Mayer Mizrachi and his team created a platform for text-messaging technology that makes messages disappear. One upping that, they created a cool iPhone app that lets users quickly and seamlessly add short muted video clips to their disappearing texts. For instance, instead of a text that only said “I got in,” the message could be accompanied by the teen sender jumping up and down with the acceptance letter from the university she applied to. In fact, the free app, called HASH, quickly gained more than 150,000 enthusiastic users, particularly teen-agers.
But there was a problem. The teen users were not the market Mizrachi was targeting. And the market the team hoped to tap — individual politicians, lawyers and other professionals who wanted to be able to send messages without a trace left behind — were not embracing it.
While working on the app as part of Miami’s Venture Hive accelerator, Mizrachi got a call from a Latin American government that asked for a version of Hash just for its group. Then a big Panamanian telecommunications company wanted its own branded version to offer as an exclusive service for clients. Then it hit him: The target is a business-to-business marketplace. “Companies don’t want to use Whatsapp; they want to have full control and they will pay for the service,” said Mizrachi, 26, whose team of five works mainly from Ecuador and Panama.
Now, while the HASH app is still available along with plenty of competitors in the consumer market, Mizrachi and his team are focused squarely on the business-to-business model. His company, Criptext, will officially launch next month at TechCrunch Disrupt in New York but Mizrachi has already delivered the product to his first big enterprise customer and has others in the pipeline.
“Criptext will be the LinkedIn of messaging. Work and play should be separated,” said Mizrachi, who came up with the initial idea while working on a digital strategy for a presidential campaign in Panama and seeing a leaked text message conversation crucify a candidate.
With Criptext, messages are protected three ways: Once you open a message you have 15 seconds to read it before it self-destructs from the phone and the servers. Unlike competitors, the message is also screenshot-safe by never showing the name of the sender in the same screen as the message, and it’s untraceable in the backend. Companies, organizations and government entities will pay a yearly fee for the users it specifies — Criptext is currently testing pricing models. It will also have the ability to send messages to specified affiliates.
“Sometimes you set out to build a product for a particular market segment and realize along the way that there’s a better, more viable business model in a different market segment. Criptext started out focusing on consumers but realized it made more sense to pivot to a government and enterprise market,” said Ivan Rapin-Smith, program director at Venture Hive. “Mayer is now laser focused on this b2b business model and building a profitable, sustainable business.”
Mizrachi presented Criptext for the first time on Friday at the Swarm, Venture Hive’s version of the demo day. There, he and the nine other accelerator companies from seven countries pitched to a roomful of investors and community supporters. “He represents us well and is a great example showing that world class tech companies can start and grow in Miami,” said Susan Amat, founder of Venture Hive, which is supported by Miami-Dade County and the Miami Downtown Development Authority.
At the Swarm on Friday, each startup team gave a six-minute presentation; then the teams were available for follow-up questions and meetings with investors. Other accelerator companies presenting Friday included Aprefis, which helps cruise companies increase profits through big-data pricing algorithms, Properati, an online and mobile platform for the real estate market in Latin America and now the U.S., and The Fan Machine, a social marketing platform in Latin America that is expanding into the United States, and Waleteros, a mobile wallet solution aimed at the unbanked U.S. Hispanic marketplace.
The Swarm closed out the intense 12-week program but the companies are provided free Venture Hive office space to continue working on their companies the rest of the year, and many of the companies from the first accelerator class, such as SWOL, Hair Construction, NightPro, Everypost and Raw Shorts, have stayed on at Venture Hive as part of its incubator. Mizrachi praised the structured program and the mentorship, and said the $25,000 grant each accelerator company receives allowed him to focus on building his business, rather than on raising money.
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