What’s next for Texts.com under new owner Automattic, as Apple cracks down on rival Beeper

What’s next for Texts.com? The all-in-one messaging app was acquired this fall by WordPress.com owner Automattic for $50 million, marking the company’s first official expansion into the world of private messaging — outside of its startup investments, at least, which have included Apple’s recent foe Beeper and Element, a Matrix-powered app. Like Beeper, Texts.com is also challenging Apple’s tight grip on its iMessage ecosystem, with an app that aggregates your iPhone chats with other messaging services, including WhatsApp, Instagram, Telegram, Messenger, LinkedIn, Signal, Slack, Discord and X, and more in the future, the company has said.

In their first joint interview post-acquisition, Automattic CEO Matt Mullenweg and Texts.com founder Kishan Bagaria discussed why the timing was right for Automattic’s move into the messaging space, the state of the social web more broadly and what’s next for Texts.com, now under Automattic’s umbrella.

Mullenweg began by explaining how the introduction of the iPhone had given rise to closed ecosystems, as mobile operating systems and app stores aren’t as open as the web, which was based on open standards. Companies, including today’s tech giants, then funneled billions of dollars into these platforms, leading Google, Meta and TikTok owner ByteDance to gain power in an ad-supported market. But things are now starting to shift again back to the open web, Mullenweg believes.

“That’s why I think we’re seeing a resurgence of Tumblr, WordPress, everything… it’s coming back,” he said. “Technology got kind of closed for a while. The pendulum is now swinging very hard in the other direction towards more open [standards], which I’m excited about because that is that’s the part of the cycle I like the best,” Mullenweg added.

With Texts.com, he saw an opportunity to invest in another area where consumers are pushing for more openness: messaging. The app, which claims to support end-to-end encryption, is “fully compatible with all the business models of the messaging platforms,” Mullenweg pointed out, in a subtle challenge to Apple and others who may view it differently. “There’s no reason for them not to fully support it.”

Texts’ app runs entirely on the user’s device and doesn’t touch the company’s servers at all, he explained — its servers could go down and the app would still work, in fact.

Mullenweg also suspects the climate is right for such an app to exist thanks to the coming regulations in the EU, including the Digital Markets Act (DMA), which will require messaging interoperability. The U.S. is also increasingly examining the unchecked power of Big Tech and mobile platforms, with an eye toward new antitrust oversight. For instance, a jury just ruled in Epic Games’ favor over Google in a prominent app store antitrust trial this week.

Though Mullenweg didn’t speak out in support of one bill over another, in terms of antitrust legislation, he said that Automattic would always be on the side of users and freedom, and suggested that WordPress — which powers over 40% of all websites — has power of its own in terms of the community’s influence over the open web’s progress. In addition, he believes there will soon be more non-app store ways to distribute apps because of the coming legislation, including across both Android and iOS.

As for Texts.com, Mullenweg saw the acquisition as a way to move into a third major market beyond publishing and commerce.

“I believe that communication is a fundamental human right. And that communication should be able to be free, encrypted, open source where possible, and also really put users in control,” he said. “…we care about the people we’re talking to, not particularly what messaging platform they’re on.”

Created as a side project by Kishan Bagaria out of personal need, the first prototype of Texts.com was hacked together in a week, the founder said. But the app later gained momentum as friends and others on the internet started learning about it, as they experienced the same frustrations with having too many messaging apps to keep track of, as well. The startup raised “around a million” from 44 investors, Bagaria told TechCrunch — a small amount because he was focused on being efficient and conservative with regard to Texts’ burn rate.

Though other companies made offers, including OpenAI, he believed Automattic seemed like the best fit. Plus, he added, “Matt is super persuasive.”

In a separate conversation, Bagaria confirmed to me that both OpenAI and Superhuman had reached out, but the latter not until the Automattic deal. He said that, originally, his intention was not to be acquired, but to “acquire companies ourselves.”

When he first met with Matt, he thought they would discuss an investment, but the conversation later turned toward acquisition.

“I thought that we had a lot of ideas to build, and Automattic seemed like the right place,” Bagaria added.

Going forward, the company is considering experimenting with a freemium model for its app, which is currently a pricier $15 per month (or $12.50/mo if you pay for a year upfront) for access to all your messaging apps. Competitor Beeper recently made its iMessage-on-Android app Beeper Mini free as it does battle with Apple, which has been working to shut down its service.

Mullenweg defended his new acquisition, however, claiming that everything Texts.com does is “completely in line with being in the App Store” — a statement sure to be tested as Texts.com brings its mobile app to the pubic — something that is expected to happen “soon,” we’re told.

He also believes that the Texts.com deal could ultimately have a bigger impact than online publishing on Automattic’s future.

“Think about it. Not everyone publishes,” he said, but “everyone messages.” And messaging seems like the area that could use the most opening up, he noted.

“We have the opportunity to actually….create something that can touch literally hundreds of millions and billions of people,” Mullenweg added. “There has never been a better time for something like Texts.com to exist.”

Updated, 12/13/23, 11:16 a.m. ET, to note the startup raised from 44, not 34, investors. Also clarified the timing of outreach by other competitors for the deal. 


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