Yesterday, as a joke, I sent Josh Kopelman the kind of text that would probably make him cringe if I had sent it by e-mail. (No, it wasn't a pic of any kind--just a joke.)
Knowing Josh, he still probably cringed, but he cringed a little bit less because we were both using Confide--a sort of Snapchat for professionals. There's no lasting record of me ever having sent that note and he only got to look at it once before it disappeared.
There are a whole bunch of questions around the concept, but it does feel very relevant. Just last week, Chris Christie seems to have cost himself a shot at 2016 because of his staff's retaliatory #trafficgate e-mails. Had it been sent with an app like Confide, Christie could have caused all the traffic pileups he wanted without leaving a trace.
Confide brings up a lot of thoughtful questions worth thinking about.
Will the company leverage its press momentum and download pace to raise a bunch of money at a ridiculous valuation before we really know anything about it's uptake and stickiness?
That was easy.
Seriously, though... What are the chances of success for a company like this?
Privacy, or more specifically, ephemerality, is an interesting place to start--but I don't see it as a way to gain mass adoption. Most people just don't see the chance of private conversations being made public as a big risk--whether that's a careless approach or not. We've had business e-mail for twenty plus years and there hasn't been a secure e-mail system that has gained traction yet, despite people getting caught writing damning e-mails time and time again. Sure, we have e-mail retention policies, but that isn't really solving the problem. If someone wants to bring up a job discrimination lawsuit, they usually do it well within the e-mail deletion period and so this isn't really solving the problem.
Is there a subset of people who would use this to have affairs and do illicit things? Perhaps--but if you believe that most people are fundamentally good and don't have stuff to hide, there's not a big market here.
Then again, Ashley Madison, the site for cheating people, does supposedly have 22 million members, so at $5/month, maybe that's the market they should go after.
Except, that Snapchat does that for free.
So back to "professionals" we go. What would a service like this need to get usage among lots of professionals?
My sense is that there is, in fact, an opportunity in the "professional" messaging market. A few weeks ago, I talked to someone about the idea of "LinkedIn Messenger"--a way for me to instantly communicate with professional contacts that went outside of the black hole that is e-mail.
If I meet someone at a conference where I want to connect with them to see if they're free for lunch, how do I tell them where I'm sitting? I'd rather not give them my number.
I'd say the two most successful products in the enterprise messaging space were Blackberry Messenger, or BBM, and Bloomberg Instant. (Side note... "professional" (vs. enterprise) is kind of an interesting newish catagory a la the consumerization of the enterprise). If you worked in finance and had a Bloomberg terminal on your desk, you used their messenger product to connect and chat with other professionals. It was like being in an exclusive club of industry folks--What's App for people with money. People would chat on that product all day.
Lots of those same folks had Blackberry phones, and BBM was the most popular and loved thing RIM ever created this side of a physical keyboard. Even socially, if you met someone in the industry at a bar, they'd give you their BBM PIN before they gave you their number.
That's key--both of these services gave people a bit of control over their inboxes. With BBM, you couldn't get someone's PIN unless they give it to you and with Bloomberg's terminal messenger, it was a seperate inbox. Even if someone found you and messaged you, it didn't clog up your regular e-mail inbox. It didn't feel invasive.
These days, that leaves a bit of a hole--one that I thought at one time that Twitter's messaging capabilities would solve. Back when I e-mailed Fred Wilson about Twitter in March '07, one of the things I was most intrigued by was the ability to let people reach you by phone with a message, without giving them your phone number--a control layer on top of mobile messaging. I'm still a prolific DM user, even though the feature is obviously the bastard stepchild of the product. I'm the exception. To this day, there's no go to way for professionals to instantly connect with short messages. Half the time, I DM people only to realize they don't really check it.
Who else does this?
AIM is pretty much dead.
Gtalk/Gchat is a confused product offering at best, awkwardly tying e-mail to chat with hard to find apps.
Not everyone is on iMessage because it's iOS only.
Blackberry waited far too long to bring BBM to other platforms.
Hipchat and Yammer are internal, leaving no way for me to give someone on the outside of my company a way to contact me.
So, really, before you even ask whether or not professionals need a secure messaging app, I'd suggest someone go about solving the professional messaging problem to start--and make secure messaging a feature.
