Can two Virginia Tech students help change the face of email?

Josh Milas and Alex Obenauer have started a Kickstarter campaign for Mail Pilot, an email client that aims to give your inbox a face-lift. 


Chase Hoffberger


Published Feb 3, 2012   Updated Jun 2, 2021, 9:53 pm CDT

Josh Milas and Alex Obenauer are not alone in thinking that email needs a face-lift. What separates the two Virginia Tech students is that they know how to change it.

Milas and Obenauer have spent the past six months working on an email client called Mail Pilot, an innovative program that treats your inbox as a to-do list rather than a message board. Every email that comes into your Mail Pilot inbox arrives as an incomplete action until the user marks it complete, at which point it moves into Mail Pilot’s archive.

Eleven days ago, the two launched a Kickstarter campaign to raise $35,000, which will fund Mail Pilot’s development.

“We wanted to [a] bootstrap operation, but we wanted to obtain the funds to deliver Mail Pilot quickly and with the best experience possible,” said Obenauer of their decision to turn to the crowdfunding platform. “We noticed that Kickstarter tends to facilitate projects that we really like to see, projects that are innovative, and projects that really piqued our interest.”

The Kickstarter community has taken a like-minded interest in Mail Pilot. The two have already raised $21,255 from 567 backers, putting them more than halfway toward their goal with 24 days to go.

Much of that support has come from backers who plan on using the service when it’s made available, and Milas and Obenauer have been smart to create backing incentives that double as subscription pre-orders when Mail Pilot goes live in May. Anybody who pledges $25 or more receives a significant markdown on the mail client, with pledges of $50 or more earning supporters a completely prepaid two-year subscription.

“That was a huge innovation for us,” Obenauer said of pre-orders. “It’s something businesses have been doing for years, but for it to be that approachable [through Kickstarter] for us, as well as our backers, we considered it very ideal. This way we’re funding the development but also building for a sustainable client base.”

It’s that kind of connection to their backers that’s allowed Milas and Obenauer the chance to have such early success raising funds. The two have been diligent about keeping active communication on their Kickstarter page’s comment section, responding to every question and feature request made by those with an interest in the project.

“I’ll support just to see where you can take your initially very intriguing ideas,” wrote backer Craig Bradley. “Lots yet unspecified, but lots of promise. Central idea seems a winner. No doubt funding will succeed.”

Milas and Obenauer have also taken fondly to Twitter—both admitted to being novices when they launched the campaign—using it to thank backers and communicate with supporters who have yet to contribute.

“The second day of our project we realized that we really had to be on top of the social media side of things,” said Milas. “This is a grassroots effort, and the people who support us are part of making a change and part of this movement.”

Kickstarter: Mail Pilot

  • Creators: Josh Milas, Alex Obenauer
  • Location: Blacksburg, Va.
  • Summary: The Virginia Tech students have begun development on an email provider that will allow your inbox to function less as a stagnant message board and more as an interactive to-do list.
  • Goal: $35,000
  • Amount raised as of press time: $21,255
  • Days left: 24
  • Best buy: Mail Pilot’s project management intuitiveness will be a huge asset to small businesses, who can upgrade to Business Class with a pledge of $250 or more.
  • Website:
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*First Published: Feb 3, 2012, 2:06 pm CST