If Jim Patterson has his way, managers across the country may one day encourage their employees to text more inside and outside the office.
Patterson is the co-founder of Cotap, a mobile messaging app that launched for iPhone earlier this week with the promise of making texting more useful for the workplace. The app lets employees communicate through one-to-one and group messages in much the same way as consumer-facing apps like WhatsApp and MessageMe.
“Texting is one of the most natural things people do with their phones,” Patterson told in a recent interview. “The workplace has email, but they really don’t have texting.”
Part of the difficultly involved in introducing texting into the workplace, he argues, is that it requires every employee to have access to every other employee’s cellphone number. Cotap works around this problem by making the email address the primary contact information rather than the phone number. The app then scans each user’s address book for contacts with a company email address in order to build out a shared list of work contacts for each employee to communicate with.
Those who don’t use the Cotap app can still be included in the collective address book, but will receive any incoming message as an email rather than as a text in the app.
Patterson previously worked as the chief product officer at Yammer, a social networking service for businesses, which was acquired by Microsoft last year for $1.2 billion. His co-founder Zack Parker also worked at Yammer as the senior director of engineering.
While the app only allows basic text messages at the moment, Patterson hopes to introduce attachments and task management features to it down the road. The Cotap team will develop an Android version of the app next, with the goal of solving what Patterson considers to be the other major roadblock for the move to texting in the workplace.
“With the demise of Blackberry, people are moving to BYOD [bring your own device] and there’s a split where half the company is Android and half iPhone,” he says. “There’s no cross-platform messaging service to use so everyone falls back to email.”
The San Francisco startup raised $5.5 million earlier this year from Charles River Ventures and Emergence Capital. The app is free, but Cotap plans to roll out a premium offering at some point for companies.