Serial Entrepreneur Firdaus Bhathena on His Newest Startup, Ziptr

Any new technology that promises users greater privacy online while making their lives easier would be a tantalizing prospect. Coming from an entrepreneur who has already sold two of his past companies, it proved irresistible to Fairhaven Capital. In fact, the Cambridge, Mass.-based venture firm so likes Ziptr — founded by serial entrepreneur Firdaus Bhathena — it just committed $6.8 million in Series A funding into the company. It didn’t syndicate the deal.

So who is Bhathena, and what is he doing? As many in the Boston area already know, Bhathena most recently founded Relicore, a real-time datacenter management company that was acquired by Symantec in 2006 for an undisclosed amount. He was also the founder of WebLine Communications, a call center company that Cisco acquired in 1999 for $325 million in stock. (Fairhaven general partner Dan Keshian was WebLine’s CEO.)

Bhathena’s new startup, Ziptr, based in Burlington, is still mostly under wraps. But he talked with peHUB earlier this week to share why he felt compelled to start it, and what problem it aims to solve. Our conversation has been edited for length.

I understand that you’re creating a single online document archive and secure message service. What does that mean, and when will we see it?

We’ve been in this private beta for a couple of months, working with a couple hundred users, and we’ll shift to public beta in the next few months.

The easiest way to describe what we’re doing is to say we’re building the easiest way to share private information. I’m very sick of logging into Websites to download something, when there’s something sensitive to retrieve. I’m also sick of having to be FedEx’d documents, or CDs with confidential information.

What about secure email?

It’s far from ideal. You have to click on a secure website, and download the document, and there’s no messaging integrated with it. If I’m your attorney and need to get you something electronically, the best I have today is to post it to a website, then send you an email, telling you to download it. But I don’t want to email you the password, too, so I probably have to call you, but then you might forget it two hours afterward.

Users also have to decide if they want to encrypt things in case they lose their laptop. They have to deal with different passwords for different service providers. All these independent steps are a real burden. What we’ve created is as convenient as email but totally private and vastly simplified.

What’s the business model? Will people need to buy a monthly service plan?

It’s a freemium model. There will forever be free a version for everyone to use, and there will be a nominal charge for businesses and professionals who want additional features. It will be around the cost of a FedEx envelope a month. The value proposition will be extremely compelling, but I’m hoping it will be a lot more than that. I think the level of convenience and usability it will provide is head and shoulders above what we struggle with today.

Security has always been the enemy of convenience. That’s what we’re trying to change. There’s no reason you can’t have privacy and convenience. There are a lot of filing-sharing sites out there, but that’s all they do. There are also secure email options out there. Because our product is being built from the ground up, it’s very different.

What are you using the funding to do?

Well, we have 10 people right now, and some of it will be used to expand our engineering team, but not hugely. And they’ll be building out a mobile version of the app for the iPad, iPhone and Android. We’re building out more on the server side, too. Then we’ll start investing in a well-controlled, go-to-market strategy.

I suppose this is a viral product, since it seems you’d have to be invited to view a document?

Definitely. “Viral” has almost become almost a bad word because everyone seems to claim that their product is viral. But to use Ziptr, you have to introduce someone else to it. So hopefully, we’ll strike a balance between word-of-mouth and the viral strength of Ziptr and targeted awareness campaigns that don’t have to be expensive. We’re not trying to boil the ocean.