By: Benjamin F. Kuo | October 24, 2013 (Featured on socalTECH)
In today’s mobile world, SMS has widespread, near ubiquitous adoption, which is great for consumers who want to communicate with their friends and family. However, that’s a huge problem for enterprises, who face compliance and data security issues with their data when their employees turn to SMS for business related communications. To solve that issue, Santa Monica-based TigerText (tigerconnect.com) has been developing smartphone applications which replace SMS, and provide companies with the ability to control, delete, encrypt, and otherwise gain control of the messaging between their employees. We spoke with CEO Brad Brooks to learn more about the company.
What does TigerText do?
Brad Brooks: We’re now coming into a little over three years of operation. The original notion of the company started around the idea of sender controlled communications. The concept was, when you hit send or text someone, you effectively lose control of that message. People can forward it, copy it. So the idea was being able to set a lifespan, prevent forward and copying, and even recall those messages, which is a big paradigm shift in how we’ve handled electronics communications.
Within that, we started to focus early on around the opportunity of applying this in the enterprise, and subsequently, healthcare. With enterprises, and more and more communications via mobile devices, there’s a great degree of exposure and potential risk to enterprises from people bringing in their own personal devices, and joining in and connecting those to their company’s systems. Companies have a need and desire to control how and when people access information, so that the data doesn’t live out there eternally on a device. That’s how thing evolved.
Within that, when we started to canvas the verticals, healthcare bubbled up to the top very quickly. There’s a massive opportunity and need there, for several different reasons. If you think about SMS, it’s proliferated very rapidly. The reason why, is SMS effectively allows you to opt in and select people out of your address book. By giving them your mobile number, you’ve created a priority channel. That’s why people tend to gravitate towards SMS messages, rather than something like email. Because your SMS contacts are more select, your response time is much more rapid. Plus, you can treat it like a conversation, which is very useful for quick exchanges, which tends to go on in the healthcare setting.
The third factor, is the high adoption rate of smartphones. We ended up really focused on that side of the equation, on people using smartphones. However, all of that is noncompliant. SMS is not secure, it’s unencrypted, and you can’t authenticate the recipient. The government guys say that SMS shouldn’t be used for personal health information. But, there’s been a lot of adoption, usage, but not compliance. We though this would be a great vertical to focus on, because we can apply a very much SMS-like experience with our over the top messenger, which makes those message compliance, and controlled and administered by the enterprise.
Where is the awareness of companies to this problem right now?
Brad Brooks: The industry has been evolving in our direction very quickly. All of them recognize that they’re very exposed, and this gives them the opportunity to provide a solution that meets the needs and desires of their own workforce, but also does it in a way to maintain compliance. What the goal is, is to not just provide compliance software, but to create massive utility by connecting people in a real time, messaging environment. That’s what we’re devoted to. We’ve created a really simple product, which is simple to deploy, simple to administer, looks and feels like SMS, and works like an app over the top, and has al the features and capabilities to unlock lots of utility to someone. You can reach anyone, now it’s been delivered to the device, that someone has read it, and you can send them images, video, and voice. You can create groups and send group messages, you can access that messaging network through your desktop, tablet, and through your smartphone, and do it all in a way that is real time and instant, and you can also integrate into your corporate directory. That really becomes extremely powerful, where we allow people to reach each other quickly, and do it in a way that’s compliant and secure, and can be administered as well. You can administrate policies around lifespan, so that all messages expire after some amount of time on a mobile device, you can de-provision people if they leave the network, and you can even PIN lock it at the app level. You can even remotely wipe the app if they lose their device. We’ve done things like integrating TigerText into Active Directory, which supports real time updates of your directory and tens of thousands of users.
How long did it take for you to figure out healthcare was where you wanted to grow this?
