Cotap co-founder Jim Patterson tells TechRepublic why mobile messaging for work can be just as easy and intuitive as messaging with friends.
Business software could learn something from the consumer side. That's part of the idea behind mobile messaging app Cotap, a platform created by two ex-Yammer execs, that seeks to merge the best of consumer simplicity, with the needs of workplace communication.
"The way people communicate together in their personal lives, tends to be the way they communicate at work," said Cotap co-founder Jim Patterson. From as far back as the nascency of email and personal computers, he said communications technologies have generally entered the workplace because people brought them into the office from home. He and co-founder Zack Parker are betting this will be true for mobile messaging as well.
"One of the bigger bets we're making is that it's starting to, and will eventually become a really important way that people stay in touch with, communicate with, collaborate with, other co-workers," Patterson said.
The app launched in October 2013 with several features that Patterson said make the app simple and intuitive for workplace use. For one, the app doesn't require phones numbers, unlike popular consumer apps like WhatsApp.
"It integrates into your company directory so that you don't have to worry about swapping phone numbers," he said, in case someone doesn't have the numbers they need, or doesn't want to give theirs out. The app matches domain names in email addresses, which also means that as people in the corporate world might be more comfortable identifying themselves with a work email address, they can do that.
The other benefit, Patterson said, to not using phone numbers, is that phone numbers are specific to devices. With Coptap, the app can be installed across devices, meaning that co-workers don't have to be at their desks or next to a certain device to receive messages.
"Mobile messaging is much more real time than some of the technology that's out there like email. The fact that you have that mobile device on you all the time — it allows you to be real time but also present," Patterson said.
He sites businesses that have adopted the app, like those in hospitality. For many of those workers, they've never had a personal computer at work, but their phones are starting to fill that function.
In the case of the hotel, Patterson said the app not only allows management to send updates to employees throughout the day, but it opens a line of communication back.
He also said Cotap has been adopted by a wide range of businesses from Fortune 500 companies to small two-or-three-person startups. Anyone can download the app for free for Apple or Android. Cotap also offers a premium options for companies who want to gain administrative control, and want features to help roll out the app within the company, or to customize alerts and track engagement. Patterson also said the app can meet compliance with the sort of security standards a company would have.
One of the companies paying for Cotap is inPowered, a content company that specializes in content promotion, with 40 employees in two offices in San Francisco and New York.
Pirouz Nilforoush, co-founder and president of inPowered, first heard about Cotap from inPowered's head of communications, Robb Henshaw. He said he immediately took to the idea, partly because he tends to prefer texting co-workers to initiating long email chains. The ability to stay in touch has also reduced inPowered's need for weekly one-on-one meetings.
Cotap's security features were also a selling point in making the decision to hop onto the premium level. "A lot of us were already in the habit of texting our co-workers, but we had to limit the topics that we discussed on text because of the lack of security," he said. "So when we learned about enterprise-grade mobile messaging, where we could securely and privately discuss any and all topics with the assurance that it would be safe within the confines of our business, it was a game changer."
inPowered uses Cotap for things like notifying its employees that lunch has arrived, or having product teams resolve issues quickly when they're working remotely.
"I think that people intrinsically understand that some things are just better via messaging - while other messages still require email," Nilforoush said.
Aside, from building up premium customers, Cotap has secured $15.5 million in financing, including $10 million at the end of January from Emergence Capital Partners, with participation from Charles Rivers Ventures, which also invested in Yammer.
And while Yammer is a closed chapter for Patterson, he said he and Parker took away an important idea: "Sometimes simpler software is actually more powerful," he said.