Ephemerality is nice if you’re texting your friends unflattering selfies or drunken party snaps. If you’re engaged in sensitive deal negotiations or legal wrangling, though, making sure your message doesn’t get into the wrong hands isn’t just nice — it’s a vital necessity.
That’s the pitch, more or less, for Confide, a new “off-the-record” messaging app that just raised $1.9 million in seed funding. Led by early-stage investment firm WGI Group, the round also includes prominent venture capital firms (Google Ventures, First Round Capital, SV Angel, Lerer Ventures) as well as Yelp CEO Jeremy Stoppelman, “Entourage” creator Doug Ellin and “Access Hollywood” host Billy Bush.
The idea of a “Snapchat for business,” as Confide was instantly labeled upon its release in January, was born last August when one of its cofounders, Yext CEO Howard Lerman, emailed the other one, Jon Brod, asking for an honest reference on someone he was considering hiring.
Brod, who was then running AOL Ventures, thought it would be a poor hire but didn’t want to send an email saying so, lest it be accidentally forwarded or otherwise seen by someone other than Lerman.
“So I did what 90% of people do in that situation,” recalls Brod. “I said, ‘You know what? I’ll call you.’ And then we played phone tag for six days.” When they finally got on the phone, the first topic of conversation was the need for a way to send messages that self-destruct after they’re read.
Uninhibited references are just one of what Brod and Lerman see as many potential use cases for Confide. Another might be an acquisition offer whose details the suitor wants to keep confidential, lest they become fodder for a bidding war. The list goes on.
Indeed, had Snapchat CEO Evan Spiegel used Confide, his boastful fib about how he responded to Facebook’s overture might never have been revealed for what it was.
That irony points up one of the key differences between Snapchat, which is primarily a tool for sending photos, and Confide, which is made for text. Another is security: Confide uses end-to-end encryption, messages aren’t stored on its servers, and it features “a level of screenshot protection we think is unparalleled in the industry.” Recipients can only read 25 characters of a message at a time, which they do by “wanding” a finger over it. Then it quickly expires.
The appeal of secure messaging could extend well beyond its intended audience. Political dissidents living under repressive governments certainly might find a use for it, as could drug dealers and other criminals. Brod and Lerman welcome the former. While they can’t do much about the latter, they note that it would violate Confide’s terms of service and vow to discourage it. “If you’re doing something illegal, get the hell off our platform,” Brod says.
More encouraged will be the use of Confide in Hollywood. As an industry that still depends heavily on phone calls as a medium of business, they see entertainment as ripe for disruption. (That explains the presence of Bush and Ellin among the seed investors.)
As for business model, while they’re a long way off from monetization, Brod and Lerman say they expect it will involve selling premium services to power users, much as LinkedIn does.