LinkedIn is probably in the best position to do this, although I wouldn't count out Blackberry. I mean, if you just started out today and you could either be Confide, or BBM, and you could add secure messaging to BBM, who would you rather be? There's still an installed base there, a good brand. Unfortunately, being tied to the sinking brick that is RIM may be too much for BBM to escape from.
LinkedIn's problem is that the social graph I added to LinkedIn.com is probably not the social graph of people I want messaging me--so they'd have to use their network as a channel, but the would need to allow users to create tighter circles. That was the Facebook Places problem. With Foursquare, you knew what being friends meant. When Facebook asked me to checkin to a place, I had to rethink whether I really wanted all of these people I went to elementary school with or my family knowing where I was all the time. If you create a network you have to be clear what adding people to that network means. Still, even if LinkedIn just used its reach as a channel, it could be a professional mobile messaging juggernaut.
Maybe they buy Confide--because watching them develop new internal products is like watching paint dry. Their products are awesome, but there doesn't seem to be a skunkworks over there ready to jump on bandwagons.
If Confide is going to gain mainstream professional adoption, I think it actually needs to move away from the secure use case and branding. The branding is too suspicious. Would you want your significant other to have the Confide app on their phone? Who are they secretly messaging and why? Rather, I'd make the messaging and the brand a lot more mainstream and just use the security as a killer feature. This isn't an area where I see a bunch of secretive driving mainstream adoption--not when it looks gray to even admit that you have it and use it.
In my mind, professional messaging is a huge opportunity--and it's not likely that any of the existing players are going to get it right, but I don't think being Snapchat-like is the narrow point of the wedge.
Someone dropped the phrase "Rollover App" to me the other day--referring to the first app you open up when you wake up. It was funny and true...
...and kind of sad.
I realized the other day that the very first thing in the morning that I do is check various things on the internet--and it's because my phone is my alarm. That alarm clock is the trojan horse that the internet uses to sneak into my day.
That's why I'm going to order a good old fashioned alarm clock--well, perhaps one that tells me what the weather will be like today (Maybe a Nimbus?). I don't think it's necessary for me to be on the internet without my pants on.
You get what I mean.
From now on, I'm going to get up and dressed first before I even think about checking the phone. I don't work for Homeland Security. I don't day trade Asian stocks. There isn't anything in my life that can't wait an hour for a response--I mean, it's been waiting all night anyway. What's another hour?
As our world, and all the devices in it, get more connected, I think you're going to see design advances around filtering the internet to get the right information to me at the right time. I don't need my phone screen and the whole internet at 7AM. I just need to know whether or not I should bike today or whether it might rain. If I'm out with friends, I don't really need to know anything other than when my mom or my grandmother calls, because those are the only really important calls I'm going to take. When the answer to every need for information is the whole firehose of the internet, it's too easy to get distracted and fall down an internet rabbithole.
There's a real world out there, and I'd like to spend more time in it this year.
I am stunned over this #trafficgate scandal where Chris Christie apparently caused a bunch of traffic with some fake road closures in order to strongarm another politico into getting his support.
Just stunned... that people don't think this kind of thing goes on everyday.
And stunned that we think this is anywhere near the worst of it. I don't know about you, but this seems like child's play compared to my assumptions around what probably happens in Washington.
I mean, you guys have been watching House of Cards, right?
This is why all you have in Washington are fake political types--because, by the time anyone reaches that height, the only people left standing aren't the best people, they're the best at playing the game. They aren't the people who accomplished the most--they're the people who avoided headlines and never get their hands dirty.
Well, maybe we could use a guy who gets his hands dirty and says some things he shouldn't now and then. It's not like the current system works. Wouldn't you want Obama to cause some huge traffic jam in Utah right now over their reversal on gay marriage? What if, instead of having to curry favor by overspending on other people's pet projects, we could just settle this with traffic jams? I'd love to see someone cause a few traffic jams in Republican districts.
If I were Chris Christie right now, I'd seriously consider owning this, because the media is never going to let him forget it otherwise. They were dying to cast him as Tony Soprano--the fat guy from Jersey who breaks a few bones now and then. Now the story is that an ambulence was delayed because of the traffic jam. Didn't you know where it was going there? The fat bully from Jersey kills people! They tried to do that with Citibikes. Same story. Citibike racks caused a delay in getting a patient out of a building--bike sharing kills!!
That's what the media does--and boy, do we eat it up. Christie Christie is now the mafia. You don't want to elect a mafia president, right?
