A while back we started thinking about what to do with the issues that the Snowden leaks revealed to the world. My friends, Linus and Leif, are two of the best people I know. We all have our hearts in the right place and we all have skills and ideas that can be put into good use.
We decided to put our minds and skills together and try to make an encrypted messaging app. We thought about the issues, the things noone seemed to be trying to solve. The tech community had solutions – but only focused on the people who understood the problems. The non-tech communities didn’t care. A messenger that catered to the common users but still understood the political issues was a thing we all felt was missing. We started a crowd-funding campaign, both to see if there was an interest but also to raise enough money to actually get time to do this. We were thinking we might get about 50.000 USD in a few months. In about 48 hours we had three times that money, and we decided that we needed to stop asking for money, it was more than we knew what to do with.
So we had about 130.000 USD after all fees was paid. And then we lost some more (like 30.000USD) because of a bitcoin wallet that got stolen from our bitcoin supplier. But still, a lot of money. We decided to hire some people to help us out with the things we are not experts in. The process was slow and hit with lots of realizations of that certain things would not work. The ideas were too complex and sometimes just too expensive. We had a lot of money, but far away the same amount (we’re talking millions or billions) that our competitors had access to. Just think – verification by SMS for all of the potential users would be millions of dollars even at a few cents per SMS. And if we didn’t verify by SMS it would be hard to invite users and bootstrap the usage. It’s a lot of these things that we didn’t understand until quite far in to the process.
In the middle of it all one of our team members got a kid and had to focus on that of course. I personally had other issues as I got kidnapped by the swedish government and locked up for my work with another project – The Pirate Bay. In the middle of the kidnapping, my father died. I had no way of working on anything, and I’ve had a hard time with how I personally need to handle things. This project – as well as the other projects I’m involved in – was hit massively by my absence. And they still are, since I have not been able to get 100% on my feet yet. I’m getting there but just as with other things, it takes a lot of time.
So, we had been working on this project for a long time with all of the set backs we had. And a few weeks back we started talking. What are our results? We have spent the money (and if we paid for all the work and time that we and other people put in it would have been many times more). We have a decent app for IOS and Android. But it’s still not finished and there are other things that are not software related that’s missing and will take lots of more time. And would require much more money both for time but also for legal, hardware, structures etc.
But the bad thing – or rather good if one tries to stay positive – is that our competitors have been good at fixing issues. And we have lots of new ones. They’ve had more progress and financial support so they could speed up their process to the level that they’re now really good. Better than our messaging app could become right now. Ok, they’re missing on features but they have the ability and cash to resolve those issues. And our goal was always to ensure that the everyday users would be protected. Signal and other apps are doing that quite well, with good UI and UX compared to what was the case when we started.
We decided that we could go two ways. We could ask for more money (a lot), either from the community or some investors. Or we could close down. Since we already got money from the community with way too little to show back from the expectations that felt wrong. And we don’t think that it would be a good idea to ask investors for money since we’d lose control over the project. So in the end, closing it down felt like the least bad thing to do.
I know a lot of people will be upset. But timing is key, and there’s no point in spending more time just because we feel we dropped the ball. Life gave us curveballs and we were probably way too naive in entering this project. I don’t regret it though, but right now it’s stressing me (and the other guys) quite a bit, because we really don’t want to disappoint the community. But then again, we also wouldn’t really contribute. And we still lack funds if we decide to go ahead. So it’s a catch 22. We tried looking for someone to merge our project with, but didn’t really find anyone. And we’re not sure what to do with the things we’ve created – part of it might be useful for someone, other things (that took a lot of time to create) are things we realized would not work in larger scales.
So I’m sorry that we’re closing down, but it’s the only reasonable thing to do. Sometimes it’s better to just take the bull by the horns than to try to ignore it. And move on to the next thing and try to fix that. I’m personally trying to influence people and politicians to make sure we don’t need systems like Heml.is. We should be protected by the governments instead of trying to protect ourselves from them. It’s a multi-angle attack needed, technology, political work and transparency.