Tech & Work

Confide app adapts ephemeral messaging for professionals

Sometimes email isn't quite the right place to have a sensitive discussion, and phone calls are difficult to catch. Confide is an app that aims to be the place for those conversations.

confide.png
Image: Confide

Before Snapchat and other quick-destructing messaging apps, the original form of ephemeral communication was talking.

That's the reason in the business world, some conversations, like employee referrals, are reserved for phone calls or coffee rather than email.

In fact, this scenario was the impetus for the creation of messaging app Confide.

Co-founders Jon Brod (who was a senior executive at AOL) and Howard Lerman (current founder and CEO of Yext) ran into a comedy of errors trying to get a hold of each other to discuss one of Brod's former employees, who Lerman was then considering hiring.

Between multiple voicemails and travel, it took six days to finally get in touch.

"We remarked at how inefficient that was, and that there must be something really wrong here," Brod said. "The spoken word disappears after you say it, but what you write online remains forever, archived in this digital permanent record, this digital footprint. It really makes for inefficient and often filtered discussion."

Brod and Lerman decided to figure out a way around that. With a team of engineers, they built Confide.

The way Confide works is this: Users can sign up with either a phone number or a work email address. When messages are sent, they're encrypted end to end. A user receiving a message will see a screen with blocks over the words. Using a process the founders dubbed "wanding," the user runs his or her finger just below the blocks revealing a few words of the message at a time.

Part of the thinking behind these blocks is that they prevent screenshots of more than a couple words. If someone does try and take a screenshot, he or she is kicked off the message.

"The screenshot is kind of the enemy of the ephemeral," Brod said.

The sender gets a read receipt, and the message breaks apart. He or she can also send a "nudge" as a gentle prompt to read and respond.

After beta testing with about 300 users, Confide launched in January 2014, and Brod left AOL to work on the app full time. He said the launch was successful, but one area they tripped up in was not having an Android version available.

"To not be speaking to 50% of the market share in the US and 80% globally was a miss," he said. However, within 90 days, Confide was available for Android.

One important distinction Brod makes about Confide is that it isn't geared toward the enterprise, but rather the pro-sumer audience, much like LinkedIn. So, if someone is in a situation where all communications must be archived, Confide isn't for them.

"I think Snapchat did a great job of generally conditioning the public to ephemerality in particularly targeting teenagers," Brod said. "We want to just take that general concept and apply it to professionals in a way that's optimized for professionals.

That meant taking three approaches:

1. Choosing to be text-based - "Both Howard and I have had extensive careers, both in startups and Fortune 500 companies and we understood that text is a more important form of communication for professionals than photos," Brod said.

2. Letting users sign up with their email address - Brod said many professionals treat their work email address like a digital identity.

3. Implementing security - This covers the end-to-end encryption and screenshot prevention.

As far as use cases, Brod sees three common occurrences as being job referrals, deal discussions, and opinions or conjectures on sensitive topics — like when a user might be sending an email with a label like "Confidential, do not forward."

Recently, Brod said that at an industry event, two CEOs approached him and said they'd been using Confide.

"One said he used it to communicate with his Exec Team and HR Manager to help remove an under-performing employee. The other said he is in the middle of a possible acquisition. He introduced Confide to the CEO of the acquiring company and they agreed to only communicate on Confide about the transaction," Brod said.

Going forward, Confide aims to weave itself into business communication, rather than become anyone's sole messaging app. They're also working on a desktop version, since many professions still use a computer such as a laptop as a primary tool at work.

Also see:

About Erin Carson

Erin Carson is a Staff Reporter for CNET and a former Multimedia Editor for TechRepublic.

Editor's Picks

Free Newsletters, In your Inbox