"Because the Internet, mistakes are forever," raps Childish Gambino (the musical persona of comedian and actor Donald Glover) on his latest album. As public officials and celebrities seem to discover over and over again , the Internet isn't a guarantor of anonymity, and even your e-mails and screenshots of text messages can be used against you -- which is frustrating when you're just trying to have a friendly, informal conversation with colleagues.
That's the problem addressed by Confide , a just-launched off-the-record messaging app for iOS that's been called "Snapchat for grownups." But where Snapchat focuses on short-lived photo messages, Confide is designed to let the office professional swap text with without worrying about unintended recipients or a digital paper trail.
There are some things you might say in a business meeting or over the phone that you just wouldn't put in an email or text message. The problem with the Internet is that every thought or utterance can be digitally preserved forever. Snapchat's popularity proves that people want to have the same kinds of casual exchanges online that they do in real life; Confide refines that idea for business users much like Yammer  did for Twitter.
Obviously, there's some potential for misuse -- envision bankers or company insiders tipping traders to impending M&A deals, for instance. But Confide co-founders Howard Lerman (also CEO of Yext ) and industry veteran Jon Brod say that the app's origins point to its loftier intentions: Last summer, it took the two took the better part of a week to coordinate an informal, private phone conversation about an employee recommendation "Email and SMS were failures," Lerman says -- they vastly preferred to talk on the phone, where they could be candid without fretting that their conversation would make its way to the outside world.
In short, they wanted to talk off the record. With third co-founder Dan Sutera, they formed a small, bootstrapped startup with the mission of creating an app that's designed to provide the same benefit as meeting a colleague for coffee and shooting the breeze. No muss, no fuss, no worry that a coworker may see something they're not supposed to. In fact, as an added guard against taking screenshots -- the scourge of Snapchat -- Confide utilizes a technique called "wanding," where text is only revealed 20 to 25 characters at a time as your finger moves over the page. In the event of a screenshot, the offender gets booted out of the app and both parties are notified of what just happened.
“We built [Confide] for ourselves,” says Lerman, and the group knew Confide was ready to launch when it reached a point where it would be useful to him in his day job.
There's no monetization strategy as of yet. A venture capital funding round is in the cards, Lerman says, but Confide is rejecting the freemium strategy employed by LinkedIn, Box, and other young companies. Right now, Confide's priority is building a dedicated base of professionals and integrating feedback into the platform.
Yes, there's a certain potential to use the tool to circumvent regulatory compliance or for other gray-area communications, but that's inherent to all communications platforms -- even the phone. Obviously, Confide can't be held responsible for what its users do with the service, and it claims that it couldn't read user messages even if it wanted to. The Confide team urges all users to follow the law, and maintains that the platform's potential for misuse is insignificant compared to its real, legitimate uses for accelerating business communications.
The real challenge for Confide, as for many other startups, is user acquisition. How often do you really need to send an untraceable business message (unless you are in the business of giving people offers they cannot refuse)? On the other hand, much like Yammer, Confide has built-in virality as a communication app. If someone sends you a message, you need to download the app to see it. The bet is that once you're in, you'll find more and more excuses to use the app. And, while adding disappearing photos might make it too much of a Snapchat clone, adding support for disappearing documents and other attachments seems like an obvious next step.
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