Insider Q&A: Frankly CEO Steve Chung
Ever send a text and immediately wish you could take it back?
There you are, staring at your phone, searching tearfully for that secret unsend button, meanwhile your “I love you” text just went out to a girl you’ve only been on two dates with and now you know that relationship you’re dreaming about is pretty much over the moment she looks at her screen.
Well, if you download the new iOS and Android app, Frankly, that magical ability to unsend texts and pretend they never happened is right at your fingertips, as not only can you take back any text or photo that hasn’t yet been opened, any text or photo that does make it through vanishes 10 seconds after it’s seen, erasing any potentially embarrassing digital trail from both your mobile device and even Frankly’s servers.
Inside Mobile Apps sat down with Frankly’s CEO, Steve Chung, to get the dirt on his new app, how it works, and the value of offering an anonymous chat room.
Here’s what the man behind the disappearing texts had to say.
Inside Mobile Apps: What’s the concept behind the new Frankly app?
Steve Chung: We like to call Frankly the next-generation texting app. Our mission is to power our users to speak freely for the first time in a long time through digital media. We believe that we enable our users to do this because we lift the burden of permanence out of the equation when our users our communicating with their friends through their mobile phone. For an example, once you send a message, after it’s read, it’s gone forever after ten seconds. If you send a message and it hasn’t been read yet, you can recall it or unsend it, giving the user total control over their digital footprint.
We’re really excited about this because there are lots of communication throughout the world, and some of them should definitely be recorded for public consumption, but the vast majority of communication, especially the types of things sent over text message, we feel shouldn’t be kept. They are meant to be short, timely, informal conversations, and once the moment has passed, there’s no need for these texts to reappear, and in some cases hurt you, down the line latter in life. We believe there should be someplace out there in the digital space where people can feel free to speak their minds freely and honestly without fearing that what they write will last forever.
IMA: Being able to take back a text before it is read might save thousands of relationships.
SC: [laughs] I think another area where people get caught up is the security or privacy angle. It’s interesting, a recent study asked Americans if they’ve ever gone through the steps to make themselves anonymous or have their digital footprint erased, and something like 86-percent of them said yes. Four times of more Americans wanted to hide from certain friends or people in their past than the government. So while people are worried about security, it’s much more of an everyday issue. Whether it’s saying, “I love you,” or asking someone to meet up, or telling someone how you day sucks, we want to give the power back to the user so they can really feel free to speak their mind. That’s really what we’re about.
IMA: The app is also going to feature a group chat that makes everybody in the group anonymous as they text. How is that going to work?
SC: The idea is, as you mentioned, you can start a group chat, and you know who is in the room, but once that group chat is starting, you don’t know who is saying what. We’ve gotten some really, really interesting feedback. Even here, at our own company, after a meeting or a presentation, I’ll pull our group into a group chat and ask everyone what they think. You’d be surprised how much more honest, free, and liberating this format is for a lot of people. A lot of our team members, who might have a great idea or objection, might also feel uncomfortable saying it publicly or with personal attribution, but their point shouldn’t be missed, and this is a great format for that. You can see how that can also apply to a lot of personal situations as well, be it young or old, so it’s another way we’re freeing the users to speak their mind. A lot of conversations today are shallow and superficial, and a lot of that, I think, is attributed to the fact that when you type something, it feels like the world is listening. That’s what digital permanence is doing to society. We want to give people that freedom to speak freely, and it can be fun, or it can be serious, but people shouldn’t feel like there will be consequences to everything they write.
IMA: I can almost imagine every one of those chats ending with, “Wait, who just said that?”
SC: But you have plausible deniability. [laughs] You can see how this can be very fun, or it can be a great forum for serious conversation and feedback. You know who is in the room, but it’s not like you have a tape recorder attributing everything and taking notes on who said what. Five years later, you never know how that information is used.
IMA: How does texting pictures come into play?
SC: The photos is pretty cool for us, because what we have, and I believe we’re the first to do this, but when you turn on the camera module, the entire backdrop turns into a camera. So when you’re in a chat, instead of the chat being the backdrop, in our app, the entire back screen turns into the camera, so I can keep snapping pictures at a rate about a picture a second, and I can instantly send you a stream of photos. So instead of taking a picture, and then looking at it, then sending it out, what we have is a rapid camera that really aligns with our mission of being in the moment and capturing the moment. And right now, we don’t allow you to select a photo from your photo library, so whatever you send on Frankly is a photo you just took. So you can’t say you’re at a Bono concert, you have to be there to send that photo. Share the moment, share what’s happening honestly and freely, and then once it’s viewed, it’s gone, so you don’t have to feel burdened by where this photo might end up. And if you change your mind, you can unsend it just as easily as you sent it.
IMA: How can you guarantee to people that these texts and photos actually do disappear and that they are not being stored on your server?
SC: We’ve actually built a pretty sophisticated message routing technology. The standard in messaging is basically, when you send a message, it’s stored on a server, then it’s sent to the intended recipient and that message is basically stored on a hard disk. What we do, we never use hard disks to route our messages, we use memory or RAM. And so, once that message hits our server and the recipient hits the bubble to read it, immediately that message is eliminated from memory. So while the hard disk might leave a digital trail, once you wipe it from memory, that memory is wiped forever, and even we, as service providers, can’t recover that. Rather than go through some sort of military encryption or something like that where you build an 11-foot wall only to watch as someone builds an 11-foot ladder, we’ve made it such that, for simplicity and for much better security, we, as service providers, can’t even recover these messages. The way we’re using RAM is pretty unique, and we’re not aware of any other message services that do that. During that message transmission, we also have several layers of security, including SSL, to make sure connectivity is secure, as well as our own messaging protocol that encrypts the actual message so nobody can intercept the message being sent.
IMA: How is Frankly being funded?
SC: We’re very excited to announce that we received $6 million in Series A funding. Our investor is a company called SK Planet, which is basically the Google of Korea. They are super smart and they really understand messaging. They’ve been super helpful in guiding our launch.
We’re really excited to get our app out there and let users speak freely. That’s really the value we’re trying to represent.