Layer is a new tech startup with roots in Southeastern Europe co-founded by ex-Vox.io CEO Tomaž Štolfa and Grand Central CTO Ron Palmeri. Ambitious would be an understatement, with Layer on a mission to become the voice, messaging and video “layer” (no pun intended) of Internet communications – currently available for iOS and Android products. Exclusively for Netocratic, Tomaž shares the startup’s whole story and vision.
What Paymill or Stripe are for payments, Google Maps is for mapping, Layer wants to be for communications – a part of your stack to build better products faster. While Tomaž and Ron have telecomunications experience, their advisors include XMPP protocol inventor Jeremie Miller, Sparrow creator Dom Leca and former head of Twitter’s platform Ryan Sarver.
For those who don’t know, Tomaž’s Vox.io was a “Skype in the clouds” product, while Palmeri’s Grand Central became Google Voice after Google acquired it in 2007. for 50 million dollars. Palmeri went on to start his own venture capital fund MkII Ventures in San Francisco. Layer was officially launched a couple of hours ago at Techcrunch Disrupt, where they want to get as many developers to sign up for their platform as possible.
Skype as a Platform?
Imagine a dating application whose users can get in touch through the apps’ own interface based on Layer – their own little version of Skype or Google Hangouts. Layer’s key benefit is making it easy for developers to add the already mentioned video, voice and messaging capabilities to any app within minutes. With an open source UI kit, Layer wants to make the experience of adding such features seamless for any development team.
This could remind you of Aviary, a company that in the beginning developed its own web-based “Photoshop” to switch to a platform model that powers other apps. Layer is Aviary – for communications, but its not based on the telco layer. In fact, its 100% over IP. Interestingly, a couple of the first employees of OpenDNS are part of Layer’s team which is quite important when you realize that OpenDNS has the almost unbelievable uptime of – 100%.
The benefits in that sense are that Layer doesn’t have to work with telecoms and ever more important for startups – doesn’t have to charge per transaction (per SMS). For developers, integrating Layer makes sense because communications aren’t easy and there are only a dozen companies worldwide with the talent to do it. For companies who would like Layer’s features, but aren’t building a new Skype, it makes no sense to go from scratch. The pricing is thus created for early stage companies, free from the start and priced for volume.
In an exclusive talk with Netocratic, Tomaž said that they are really trying to “design Layer for developers” and have already received public endorsements from developers at Airbnb and Wunderlist. With their focus on fast growing “clients”, Tomaž says that there won’t be any blocking ceelings. Because of its over-IP model, Layer can give developers a break and get the bill paid when they are successful. Developers can sign up for Layer.com on the official website, but only 50 will be chosen to get early access and work with Layer’s team. The idea is to get 50 case studies for Layer to be able to showcase its technology.
Alongside communications capabilities, Layer will offer added features such as content search and contacts. While Tomaž didn’t want to go into details, we can confirm that Layer has secured a significant round of funding from some of the Valley’s best known names and its 11 person team will be shortly expanding very fast to build up this platform. You can sign up for Layer as a developer at Layer.com.
European Values with American Ambitions
Layer is definitely a San Francisco based company with an international team of Slovenians, Poles and Americans, but Tomaž points out that they will definitely have European values when it comes to privacy of their users. Since American intelligence agencies could (and will) be interested in Layer at some point in time, the cofounders are developing a strategy to protect their users. Among them is a point-to-point communication encryption that sacrifices features such as search for complete security – as an option to the users who want it.
Its hard not to smile while talking to Tomaž about Layer, especially as someone from Southeastern Europe. Theoretically, Layer has a lot going for it with two experienced founders, even more experienced advisors and much needed capital to scape up. Like Zemanta, Farmeron or Nordeus before it, Layer could be the next step in inspiring startups from Southeastern Europe. More than a Skype-as-a-platform, many will hope it becomes a Skype-as-inspiration. Truly, we couldn’t imagine a sweeter layer in Southeastern Europe’s startup cake.