Maybe things would... actually get done.
If I were Chris Christie, I'd say, "Yes, I'm a fat guy from Jersey and in addition to causing traffic jams, we occasionally put horses heads in people's beds and send fish. Sometimes, we get other politicians on board through fear and intimidation and that's how it works. You don't like it, but does it really surprise you? If you would rather pretend that we live in a world of puppies and rainbows, where politicians just work find ways to work together for the greater good of the people, cast your votes elsewhere the next time I'm running for something. I want to live in that world, but that's just not reality. You either play tough or you sell out. Most politicians are sellouts. If you'd rather someone build coalitions by agreeing to spend money on other people's pork projects, then I'll never be your guy. Did we cause a traffic jam? You bet your ass we did. Am I sorry for it? Not one bit. Chris Christie is a guy not to be fucked with. Elect me president and North Korea will experience the worst traffic jam you've ever seen."
Instead, he's going to deny the whole thing and lie to our faces. Any hopes of putting a real person in office, not that I even supported him, will be dashed and he'll just become another huge empty suit playing the game.
Did I mention I could never ever get elected to any political office?
Stick around long enough in a big tech community and you'll see your share of big company evangelists come and go. They're always hired with the best of intentions--someone meant to be the eyes and ears on the ground for a company trying to turn today's future stars into tomorrow's big customers. They support entreprenership because they see the ROI: Be helpful to a startup now, be there when they're high on promise and low on cash, and you could be the platform that the next Facebook runs on for a long time to come.
They want someone who can be a friend to startups--someone with a great network, knows everyone, knows product, technical evangelist... someone who can win over the VCs, the CTOs, create content, etc. all at once.
In other words, a unicorn.
The best evangelist I've ever seen is John Britton when he worked at Twilio. All he had to do was hangout at hackathons and do demos where he wrote code live. It was simple and brilliant all at the same time. I feel like NYC knew Twillio because NYC knew John.
That's great, except that when John left, Twilio seemed not to be top of mind anymore. It wasn't clear that he had put lasting structures in place that would survive past his own association with the company.
I mean, what do you want him to do, everything?
Someone like that would make a great role player on a team of extraordinary part-timers, organized by someone who is just that--an organizer. Someone who could define roles, identify players, and put protocols and manuals in place--so that when your hacker-in-residence leaves, you know exactly what their day to day responsibilities where and you can easily slot someone else in, give them goals and deliverables, and not miss a beat.
I think big companies (and sometimes VC firms) invest too much in personalities when a big personality or someone with a big network should be used more like a tool than a centerpiece. Plus, you can't really get one of these folks as a centerpiece forever--because they're unlikely to want to say at a big company for long.
Here's what I think a local evangelist should do for you:
1) Work part-time...so you know they have other reasons to meet with people besides pitching your product. That makes their role in the community more authentic.
2) Write a bunch of manuals on how a team of on the ground people is supposed to work, what their jobs are and *especially* what their deliverables are.
3) Go find best-of-breed specialists and hire them, also in part-time roles... a content producer, a technical person who knows your product and loves it, an events manager, etc.
4) Introduce your organization to people here, so that they're not the front person and they don't leave with all your contacts.
5) Set me up with free event space whenever I need.*
* Just kidding**
** Not really.
One of the hardest thing I've had to do as the sole founder of a venture capital fund is bring on help. I'm not adding partners. No, I just need a little administrative help here and there. I found someone great to work with, but it's been slow going to offload things.
Why? What's the holdup?
It's the same thing that gets in the way of most people's ability to delegate. If you're doing everything yourself, there are a million little tiny things that are completely necessary to getting the job done that are in your head. You can't ask someone else to book a venue to run a Meetup unless that person knows who the contact person is. You know who they are. In fact, you just DM them when you need space, so the first time you have someone make that ask, it's going to take like 5 times as long. You'll need to build up a list of venues, list of contacts, their contact info, and maybe even a form note for the ask. It is work that no one has time for, but if you don't do it, you'll never get it off your plate.
One of the things I'm having my assistant work on together is writing up operating manuals--and it's something you should give as the first task to anyone who works for you. This way, ideally, you'll never have to do it again in case they leave, or you add on new people. Having a great set of operating manuals makes a small business much more scalable and resistant to natural employee turnover. Everyone in the company should be recording exactly how they do their job.
Startup people don't like to read manuals, but they should all be dilgently writing them.