Signalwire, which makes APIs and open source software for online communication, is releasing a new video conferencing platform that's meant to replicate an office environment in a virtual setting.
Cantina runs in a browser and gives users the option to end-to-end encrypt meetings. It also has standing meeting rooms people can pop into to recreate the feeling of being in an office.
Signalwire cofounders Anthony Minessale and Sean Heiney originally built it as an internal tool and released it publicly because of the coronavirus pandemic.
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Anthony Minessale and Sean Heiney have been working together to create better video communication tools for the last decade. After meeting through Minessale's open-source communication project FreeSWITCH, they cofounded a video API startup, SignalWire, which is now launching a new video conferencing platform that they say works better than competitors like Zoom.
The app, called Cantina, is meant to replicate an office environment in a virtual setting and has the ability to host calls that are end-to-end encrypted, a technology feature that few video communications tools currently have.
It started as a tool for internal use: Signalwire built it because, as a fully remote company, it wasn't satisfied with other options on the market. When team-members would use it for sales calls, they would always get questions from customers about where to get the tool. When the coronavirus pandemic hit, Minessale and Heiney realized that the now-remote world needed a video communication system that could better mimic real-life, and decided to launch it publicly.
"We basically just mandated that we would get a prototype done as fast as possible to demonstrate all the functionality that SignalWire has to offer," Minessale told Business Insider.
With Cantina, users can host video calls and webinars for thousands of people, similar to Zoom, Google Meet, and Microsoft Teams, it has a unique overall philosophy for its users: More than solving the technical problems of communication tools, Cantina aims to solve some of the social problems that occur when everyone is working remotely, Heiney said.
Companies can set up static virtual rooms that employees can drop in and out of to replicate the feeling of a shared office space, and it's all run out of a "command center" that all employees can see. The app runs in a web browser on desktop or mobile, no downloads needed.
"There's certain things that are lost in that office environment and we've done things to mitigate some of that, like the informal water cooler chatter is valuable sometimes," Heiney said. "We've worked through a lot of that over the last couple of years with some real features and functions around that, that make this a real remote work environment replacement."
What led Minessale and Heiney to Cantina
The process started in 2005 when Minessale created an open source project called FreeSWITCH which was a platform for online communications. Many well known companies, including Netflix, Amazon, and Vonage, used its open source code to build various communications systems like customer service or internal chat tools, Signalwire COO Heiney said.
"It's literally been at the heart of the communications revolution of the digital era," he said. "Billions of dollars of value has been built upon it."
Eventually, Minessale realized that he could build a formal business around the technology he had created. Companies that were using the code often came to him to ask for new features, or because they had run into issues when trying to scale it to meet the needs of a massive organization. That's when Minessale and Heiney created Signalwire, to sell application programming interfaces — APIs — for voice, video, and text communication, alongside FreeSWITCH's open source platform.
Signalwire raised $11.5 million in Series A funding in 2019, and its backers include Storm Ventures, Samsung NEXT and Sequoia Capital and executives like Eric Yuan from Zoom and Jerry Yang from Yahoo.
How Signalwire will sell Cantina
Signalwire has 250 customers trying out the new video conferencing service, and will soon start selling it outright. It just hired a new VP of business development and global channels — former Barracude exec Ezra Hookano — to help with its sales strategy of selling through IT reseller partners.
The company is still deciding pricing for Cantina but Heiney said it will give customers a 30 day free trial, and then charge based on the total number of users, versus on a per user basis.
Beyond replicating aspects of in-office interaction, Cantina has a security-first mindset and flexibility that will differentiate it from competitors, he said.
"We were always designed with data privacy in mind from inception," Heiney said. "So we're not subject to the same kind of problems historically faced with some of the other vendors."
Signalwire runs its APIs and software in almost every available public cloud, and can adapt quickly to the specific needs of companies. For example, a customer in Bahrain requires all its data to stay within the country at all times, so for that customer Signalwire runs only in data centers in Bahrain.
Cantina also gives users the open to end-to-end encrypt their calls. However, if they want a call recorded or transcribed then it can't be encrypted, Minessale said, because there's a third party involved. Calls between individuals can be end-to-end encrypted though.
This is similar to the model Zoom settled on for its encryption plans. Zoom was originally criticized for marketing itself as fully encrypted when it wasn't, and then faced an additional backlash for its initial plans to only give encryption to paid users.
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