How I Email: Pat Walls, Founder, Starter Story

Email is a non-negotiable part of everyday life. For some, it’s an unruly time suck, but enlightened email users have systems to ensure they’re not a slave to the inbox. We’re asking smart thinkers to give us a peek inside their inboxes, share tips, ideas, gripes, and everything in between.

Pat Walls is the founder of Starter Story where successful entrepreneurs share the stories behind their business. He’s also the founder of Pigeon, a Chrome extension for Gmail. Both businesses depend on email. He discussed how that colors his perspective on the inbox. 

What is your daily approach for managing your inbox?

A lot of people love to hate email, but I love to love it.

It is the best way to communicate digitally. For example, I can open up Gmail right now, send an email to a famous person, and they will likely read it. Is there any other platform that you can do that?

For Starter Story, our team works completely over email. We don’t use a Slack channel or anything – we just email each other back and forth. It works well and keeps us focused and succinct in our communication.

Also, my business would not be possible without email. We reach out to dozens of founders every day to see if they want to share their stories. If we didn’t have email, it would be really hard to get in contact with them.

Personally, I’ve been doing Inbox Zero for the last 5 years, and I believe there is no other way. I keep my inbox as clean as a whistle. I unsubscribe from nearly every newsletter and use filters to automatically archive most things.

What is your email game changer? 

I have a couple of email game-changers:

I use email as my central todo list and reminder system

Need to get something done in the future? I schedule an email to myself on that date I need it to get done.

Need to do something every Tuesday at 1 PM? I set a Google calendar event and turn email notifications on. Forget push notifications, I treat email as the central source for these tasks so I never miss them.

I will even write my own code or use Zapier to trigger emails based on events. For example, when a customer signs up for my product, it will trigger an email to myself to remind me to record a personal video introduction and send it to them.

I aggressively triage, unsubscribe and filter out emails

For me, there’s nothing better than having a clean inbox, and I take pride in tidying it up.

I have trained my brain to look at every incoming email as an opportunity to cut down on email. When a new email comes in, I’ve got my trigger finger ready to hit that unsubscribe button right away.

If I can’t unsubscribe (or don’t want to because it’s my sister’s boyfriend’s cousin’s cringey newsletter), then I use Gmail filters to skip the inbox and auto-archive.

Even for transactional emails, like Uber, Venmo receipts, etc. Do I really need to see these every time? Probably not. So I filter them out too.

For business, I use a Gmail CRM and automate as much as possible

At Starter Story, we run our editorial side of the business 100 percent inside Gmail. We send and receive 250+ personal emails per day. Yes, 250+.

Why so much? We interview everyone over email, and we publish over 80 interviews per month.

That includes reaching out to founders, interviewing founders (back and forth), communicating deadlines, revisions, when their interviews will be live, asking for promotion, following up, asking for referrals, and much much more.

Since the email volume is so high and it’s a collaborative effort with the team, we do everything inside one email account and we use Pigeon to manage everything.

We also use the CRM to automate a lot of manual tasks, such as following up on deadlines, scheduled emails, and asking for referrals and testimonials.

I turn off all push notifications

A couple years ago, I turned off Gmail push notifications on my phone (and computer too). This is one of the best decisions I ever made.

If it’s so urgent, people will call or text you.

You see a lot of interesting businesses at Starter Story. What has caught your eye in the email space over the last few months? 

Our longtime sponsor at Starter Story, Klaviyo, is one of the most amazing email marketing tools I’ve used.

I’m not just saying this because they are my sponsor! The level of customization and automation features they have are seriously impressive.

As a business, I’ve also watched them grow from a few customers to 30,000 customers in just a couple of short years. They are the next big player in the email space.

I’m also a big fan of Leave Me Alone, an email unsubscription service that plugs right into Gmail.

Lastly, I’m a big fan and follower of GMass! As a solo founder and small team, Ajay has built something really impressive and with a very big impact on both customers and the startup world.

If you could make a major update to Gmail, what would it be?

It would be really cool if Gmail had direct integrations with other messaging services.

One thing I despise is managing communicating across multiple different channels – whether that’s Twitter DM, Instagram DM, Slack, Whatsapp, Telegram, etc.

If I could set something up where all those would forward to Gmail and I could send replies from Gmail, that would be pretty cool!

But I’m not talking about some janky app, this would be a standard API where everything worked and interfaced the same way. Billion-dollar idea? I think so 🙂

Anything else?

“Email is dead” is the greatest lie in the tech industry. You heard it here!