Q&A: Could blockchain professionalize Gmail?

Dr. Florian Bersier, CEO and Founder of Gmelius talks about his new email service and how blockchain can make a difference

Despite the constant announcements that email is dead – or, at least, about to die – it is still the most common form of workplace communication. Now Swiss company Gmelius, which launched in 2016, believes it has come up with a way to counteract some of email’s shortcomings and make it better.

Gmelius offers a service which overlays the various Gmail offerings. There are three pricing tiers available – from free to a full business offering – and the most professional option uses blockchain to authenticate communications. In the Spring, it also plans to introduce a new way to sign email attachments, using smart contracting. We spoke to CEO and founder, Dr. Florian Bersier, to learn more in the lightly edited Q&A below.


Overall this seems like a service which professionalizes Gmail and makes it more like Outlook, would you agree with this?

The motivation behind Gmelius comes from a simple and very straightforward observation; email is almost 50 years old and was never designed to meet the large and diverse set of purposes it is currently used for.

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Nevertheless, email is the most used tool in the workplace and businesses all over the world use this technology on a daily basis to handle sales, manage projects and exchange documents. We all spend on average 17 hours per week handling our emails, a US employee, in particular, can spend up to six hours in their inbox per day! There is, therefore, a significant gap or mismatch between what email is capable of and how it is used today, and this problem is independent of the email service or client.

Gmelius bridges this gap by offering a complete communication solution which seamlessly integrates into existing email services, e.g., Gmail, Inbox by Google, G Suite. Thanks to Gmelius, our users have access to a set of tools and features developed to match their specific needs right from the inbox they know, e.g., CRM, team collaboration, etc.


At the moment you only work with Gmail, do you have plans to work with other email providers?

When the company was founded, we chose to focus on Gmail because it was and still is the main email service with 1+ billion active users. Besides, the professional version of Gmail (Google Suite) is used by more than 60% of all Fortune 500 companies and 50M businesses are expected to move to Google Suite over the then coming years.

Hence, the choice for us at that time was clear. Since then, the company has been growing fast, and over the coming months, we are planning to increase the size of our team in order to start working towards making our technology compatible with Microsoft this Fall.


Do any other companies offer blockchain to secure email? What does this mean in practice?

Gmelius is a pioneer in its use of blockchain as a way to complement an existing centralized technology such as email.

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A decisive challenge raised by today’s email dominance in the workplace is that the latter means of communication does not offer a built-in function to prove the integrity and authenticity neither of its content nor its origin. Knowing that emails are increasingly presented as legal evidence in courts worldwide, it becomes urgent to think of approaches that could mitigate the inherent flaws of email. Email stamping by Gmelius offers a robust, safe and elegant way for our customers to get a proof that they sent a specific email at a specific date to a specific person, and that the content of the email was a specific one.

To do so, we developed a hybrid architecture which makes it possible to retrieve an email upon sending, convert its associated data into a hash and insert the latter hash into the Ethereum blockchain. Once the transaction is completed, we send a receipt to our customer with the details of the transaction and instructions to find the trace of the stamped email.


Who is mostly using this solution and what attracts them to it?

We currently count more than 150k active users and around 15k paid customers. As a lightweight CRM that offers real-time collaboration features, Gmelius truly accommodates SME’s collaboration and communication needs from sales outreach to marketing automation and project management.

Since the release of our blockchain-powered features, our solution has become increasingly popular among professionals in legal, financial and accounting services as well as among real estate agencies; professionals in general who rely heavily on their email communication but need their sensible emails to be secured.

Only paid ‘business users’ can access the email stamping via blockchain option – is this a big draw? And does it tempt businesses away from Office Outlook?

As already said, “stamping” an email thanks to a blockchain-powered architecture brings a unique and compelling solution to one crucial problem of emails, the fact that it’s impossible to irrefutably prove neither the reception of an email nor its content.

As there were definite interest and demand from professionals aware of these very flaws due to their daily business practice, we decided to make this functionality part of our B2B plan.

The ability to offer a seamless way to prevent email forgery and guarantee the authenticity and integrity of their email communications is a game changer for many professionals, and this can ultimately drive the decision to move away from Microsoft Outlook and switch to Google Suite.


Can you explain more about your new email signing option using smart contracts?

Nowadays, we’re signing an increasing number of documents enclosed in our emails.

The most common way to sign a document attached to a message is to print, sign, scan, and email back the document, e.g., a contract or a quote. This method presents two major and quite obvious issues. The first problem is that nothing guarantees the identity of the signee, meaning the signature can be easily forged. The second problem is that nothing guarantees the integrity of the signed document, meaning one could modify the content of the document before signing it.

The second way to e-sign a document is to use a third-party service, e.g., DocuSign. Here, there are also two issues. The first one is that the use of those services can quickly become expensive especially if the company signs a large volume of documents. The second problem is that it requires a complete trust in the third-party service since the proof of the signature is stored by the latter service. If the platform is hacked or closes, the proof of a signed document is then endangered.

To prevent the above issues and inconveniences, we’re working on an alternative e-signature process powered by the Ethereum blockchain that uses "smart contracts". A Gmelius user will be soon able to safely and cost-effectively sign a document from their inbox. Once the process is started, we’ll encrypt and insert the document to be signed into the Ethereum blockchain and send an email to the other signing parties, who do not need to be Gmelius users. These emails will contain specific links redirecting to our platform where all signing parties will have the possibility to review the document to be signed, check their identities and complete the signature. We’ll then start a kind of ping-pong game between the different document’s hashes associated with the different parties. The smart contract will auto-execute itself when it has been ensured that all hashes are equivalent, and a receipt confirming the transaction (i.e., the signature) will be finally sent to each signee.


Blockchain is an extremely new space – and massively hyped – what other companies do you think are doing interesting work at the cutting edge of blockchain-type technologies?

The blockchain space is indeed currently very noisy or crowded, and if we wish to ensure a mainstream adoption of blockchain-based services in the coming years, we first need to be aware that there are important policy, regulatory and technological challenges ahead.

If we focus on the technological challenges alone, I think that projects that use new models of consensus (e.g., proofs of stake instead of proof of work) and are built on or develop blockchains that support a higher volume of transactions (e.g., side-chains) are all projects of interest in 2018.

Moreover, I believe we’re moving towards a clear fragmentation of the blockchain space where a limited number of blockchains will emerge in the mid-term as natural solutions for well-defined types of transactions, e.g., Ethereum and Lisk for contractual transactions, Ripple for financial and interbank transactions, Filecoin/IPFS for storage, Bitcoin for payments.