Enterprise mobile messaging market gets more crowded with launch of Avaamo

The startup, founded by former Tibco executives, hopes to stand out with its security features and IT controls

Another startup wants to offer mobile messaging to enterprises, even though it's questionable whether such a narrow service can sustain a company and even though it's likely that larger enterprise collaboration vendors will jump into this market.

This time it's a company called Avaamo, which is led by two former Tibco executives and which announced on Wednesday that it has secured US$6.3 million in seed funding.

The company is confident it will stand out from the pack and thrive thanks to its product's communications speed, security, extensibility and IT controls, according to co-founder and CEO Ram Menon. He was Tibco's president of social computing and as such was in charge of that company's Tibbr enterprise social networking (ESN) suite.

Avaamo claims it delivers messages with "sub-second latency" worldwide. It also encrypts all messages and offers an "off the record" mode in which messages disappear after a pre-defined period of time. The security protections extend to exchanges with people who aren't employees of the company, according to Menon.

In addition to text, the app lets users record voice memos, insert business-appropriate emojis and link to documents from cloud storage services. Emojis are small digital icons used to express an idea or emotion.

For IT pros and developers, Avaamo offers an API (application programming interface) so the product can be integrated with third-party software and services, as well as an IT administration console to manage and secure users and data.

The company launched an iOS app and plans to offer an Android app in the coming days. Those mobile apps are free. Avaamo will charge companies for its Premium version, which includes the IT admin console. Menon declined to provide pricing information.

In addition to Menon's enterprise software experience, there's also the track record of co-founder and CTO Sriram Chakravarthy, who was Tibbr's vice president of product and engineering. Other team members come from Apple, Intel and SAP.

Menon said he's not concerned about the possibility that large communication and collaboration vendors like Google and Microsoft will come out with their own enterprise mobile messaging services, eliminating the need for products like Avaamo's. "I don't think they will provide this as part of their suites," he said.

In the meantime, enterprises' need for secure mobile messaging is urgent, because employees communicate more and more via texting, and they're doing so with consumer tools, such as WhatsApp, according to Menon. He said he's seen this scenario time and again, adding that Avaamo has been beta tested by 27 companies in 17 countries.

The potential incursion of big-name players isn't the only challenge for Avaamo. The company is getting to the enterprise mobile messaging party when a bunch of other startups have been strutting their stuff already, including Cotap, Heywire Business, TigerText, Biba, Confide and CellTrust.

"Enterprise mobile messaging is crowded. We have not seen a breakout thus far," said Rajeev Chand, head of research at Rutberg & Company, a boutique investment bank that focuses on the mobile industry.

It's not entirely clear that there will be a breakout player. "Does a 'WhatsApp for Business' make sense?" he said via email.

While businesses need to monitor employee communications, and employees may benefit from business-to-business app features such as company directories, the truth is that email and SMS work very well and are "established and powerful defaults," Chand said.

Should one of the players ignite and experience Yammer-like growth, it will probably become a takeover target for the incumbent enterprise vendors, "many of whom are slow in mobile innovation," he said.

In the meantime, the law of natural selection will apply to this nascent, overpopulated market. "There will be a deathfield of startups in the sector as it is crowded with venture financings," Chand said.

Avaamo has 16 employees and is based in Los Altos, California, and Bangalore.

Juan Carlos Perez covers enterprise communication/collaboration suites, operating systems, browsers and general technology breaking news for The IDG News Service. Follow Juan on Twitter at @JuanCPerezIDG.

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