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Messaging Security

Avaamo: Asian app wants to rethink enterprise messaging

The arena for business and employee communications has become pretty busy with leaders like Slack and HipChat gaining more dominance in the space. That hasn’t stopped determined startups that feel they have a better product, from throwing their hats in the ring, which is exactly what Indian app Avaamo is trying to do.

Founders Ram Menon and Sriram Chakravarthy both worked at enterprise software firm TIBCO and on the messaging service Tibbr before feeling the itch to leave and build something of their own. Once they saw the writing on the wall for the massive shift to mobile, they began to re-think secure mobile messaging for business and the wheels were set in motion for what would become Avaamo.

The genesis of the startup, which is now headquartered in Los Altos, CA, began when CEO Ram Menon was in contact with a client while he was on holiday and ended up hammering out a deal on WhatsApp for Tibbr.

“Here I was trying to negotiate a deal for what is ostensibly a collaboration tool but he was negotiating it on WhatsApp,” says Menon. “I was sending him confidential pricing information; he took a picture of the contract and sent it to me. Both companies’ legal teams were livid because we were doing this on a consumer app, ostensibly we don’t own the data and it’s not secure. That’s when I realised that there’s got to be a better way.”

The growing BYOD culture in business promises convenience and efficiency but raises its own security and compliance concerns for companies and not just in areas like encryption (the app has end-to-end encryption) but also ownership of the data and the tricky issue of former employees that still have access to your messaging app.

Avaamo uses two-factor authentication and divides up a user’s contacts between personal and business so the employee is just accessing the corporate address book via the app. Once an employee leaves the company, their level of access in Avaamo can be wiped and most importantly, the corporate address book is removed.

“All the conversations that the [ex-employee] had with people in the company directory is wiped off the app,” he adds, ensuring the employers’ data is removed.

Other features include a sort of Snapchat-like feature where workers can send ephemeral, disappearing messages. “It [also] enables people [to] delete disappearing messages. [This means the messages] are deleted off both the servers and the phones. [And means] nobody can see my stuff.”

When Menon was chatting with his client on WhatsApp a few years ago, one of the concerns raised by the legal teams was who exactly owns the data? “You put a photo on Facebook, technically Facebook own the picture,” says Menon. “When you put your information on a consumer app, who owns it?” This unknown isn’t ideal for business communications.

“We are one of the very few companies that contractually tell the customer that you own the data.” This allows companies to regularly download and archive their data. “You are the only person that gets to receive that data because when you are a paying customer, we give you the encryption keys.”

Avaamo is available in the typical two tiers – free and paid. Currently the app has about 21 paying customers and 7,000 free tier customers but measuring the success of enterprise software like Avaamo needs a different mind-set, says Menon. It has little to do with the number of downloads the company sees.

“What we see is daily active users for our paid customers exceed 91%,” he says. “That is important. It doesn’t matter how big the company is or how small the company is. Are a large percentage of the employees using this as a default tool? Are they using it to communicate faster?”

The whole point of the endeavour is to improve the speed and efficiency of the business, explains Menon as you’ll have heard frequent calls about how email is broken.

He says that Avaamo has improved response times in customers he’s heard from. Narrowing the average response time across users is the real measure of success, he says: “For us, the response time is roughly 94 seconds.”

“That to us is an early indication that we’re doing something right,” he adds, quoting several statistics about how email can be ineffective and messages can often go unanswered.

Increasingly, the world of business has been encouraged to go mobile first if it wants to get ahead. Avaamo counters this by going one step further with what it calls “mobile only”.

The number of mobile workers in the US is tipped to pass 105 million by 2020 but the real growth is to be seen in developing in places like Asia. “A lot of these are what’s called the silent majority,” he says.

Avaamo’s big opportunity lies in the employees beyond the typical tech-savvy professional that’s grown up and works around mobile and technology. “This is about the flight attendant, this is about the seasonal retail worker,” he says. “This is about the insurance sales person who has just been issued a cheap smartphone and is riding around on the streets in Vietnam trying to get insurance sales.”

According to Menon, this is the “new workforce”, which is newly connected via mobile devices. This is an underserved market that Avaamo is targeting.

“I was just talking to a big telco in India and it’s amazing how things work. They have a sales guys and his job is to sell pre-paid cards to shops every day,” says Menon. “He’s on the road, he’s walking, and he’s got to sell a hundred cards a day and at the end of the week or two weeks in a row, if he doesn’t do that, he’s fired. How does he communicate his sales forecast?”

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Jonathan Keane

Jonathan Keane is a freelance journalist, living in Ireland, covering business and technology

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