Business/Economy

Alaskan-led tech company blocks spam with a charity donation request

Melissa Moody

An Anchorage woman who worked in marketing for Google has cofounded an email management startup that stops spam and raises money for charities.

Melissa Moody says Gated prevents unknown emails from reaching inboxes unless the sender agrees to donate at least $2 to a charity selected by the recipient.

The service cuts email traffic nearly in half, reducing the flood of unwanted messages that distract people from work, she said. It also supports nonprofits and their missions.

“It’s not just another email tool, it’s a whole new way of thinking about how we protect our attention,” Moody said.

The system is available for free on Gmail and other Google email platforms, but the company hopes to add other platforms in the future, such as Outlook. People can sign up through Gated’s website.

Gated launched in the spring after it raised more than $3 million in seed money. It’s based in the San Francisco Bay area, where Moody is from.

Gated user numbers are in the thousands and growing fast, Moody said. “We are blowing away benchmarks. We’re seeing 30% to 50% monthly user growth,” she said.

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Andy Mowat, Gated’s creator and Moody’s brother, asked Moody to help him start the business because of her professional experience marketing new companies and building a brand, she said.

With its seed money, the company has built a small team of engineers and other employees, she said. They have refined Gated so the right emails get through to user inboxes, while unwanted emails are sent to a separate folder in the email account where the sender is challenged to get through by making a donation, she said.

“You can see that separate folder any time you want,” she said. “We don’t delete emails and we don’t ever read the content of emails. We just set the email aside so your inbox stays focused, and if you ever want to go through and look at them you can. But they’re not coming into your inbox and piling up.”

Gated includes a payment mechanism where senders can donate. Seventy percent of the donation goes to charity. About 15% covers processing fees, and the rest goes to keep Gated running, the company website says.

Gated users can add nonprofits that they like.

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“This is very much set up to be user-driven,” Moody said. “The first Alaskans who want to support Bean’s Cafe can do so.”

Moody’s Alaska connection comes through her husband, Ryan Moody, originally from Anchorage and a graduate of Dimond High School. They met while attending Dartmouth College together in New Hampshire about 20 years ago. They have two children, 9 and 11.

Moody was originally a high school teacher in Massachusetts. But in 2007 she landed an entry level marketing job at Google in Seattle. She emphasized in the interview that teaching and marketing both rely on strong communication. Later, she became a senior marketing manager for Google, helping tourism clients like Expedia hone advertising strategies.

In 2014 the family moved to Anchorage, where Moody worked remotely for Google until 2020, when she became a startup consultant, advising young companies on marketing and branding.

Moody is part of Alaska’s unusually large population of women entrepreneurs, said Jon Bittner with the Alaska Small Business Development Center. The number of women-owned businesses in Alaska ranks highly compared to other states, studies show.

“We attract a high number of entrepreneurial people up here, including women,” he said.

Women business owners in the state include those who traveled to Alaska with spouses who found work here, and others who want to create services they enjoyed in the Lower 48 that aren’t available in the state, he said.

“There’s a lot of opportunity here,” Bittner said.

Vanessa Raymond, a Fairbanks entrepreneur who created the Telesomm app that digitally connects wine experts with wine lovers at tastings, uses Gated. She heard about it after meeting Moody at a women’s business founder group they’re involved in.

It has stopped email clutter in her inbox, such as holiday sales pitches she doesn’t want, she said.

“I try to have zero unread emails in my inbox,” she said. “It helps me feel like I know what I have to do and that’s important as a startup founder.”

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Raymond’s charity of choice with Gated is World Central Kitchen, she said. She chose the food-relief group because it quickly airlifted supplies to Western Alaska villages when the remnants of Typhoon Merbok slammed the coast in September.

Raymond has raised only a “handful of dollars” for the food-relief organization, she said. But it feels good seeking donations for something she supports.

Moody said the average Gated user raises about $6 monthly, a small amount. But nonprofits also benefit as their name reaches a broader audience, Moody said. She said Gated will have a bigger role to play in the future as unwanted email traffic grows.

The company has ambitions beyond email, too. Perhaps a similar charitable filter could be set up to stop spam texts and calls, Moody said.

“Everyone should have the right to protect their attention wherever they are; that’s very much the vision,” she said.

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Alex DeMarban

Alex DeMarban is a longtime Alaska journalist who covers business, the oil and gas industries and general assignments. Reach him at 907-257-4317 or alex@adn.com.

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