A Vancouver-based start-up called Witkit is launching a workplace collaboration tool today, with an emphasis on security.
It has been operating in beta for a short time now, tested by “some of the biggest household tech names,” according to an email.
The main obstacle to Witkit gaining traction is an elephant in the room named Slack, created by fellow Vancouverite Stewart Butterfield. That and the fact that Facebook is due out soon with a workplace collaboration tool called Facebook At Work.
So how does Witkit plan to differentiate itself from at least two huge incumbents? End-to-end data encryption.
With the stunning recent example of the Sony hack, because of which we all can now laugh over what Sony executives have to say about Angelina Jolie or President Obama, to fuel every company’s worst security nightmares, the start-up dream of co-workers collaborating remotely by sharing files over Dropbox, Google Docs or maybe Huddle carries the extra-dangerous frisson reminiscent of risky behaviour in the worry free days before anyone knew what a hack was.
This is not even to mention the ignorance-is-bliss era before Edward Snowden, and the nightmare scenario of David Cameron, bafflingly head of a government, who has suggested that encryption of any kind should be outright banned in the name of national security.
Talking by phone with Cantech Letter, Witkit CEO Sean Merat described the process leading up to Witkit’s creation in a nutshell. “There are too many solutions!” he said. “There is such a thing as having too many solutions.”
Describing himself and his team as “a bunch of serial entrepreneurs with many different companies,” Merat painted a picture of workplace collaboration chaos that led to Witkit.
“We would be using Dropbox for storage, we would be using Hipchat for communications, we would be using Evernote for taking notes and brainstorming, and in each of these places we had to keep track of everything in different places. Notifications would come from all over the place. It was very easy for us to lose focus on the big picture.”
Contrary to allowing users to piggyback a diverse bunch of apps on a platform, Witkit has its own storage, its own task manager, its own calendar, etc., with notifications sent out to relevant team members as updates are made in real time.
And aside from centralizing the menagerie of applications that used to be necessary for workplace collaboration into a single platform, Witkit has added a layer of encryption security, which it refers to as WitCrypt.
Sony is merely the tip of an iceberg of IT insanity as far as corporate hacking is concerned. Last year, Dropbox was basically reverse-engineer hacked (although it claims it wasn’t), Evernote was definitely hacked to the tune of 50 million users, and you can just Google the words “corporate hack” to unveil a basically endless hall of shame.
“The problem that we solved with this is that we’ve created an end-to-end encryption,” says Merat. “What it does is it encrypts your data on your user interface before it’s sent to our servers. And at no point in time, when you encrypt your data with Witkit, is Witkit in contact with any of the encrypted data. We keep a zero-knowledge platform in that sense.”
Witkit’s platform also allows individual users to create what amount to individual desktops, organized around specific missions, which it refers to as “Kits.” The Kit is the interface through which users collaborate, share files, chat, or have discussions with team members. The Kits can be private, limited only to specific team members, or public.
Merat comes from a marketing background, having founded a firm called Lavia Design with his brother. He then branched out to create an online social gaming engine called ISIS Lab, which IPOed in 2013. He describes Witkit as his most ambitious project to date.
Witkit is launching today with $5 million in seed money, with the intention of raising a Series A round of funding in future.
The company is offering a free 50 GB of data-encrypted storage and free applications to the first 50,000 users to sign up.