Wednesday, April 28, 2010
Interview with Dave Waldman, Bccthis
Story by Benjamin F. Kuo
Dave Waldman, CEO and Founder of Los Angeles-based Bccthis (www.Bccthis.com), a startup looking to add additional functionality and private messaging into both corporate emails and Twitter messages. Bccthis just announced a version of their product which plugs into Gmail. Dave told us about how and why he and his co-founders--both previously executives at Twistbox--decided to start their own startup, specifically outside of the mobile industry, and a bit about the product.
How long has Bccthis been around?
Dave Waldman: We started quite a while ago, back in almost September of 2008. We raised funding in September of 2009, about six months ago, raising $500,000 from private angel investors. My co-founder, Michael Steuer and myself both came from Twistbox, which was later acquired by Mandalay Media. We've been steeped in mobile content development and publishing. We were developing games, applications, and WAP sites for lots of carriers around the world while at Twistbox. We ended up developing products for 120 carriers in 40 countries. I was one of the early folks there that came on and was there as the company grew. I have been involved with a number of companies that had raised a large amount of money, and one of the things I really wanted to do, was do something that didn't require a large amount of venture capital--something that we could do with a small, lean team. So, we were toying around with ideas, when the idea behind Bccthis came up. I'd seen so many email catastrophes and mixups--for example, a CEO that would frequently "reply to all", and other similar experiences, which convinced me that email is an imperfect communications system. We sketched out, literally on a napkin--what if we could do something about this?
So what's the idea behind Bccthis?
Dave Waldman: It's very straightforward. We have two different parts of the business. The concept behind Bccthis is sending a private message within a group email and group message. What we did first, is we applied it to email, and then we looked at where else we could apply this, and applied it to Twitter. We have a completely separate Twitter client, and another email client. With our email client, you can download and install a quick plug-in, and what happens is we create a separate composition window. For example, when you are sending an email to three people--say, your entire product management team you are sending a note about next week's meeting--you can send a separate note just to the head of the product management team, attached just to that recipient through Bccthis, and send it off. It's very straightforward, and the recipient doesn't need any special plugins to view the message. They simply get the equivalent of a stick note within the email, with your private message you sent just to them, to give some additional context directly in the email being sent to them. We also have a couple of other features in the application, such as allowing you to tag a message to remind yourself of something, a note to yourself in it. We've also recently added a couple of cool new features, such as tying this into your calendar. Because there's always some level of information or relationship disparity between multiple people in an email, this allows them to fill in those gaps.
What's the idea behind the Twitter support?
Dave Waldman: While creating our email product, we'd done quite a bit of work on patenting the processes we were going through, and liked the concept of private messaging. We thought about where else we could apply it to, and thought about the various social networking services, and specifically, Twitter. When youtweet, it's really challenging when you're tweeting about something important, and making sure someone actually sees it if they're following hundreds of people. The likelyhood you might see that important tweet from a friend is pretty slim. What we did, is we tied in the concept to creating a Twitter client where you can both tweet about something interesting to you, and also add a separate, private message. You can select any of your followers, and send them a little note along with that tweet. It also allows you click back to a dashboard, a discussion area where you can continue to engage in communications away from the twitterverse.
Aside from the Twitter, it looks like you've spent a lot of time on Outlook and Blackberry support. Is this mostly for corporate users?
Dave Waldman: When we first started putting it out, the thought was that it would be corporate in nature. For example, we thought it would be a great way for PR companies and others to tweet about something, and then send a note at the same time to their client--ie, take a look, this is running in the press today. But, what I think has happened is you see a lot of companies that have really gone after that corporate market. So, we don't see our product as much as a corporate one, as one that is consumer focused. We're seeing lots of people who use it to communicate with friends. Interestingly enough, we are seeing lots of users from countries like China and Iran, where there might be more hesitation to publicly say what they want to say. But, it's still very early stage with us, and a little bit of a testing ground.
You and your co-founder have a lot of experience in the mobile market, why did you decide to start something outside of that area?
Dave Waldman: We didn't want to start with mobile, only because we had been in the space so long that we realized that eventually any digital product you put out has arms and legs in mobile, and we knew we could translate this into mobile well enough to take advantage of that market. Email is one of the most important parts of mobile smart phones today, and it's a pretty important place. Some of our most important customers and targets are device manufacturers and big brands, who are trying to differentiate themselves on mobile devices. At the same time, working at Twistbox, a mobile content publisher--it was kind of frustrating to only have rights for one particular vertical.
If you look at any of the big content publishers in the mobile area, they have to go through lengthy, expensive rights licensing to just get a tiny sliver to monetize. You'd get into arguments about if you have rights to something like the iPad--which is sort of mobile, and kind of not--and isn't even a wireless device. What we really wanted was, we wanted to own the IP, lock, stock, and barrel, and be able to exploit it on the desktop, on mobile, and on whatever device might come out. That's some of the thought process on where we were going.
It looks like your software is available to download for free--what's the business model behind this?
Dave Waldman: Right now, it's free. We do need to make money at some point, but right now we're trying to nail down the customer fit. We now have products out, and we're getting valuable feedback, plus our user base is growing. We have lots of ideas around monetization, such as rolling out premium versions for the enterprise, and we're trying to eventually come up with the right mix, such as here's what an enterprise version would look like, or a premium version, or what a free one might look like. We've obviously toyed with advertising and sponsorship as well. When you actually send a Bccthis, there's a certain amount of real estate we get with that sticky note. Right now, it simply promotes the application within the Bccthis message. But, I think we're really focused right now on gaining a user base, as this is new behavior, and usage changes dramatically when someone else you know has Bccthis as well. I think we'll probably look over the next couple of months and figure out the monetization strategy.
Companies tell us that users are notorious for being hesitant to install plug-ins. How has that experience been for you?
Dave Waldman: It is a challenge. We found that people are okay with installing it, and we've got lots of installs, but what is more challenging is reminding them to use it. We're a very lightweight plugin, and we have lots of downloads, and many people who are on Outlook downloading the plugin. Early on, there were some challenges with people who were hesitant to try a plugin and download something new, but what has really helped us is the press that we have received, and the confirmation that other people are using it. That has really helped us get over that hurdle. Obviously, the other important thing is that now that we have a web-based client, a Gmail application, it will be easier to install than Outlook, if only conceptually.
Finally, what's in your plans now?
Dave Waldman: We're really focused on growing our user base, and getting visibility out there. We've also got three or four weeks of scheduled features that we'd like to implement, some really cool things that didn't make it into the first version of the product, because it's in beta and we're small. Once we get the Gmail application in place, we're going to start looking at expanding support for other platforms, such as Yahoo, AOL, and Hotmail. We also really want to continue to expand support on the mobile side of things, and we're looking at Android and other platforms to see if it makes sense to get into them. We're also having discussions with larger email platforms and device manufacturers, to try to integrate our application deeper into their product. We've got a busy schedule ahead of us, for just three people.