“Google, Amazon, and Facebook have sort of turned the private human experience into the raw material of the digital economy,” Skiff CTO Jason Ginsberg says.
The world needs an alternative workspace suite to Google, says Dan Guido, a long-time user of Skiff, a private and end-to-end encrypted email provider. Now, Skiff is taking a big step toward becoming a more private and secure replacement for the G-suite by adding end-to-end encrypted Calendar and Drive products to its suite, which also includes email and collaborative docs called Skiff Pages.
“Google can see everything you write in docs,” says Guido, CEO of cybersecurity firm Trail Of Bits. “They can read every email that you put into Google. They do machine learning on it. They put it into a giant model that they compute to produce advertisements. But Skiff can do none of that.”
While it cannot guarantee users full immunity from hackers or surveillance, end-to-end encryption (E2EE) is a method of securing communication by encrypting the data before it is transferred from one device to another. It ensures that no one except for the sender and receiver can access or view the data while it is being transferred. The list of mainstream services that employ E2EE is rapidly growing, with tech giants like Apple and Meta (the parent company of Instagram, Facebook and WhatsApp) adopting it as a default for instant messaging, and privacy-first companies Signal, Telegram and ProtonMail gaining more popularity. In 2021, Proton passed 50 million users, Signal clocked 40 million active users and Telegram had more than 500 million users.
Despite widespread interest in E2EE communication apps, the security method has been scrutinized and criticized by government entities and law enforcement agencies for shrouding criminal and illicit activities. While other companies have focused on building messaging and email platforms, Skiff is one of only a few working on an E2EE collaboration platform. While Skiff is missing some flagship features and products like its own encrypted messaging service, the startup has onboarded 300,000 users in the last six months.
Founded in April 2020 and launched in May 2022 by 25-year-old cofounders Andrew Milich and Jason Ginsberg, Skiff offers productivity tools like Pages, Email, Calendar and Drive for free and through paid plans for added perks like storage. Users can pay $8 per month for 100 GB of storage or $12 per month for 1 TB of storage. The cofounders, who are Forbes 30 Under 30 alumni, met while organizing a hackathon at Stanford University. The duo leads a team of 15 employees based across the world in places like Egypt and Israel. Backed by Sequoia Capital, Skiff has raised $23 million in funding and is advised by leaders in the privacy space including Signal CTO Ehren Kret.
A major challenge in building an encrypted version of Google Workspace is the complexity of encrypting different types of information. “Cryptography is something that is very brittle. Like, when it works, it’s great. But it can have a minor flaw that can make the whole system not functional,” Guido says.
Skiff is yet to roll out some essential features for email such as automatic filtering that can sort promotional emails and declutter the inbox. While users can create labels and folders for emails, Skiff doesn’t allow users to create a function that automatically sends certain emails into a specific folder.
Simplistic in design and user experience, Skiff also has a unique data storage method: Users can either choose to store their data on the cloud or can use a decentralized method of storing data. “If you are storing data on the decentralized network, we’ll use a network called IPFS or InterPlanetary File System, which has servers all over the world from which you can access your data,” says CEO Andrew Milich, who learned programming at age 5.
Skiff’s product suite is used by a range of consumers: cybersecurity professionals, journalists, Ukrainians and even 14-year-olds. The San Francisco-based startup aims to protect sensitive content like medical records and financial information from being monitored by tech giants like Google and Microsoft.
“Google, Amazon, and Facebook have sort of turned private human experience into the raw material of the digital economy,” says Jason Ginsberg, CTO of Skiff. “At any moment, these services can basically poke, prod, and process your private emails, documents, images, and messages.”