#Asia Meet the Singaporean startup pitching at Barcelona’s Mobile World Congress


At the world’s biggest event this week, SafeChats is carrying the Singaporean flag with a messaging app that has its own secret sauce

SafeChats FINAL

SafeChats Co-founder Maxim Glazov and CMO Mark Koh

As the entire mobile tech community descends on Barcelona for the GSMA Mobile World Congress (from Feb 22 to 25), a Singaporean startup named SafeChats will be pitching in front of an international network of VCs, angel investors, mentors and industry leaders.

The company earned the trip to Barcelona by securing a place in the top 3 at the Mobile Challenge Asia Pacific competition held in Honolulu, Hawaii in January this year.

SafeChats is basically a mobile messaging app. It represents Singapore alongside enTouch (a Japanese company connecting pharmaceutical agencies with doctors) and an SME regulatory compliance app, called 1Export, from the Philippines.

Before we get into the profile, let’s do a quick chat with Co-founder and CEO Maxim Glazov and CMO Mark Koh to know about their strategy as they are heading into the conference.

“We will invite people to be part of focus groups, and if we can prove to them how insecure their product is and can prove how secure SafeChats is, that will be [the focus],” says Koh.

Which begs the question…

What makes SafeChats stand apart?

We are a messaging app similar to Slack, or recently-acquired Pie, with one major difference; it values user security above all else.

Global comparisons can be made to Telegram (which does not reveal location information) and San Francisco-based Wickr.

SafeChat’s focus on security is so concentrated that Glazov admits his company sacrifices user acquisition to preserve its mandate.

“You have to add users manually. It doesn’t sound good to add more users, but right from the start we were focussed on security,” says Glazov.

Also Read: Singapore work-messaging app Pie acquired by Google; first in SEA

Running on both desktop and mobile, the infrastructure of SafeChats is built on off-the-record (OTR) private messaging — one of the encryption technologies used by journalists Laura Poitras and Glenn Greenwald and others to communicate with Edward Snowden.

The SafeChats strategy is end-to-end encryption, in which both parties need to give one another a private key, so data packets are not intercepted while travelling between the people and servers.

“We don’t store any information on the server. So we only use it as a router,” says Glazov.

Furthermore, unlike most chat apps such as WhatsApp or LINE, SafeChats does not require a phone number or email to log in.

“You just go and sign up, you can create a new account every 5 minutes, use it, and dispose it. As long as you have Internet connection, you can register,” Glazov explains.

SafeChats uses a 2048-bit RSA cryptology key and at the message level runs Advanced Encryption System 256 (military grade) to protect the programme.

Cool features of the app that fall under the security umbrella include self-destructing texts, message recalling, and a time limit on data storage (users can keep a conversation for a day, weeks or forever depending on the specific situation).

Also Read: India’s online financial marketplace BankBazaar expands into Singapore

e27 took the app for a spin, while it values encryption, once the user sets up an account, it is a simple, clean, application. Any user of WhatsApp could figure out the programme in a matter of minutes, and in our demonstration, it seemed more simple than WeChat.

Who are the clients?

SafeChats thinks the road to success will need to wind through SMEs. The idea is to target the boss, who will drive adoption throughout the company. Top-down proliferation.

“If we try to go down to the consumer level they would say, ‘I don’t need this, I have WhatsApp,’” says Koh.

Companies like logistics services, commodity traders or firms with high-net-worth clients are all potential clients for SafeChats.

For example, Koh highlights a Gourmet food company with mainly a wealthy clientele. It uses SafeChats to facilitate communication while still protecting the data of those individuals.

The first target market will be Asia Pacific because the company believes it has a local market advantage. People in the region do not use Telegram or Wickr, and SafeChats has focussed on regional accessibility to compete with those global brands.

The result is SafeChats has excellent language tools. It can function in simplified Chinese, Vietnamese, Korean, Japanese, Russian, Spanish and English. It is also available on iOS, Android and Windows Mobile.

Also Read: SGX is revving up support for the Singapore’s tech startup scene. Here’s how

As for revenue, it is important to appreciate the fact that for Glazov, the founding of SafeChats was something of a passion project.

While the company hopes for a US$6 million valuation and spoke explicitly of trying to raise US$1 million in the near future, outside investment has not been a driving force for management.

“With no VC on board, so we kind of develop [the product] because we like it, and nobody is saying ‘you have to release it right now’. Which is good and bad. It has been a bit of a challenge to put the product on the market faster,” says Glasov.

“We are not [simply] looking for money. Because development-wise, we are pretty much covered. Marketing is a different matter,” he adds.

At the moment, SafeChats is free to use, but down the line, the company will be implementing a paid SaaS service for chains of more than 10 people as well as premium features.

P2P transfers

It is all the rage in Asia right now.

Major players like Kakao Talk, WeChat and LINE have all taken the lead to make APAC an absolutely essential market for mobile payments. Singapore’s fastacash is an example of a smaller startup still finding success across the region.

SafeChats also wants to enter the game, and if it works out, the transaction fee on transfers will be a key revenue driver moving forward.

Rather than working with banks, SafeChats is in the middle of negotiating a partnership with MyRepublic. If MyRepublic eventually becomes Singapore’s fourth telco, SafeChats hopes to use the its telephone accounts as something of a mobile wallet. Storing money in the account that can be transferred, via the OTR network, to friends, family or colleagues.

MyRepublic has confirmed to e27 that this potential deal is in the works.

As P2P transfers grow in popularity, it is not difficult to imagine the appeal of running the money through an OTR-based network.

Security is sexy when the topic is money.

With 10 employees, mostly Russian, SafeChats has strong international ties. But, the company is very much a Singaporean enterprise and the main reason is more simple than low corporate taxes or government grants; and to be honest, it is refreshing.

“Well first of all, I’m based in Singapore,” says Glazov with a smile.

The post Meet the Singaporean startup pitching at Barcelona’s Mobile World Congress appeared first on e27.

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