Privatext: An app trying to transcend its own pitch

By Cale Guthrie Weissman , written on August 23, 2013

From The News Desk

Everyday I get a million and one pitches about an "interesting" or "useful" product. Quite often it's coupled with a personal anecdote about the founder, or a tale about how the company got started. I'm generally not interested, especially if the product seems weak.

A few days ago I was pitched an app with a slew of crazy anecdotes about the company's founder. Usually I'm not swayed by stories like that, but I thought that given the fact he was involved with Def Jam Rapstar, the conversation will at least be interesting. And I was right.

For some background, here are a few tidbits from the original email: He has saved over two dozen animals, and has named them all; He attended three New York universities, and didn't graduate from any of them; He was offered a gig to do shirtless modeling for Abercrombie & Fitch. It's rare that I get such bizarrely personal nuggets, so I thought why not have a conversation.

The man in question is Justin Schwartz, the CEO of Privatext. Privatext is private texting app that launched a few weeks ago, which allows users to privately and securely send each other texts and pictures that are then deleted on both ends. The app is device-specific, encodes each message, and uses its own server to circumvent wireless companies like Verizon and AT&T. This is to ensure that no message can be intercepted.

Schwartz, 25, is quite a talker, with a thick New York accent. He did mention that he was offered an Abercrombie & Fitch modeling gig, but declined because he didn't think it would bode well with investors. He also had a legal battle with the makers of the Def Jam Rapstar game in 2010. Now all he's legally able to say is that he was "involved" with it, but can't say how, but if you do any searching you learn that he claimed created the game.

And of course, he has a story about the genesis of Privatext. He says his friend once mistakenly texted his boss a message that should have gone to his girlfriend. The text read something like, "You look so gorgeous, I can't wait to kiss your face." Sounds like a romantic comedy, but he swears it's true. Naturally, the boss told everyone else at work, and it took hours before Schwartz's embarrassed and bewildered friend realized what  happened. This gave Schwartz the idea of a private texting app that can delete messages. He also mentioned recent national privacy scares the PRISM program as an impetus.

All of this is interesting, but does a man make a product? Obviously not. Privatext is an interesting idea, but there are other, similar players in the same app market, like WICKR, TigerText, and iCrypt to just name a few. In all honesty, I would love to see how many entrepreneurs who are capitalizing on "security" and "privacy" apps in the wake of Edward Snowden's leaks. In some ways, Privatext is part of the same trend. So the only thing really making Privatext shine is Schwartz's charisma and story, and that's not enough.

The one unique facet of Privatext is its subsidiary offerings for businesses. The company plans to offer Privatext Medical in the next month or so, allowing doctors and health professionals to securely communicate with one other. Supposedly Schwartz has received interest from "top surgeons and doctors." And following Medical will come Privatext Legal – the same idea but for lawyers. These would bring in revenue, because Privatext would charge each company for the service.

I'm not convinced he has a sustainable business, but I would probably get a beer with Schwartz anyway.