Gmail has become leading online email with an international user base of more than 1.5 billion users. It was not an easy start for Alphabet Inc (NASDAQ:GOOGL) when it entered the online email market, as Yahoo and Microsoft Corporation (NASDAQ:MSFT) were the first choice of customers for email service. In 1999, Yahoo Mail’s active user base stood at 12 million, while Microsoft Hotmail had around 30 million active users.

It was not a prank

Gmail was launched on April 1, 2004, with remarkable features like one gigabyte of storage and extensive email search. Many people did not take the company seriously thinking that it is difficult for an email service provider to offer such features at its launch. However, the announcement was for real.

The idea of launching a Google online email service was coined by Paul Buchheit. When he first presented this idea, the executives failed to understand how online email service will benefit a search company. Even the idea was rejected initially by some of the executives. However, Bucchheit made use of the company’s “20%” project, an informal program that allowed Google employees to work on their desired projects, for starting the online email service.

When Gmail was launched, it was tough for the company to decide how they would monetize from this service. The management had to decide,: either they use advertising to extend their customer base, or opt for user subscription fees. Finally, the company decided to go with the advertising model, and proved to be the right choice.

On its way to success, Google was criticized for using the content of customer emails for targeted advertising. This issue was first seen in initial years of launch, and then surfaced in 2018. Google came under scrutiny for allowing app developers to scan Gmail emails for ad targeting. In 2019, the company admitted that they keep record of user’s purchases via Gmail. Despite all the challenges, Google’s commitment to innovation has not deterred. With new features like Smart Compose, the company may continue to give tough competition to its peers.