Ray Ozzie’s Stealthy Startup Talko Is Building A Consumer-Facing Mobile Communications App, Not A Cloud-Based Mobile Backend

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In December, news leaked that former Microsoft exec Ray Ozzie had raised $4 million for a stealthy startup known as Talko, previously known as Cocomo. Not much is known about the company’s plans, but originally the speculation was that Talko is building cloud-based backend services. We’re hearing now that a key component to the new service is actually a consumer-facing mobile communications app, however.

Ozzie has been famously secretive about his plans (the website is literally a blank page). He had spoken of his interest in cloud-based backends to CNET back in March 2012, which led to multiple reports that Talko, then Cocomo, was working to develop something in that niche. Granted, a cloud-based backend could very well be a component of what Ozzie and team are working on, but the focus is not necessarily on entering the MBaaS (mobile backend-as-a-service) space directly, it seems.

Talko co-founder Ransom Richardson recently spoke at an Amazon Web Services meetup, and according to a report from GigaOm, citing statements made by attendees at the event, Talko is running on top of AWS. These people also said that the company was building a communications service for mobile.

That also agrees with what we’ve heard from multiple, more direct sources – that the company is not building a mobile backend business, but rather a consumer-facing mobile application. In some cases, people even referred to this as being a WhatsApp/Tango/LINE -style mobile app, though a bit different because of features where you can do certain things together – like browse photos together on different devices, for instance.

Over the past year, much of what we know of Talko has come from job postingsSEC filings, and scourings of LinkedIn. For instance, in January 2012, the Boston Globe reported that a former Microsoft executive Matt Pope is a co-founder at the company, where he is joined by Richardson, also an ex-Microsoftie based in Boston.

LinkedIn today shows that Ray Ozzie’s son Neil Ozzie, is on the team, as is Eric Patey, who, like Richardson, worked at Groove Networks with Ray. Ex-Microsofties Ari GoldbergHoward NagerRichard Speyer have also joined, per LinkedIn.

The Talko team is located in both Seattle and Boston. However, job postings refer to the company as a “location-free” startup, where preference will be given to people in those cities, as well as the San Francisco Bay area, when applying.

Messaging Apps Are Huge

For those unfamiliar, messaging app adoption has been surging in recent months. Viber passed 175 million users this February. WhatsApp has around 250 million users. Old-timer Skype has some 800 million users, 280+ million of which are active monthly. LINE, popular in Japan and newly arrived in the U.S., reached 100 million in January. Korea’s KakaoTalk is used on 88 percent of iPhones in South Korea (though that report is a little old; it’s likely more now). WeChat is big in China. Tango just hit 100 million users.

In the U.S. and Western Europe, Facebook Messenger also tops the charts, alongside WhatsApp. SnapChat, popular among teens, just raised $13.5 million and is now seeing 60 million “snaps” per month. And new startups, like MessageMe, are still entering the space.

In other words, the messaging app market may be big, but it’s also very fragmented. Which, of course, raises the question: what does Talko think it can do here that would be new or differentiated at this point? What hasn’t been done?

On these points, no one external to Talko seems to know, but given one job posting’s reference to being a product that will “improve how people and groups communicate and work together, with potential appeal to everyone using a smart mobile device,” it’s possible that Talko is a B2C product, but one with functionality that’s applicable to our  workplace needs as well. That would actually put the app up against something like Yammer et al., perhaps – incidentally, Yammer now being owned by Ozzie’s former employer, Microsoft.

More details about the app’s nature were also revealed in a job posting, found online last month. The app will be on iOS and Android, use HTML5 and JavaScript, support synchronous and asynchronous messaging, real-time technology like WebRTC, and is described as “social,” for “individuals and groups” and will be both a “mobile and web” experience.

The full job posting is below, as it’s no longer live online:

Product Engineering at Talko Inc.

You’re incredibly excited about the transition to a world of devices & cloud services, and have a deep passion for building stunning mobile and web experiences. You’re a best-in-class software engineer, looking to join a small, proven team with a big aspirations and exciting product challenges. Should we connect?

THE OPPORTUNITY

A new day has dawned as it relates to how we might interact with one another. We are working on a new communications product for this new world. We have huge goals and pragmatic plans. We are building compelling experiences for social interaction that individuals and groups will use, value and love.

We’re looking for highly skilled software engineers to join the team. It’s key that you have experience with the likes of:

  • iOS & Android
  • HTML5/Javascript
  • High scale, cost-effective back-end services
  • Synchronous and asynchronous messaging
  • Emerging real-time communications technologies, e.g. WebRTC
  • We’re interested in speaking if you have deep expertise in one or more of these areas along with a curious, quick-learning mindset.

THE INDIVIDUAL

You’ll have experience building and delivering product in one or more of the areas mentioned above. You’ll expect to be an amazing individual contributor in a highly fluid, fast-moving environment.

Beyond being an amazing individual contributor, you’ll care deeply about the cohesion and capability of the team as a whole. You’ll need great interaction & influence skills in a fast-moving, high-pressure environment. You’ll regularly interact with other engineers, as well as with Product, Design and Test. You need to be confident and opinionated, but also self-aware and empathetic.

THE LOCATION

We are a location-free startup, currently spanning Boston & Seattle. Preference will be given to one of those cities and the San Francisco / Bay Area.

APPLY

If you think we might be a match, please send your thoughts as to why, along with your resume and relevant links to jobs@talko.com .

About Talko Inc.

Talko builds software and services for communications and social productivity, focused on new usage scenarios enabled by cloud-connected mobile devices. We are currently in pre-release product development.

Reasons to be excited:

  • A big vision; a pragmatic starting point; a product that’ll improve how people and groups communicate and work together, with potential appeal to everyone using a smart mobile device.
  • An experienced, proven team that has previously built well-adopted communications apps/experiences and high scale services.
  • Exciting product challenges, in both architecture and user experience.
  • A team that values diversity of experience and perspective.
  • A driven set of individuals that genuinely enjoy working with one another: solving problems; refining designs; building, learning and growing together.
  • An ego-free culture defined by trust, respect, and empathy.
  • A company that’s backed by some of the best investors in the business.