AOL Veteran Launches 'Snapchat for Professionals' App

Confide Lets Users Send Vanishing Messages That Can't Be Captured in a Screenshot

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Snapchat's rapid rise among teenagers and young adults has spawned an ephemeral messaging solution aimed at a new cohort: business professionals.

Launched today, the app called Confide allows users to send text messages that vanish after they're read -- a familiar concept. It's also designed to make taking a screenshot of the message impossible, since users can only read the text a few words at a time by dragging a finger over it line by line.

What a Confide message looks like when received
What a Confide message looks like when received

Co-founder Jon Brod -- a former senior executive at AOL who left the company at the end of last month after occupying various roles, most recently as the head of AOL Ventures -- said the idea for the service came when he was trying to figure out how to respond to an email from Howard Lerman, another Confide co-founder.

Mr. Lerman -- who's CEO of Yext, a local information software company -- had asked Mr. Brod for a reference for a former AOL employee. Hesitant to write about personnel matters via email and thus create a permanent record, Mr. Brod tried to call him but got his voicemail. They didn't end up finding time to speak until six days had passed.

"We said, 'Wow, that's incredibly inefficient. There's clearly a problem here,'" Mr. Brod said.

He sees Confide being especially compelling to people who work in technology, such as venture capitalists and entrepreneurs with sensitive deal terms to discuss, as well as media and communications practitioners who frequently need to talk off the record.

From a personal perspective, Mr. Brod observed that Confide would have been useful to him while at AOL Ventures for sending out messages about whether an entrepreneur was backable or thoughts on the terms of a deal, "none of which I particularly want on my permanent digital history to be archived forever," he said.

Mr. Lerman has been beta-testing the app at Yext.

"We've [sent out] PR stuff we're announcing to the team that we didn't want accidentally leaked," he said.

The app is free, but down the road Mr. Brod sees potential for a premium offering where users get additional services for a fee, in the vein of LinkedIn. It's currently being bootstrapped and has two other co-founders.

Whether the privacy-conscious people the app is aimed at embrace the concept may boil down to how secure they feel their messages really are. A similar service already exists. TigerText is an app aimed at business users. It also makes messages vanish, but after a pre-set length of time

And there's an obvious work-around for those determined to document a Confide message: shooting a video of it from another phone.

Confide's co-founders maintain that they've raised the bar for private messaging by taking screenshots out of the equation, but nothing is foolproof -- including having a phone conversation that could be taped or talking in a conference room that could be bugged.

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