaladdress2@gmail.com, personaladdress1@gmail.com

The final piece of the puzzle is to remember to BCC each other when we send emails from these addresses, so we see both sides of the conversation. This is probably something I could also set up through an SMTP server, but it's too much effort for now.

The implications

What are the implications of sharing our inboxes? There aren't many downsides. The only slight issue I have with it is that when people email one of us, they expect their email to only be seen by that person. Of course, it'd be trivial for us to forward it to the other person, but there is a basic assumption of privacy. I feel a little weird about invalidating that assumption.

But the benefits outweigh that niggle. It saves us the effort of keeping each other up to date on our conversations with customers, press, and potential partners. It means that I can give Belle a heads up on something important that's come in, because she's always working with her mail client closed and missing emails. And it helps us feel like we're working together, which is really important.

I doubt it will scale once we're overwhelmed with email, or once the company is bigger than just the two of us. But if you're a small startup, I'd recommend it.