Brad Brooks: It was actually pretty quick. My co-founder, Andrew Brooks, is my brother, and he’s a physician by training. It became fairly obvious early on that this made sense. Plus, I come from a family of physicians. My dad is a physician, my brother is a physician. I saw my dad’s pager tethered to his belt. Pagers still have their last bastion in healthcare, and there are still millions of devices in use. So I had that sensitivity to healthcare. Plus, we knew that at the end user level, they were using SMS, which had become an important and valuable workflow tool. Companies are aware of the compliance issues, which have been brought to force over the last 24 months. A couple of years ago, at the administrative level, people really realized how much SMS had proliferated and infiltrated their companies, and had a major issue on how to figure out a systematic way to deal with it that made sense.
How difficult has it been to get your customers to understand the exposure with SMS?
Brad Brooks: You’d be amazed at the amount of information transmitted. One of my friends, the CIO of a large healthcare system, did a study with Verizon of their facility, and found that there were 3 million SMS messages sent in a month. They thought it was patients, but it became obvious that it was being used to exchange lots of healthcare information. Some of the first customers we had were in obstetrics. Nurses were taking pictures of sonograms, and sending it out to doctors to make assessments. They realized you can’t have that kind of information out there lying on people’s mobile devices. It was a fundamental, major exposure point for the hospital. Those hospitals are all very attuned to it, and are aware of both the financial implications, and the impact to their reputation when they’re shown exposing patient information in a haphazard manner. They realized that as they surveyed their clinicians, all of them were using it. Water finds a way. They realized that they have got to figure out how to deal with this, because it’s so disruptive.
Where is the business now?
Brad Brooks: We’ve been on a growth tear for the last 12-18 months. We’ll probably finish this year with a subscriber base which has increased about 7x to 8x from the end of 2012. We’re now lining up some of the largest systems in the country. As we’ve grown, what’s happened is we’ve realized that the real nature of healthcare has required us to rethink the product. What I mean by that, is often times you have an employee, a clinician or caregiver, who is a member of different enterprises and organizations. We had originally conceived of this as one app for one organization. We now realize we need to support multiple organizational hierarchies in one app, where each enterprise can control their directory and conversation. The end user can rotate or access different enterprises from within TigerText.
Our fourth generation product allows for multiple directories in the app. An example of this is you might be a physician at Cedars, but also be a physician at UCLA and a physician at St John’s. You need to be able to toggle between those networks, and even communications in your private practice. Having that support is a huge, important thing to unlock lots of growth in our customer base. Healthcare looks a lot like an overlapping Venn diagram. We had been initially signing up small customers, which would lead and refer us to much larger opportunities. That is a very important aspect of our lead generation. Another aspect we’ve included is the ability to self-provision your own network. That’s important in how we market. We’ve very much taken a play out of the Yammer playbook. You can create your own domain, and you don’t need an IT guy to create your own. Yammer used this to create lead generation from the top down. That’s what V4 unlocks for us. Anyone can come to us and register a domain, and they can invite people to join that domain, and you can automatically populate your own organization. Creating an un-administered organization is our goal. People can do this for free, but once you get to scale on a domain, that serves as a lead generation source. We go to an organization, and tell them you’ve got 40 people here, and if they’d like to administer it or not. Yammer did that very adeptly, and I think that fits extremely well with our model.
What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned, as an entrepreneur?
Brad Brooks: This is my second time around for a company. My first was in a different space, in the entertainment and video space. I think that with technology, it’s really one of those things where it’s very fun because you’re at the cutting edge, and you’re really blazing our own trail. There’s no playbook for what we’re doing. What I think is important, is relentless focus on bettering the product on every level, at all times. I was just telling our team here, V4 is really a massive, architectural overhaul, as we are growing and adding customers to the platform. Yet, I didn’t think twice about it, and I knew we had to do it, because if you don’t innovate and better your product, and listen to what your customers are asking for and adjust on the fly, you’re setting yourself up to be roadkill for the next guy who comes in behind you. One of those things, is you’ve got to have your eyes open and ears to the ground at all times, and you can’t be afraid to tear down what you have and build something new if you want to succeed. Andy Grove said that you need to be paranoid to survive, and I think you’ve got to always think how you can change what you have and make it better, because if you don’t, you’re on the road to becoming a dinosaur really quick.