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Catching up with Forsta

photo of pat sewall

Pat Sewall, CEO of Forsta, communicates with vice president of marketing Raino Zoller over encrypted video. Photo by Sharon Fisher.

Increasingly, people – most notably millennials, if you believe the stereotype – are moving away from email and toward texting, particularly for business collaboration. The problem is texting isn’t as secure, because hackers can interject themselves into the conversation to steal data.

That’s where Forsta comes in.

The Boise-based company – started in 2016 by Pat Sewall, one of the founders of Cradlepoint – has created an encrypted messaging system that he described as an encrypted version of the collaboration software Slack, or a business version of the encrypted messaging software WhatsApp. Aside from protecting business information, encryption also means that companies can use the software in highly regulated industries such as health care and finance.

In October, Forsta was named one of three “Hot Vendors in Team Collaboration 2018” by the Morgan Hill, California, consulting firm Aragon Research. The company was also named one of the “10 best tech startups in Boise” for 2019 by the website the Tech Tribune.

photo of jim lundy

Jim Lundy

“The Team Collaboration market has been growing as the shift from email to messaging takes place over the next seven years,” said Jim Lundy, founder and CEO of Aragon. “Enterprises are still in the early phases of adopting an enterprise-wide approach. In the meantime, smaller teams and departments are adopting these best of breed offers because they are easy to buy and get started with. Encrypted messages are becoming a mandatory thing in the enterprise. It is mandatory in financial services, but given espionage, Aragon feels that all enterprises should select a Team Collaboration provider that provides encryption as a standard feature.”

Forsta’s platform and built-in encryption were some of the things that were innovative, he said.

The software, which has been in testing for more than a year, has been out in the market for the past quarter, Sewall said. Building a software company like Forsta is different from building a hardware company like Cradlepoint, he said.

“For an enterprise software sale, it has to be right,” he said. “You don’t get a chance to pull it back and redo it.”

Sewall wouldn’t say how much investment the company had received, but said it was in the “seven figures” and was backed by a number of local angel investors and local groups. He said he expected an institutional round of funding in 2019. Vice president of marketing Raino Zoller is a member of the local investment group Trolley House Ventures.

Part of what’s been interesting for Sewall is trying to build another high-tech company in the Boise area, he said, noting that the company currently has 10 employees, all Boise-based. Idaho has a reputation for being difficult to find technical employees, but he said that hasn’t been an issue.

“All the businesses I’ve started haven’t had trouble,” he said. “If you have an exciting company with hard technical challenges, you can find the right people, and we have.”

He expects the company to “more or less double” next year. “The type of jobs Mayor (Dave) Bieter likes,” he said. At this point, he’s starting to bring on more sales professionals, he said.

diagram of end to end encryption

The type of encryption Forsta uses is end to end, meaning the message is encrypted all the time. Courtesy of Forsta.

The Forsta software uses the open source – that is, freely available – Signal encryption protocol, which is also used by the encrypted Signal messaging application.

“If you’re nefarious, that’s one of the tools you would use,” Zoller said. “We’re giving enterprises and government the same encryption, putting them on the same footing.”

Another business advantage of the software, which costs $10 per month per user, is that messages – which can be voice, text or video – are stored on a company’s own server, rather than on the messaging software’s server.

“There’s a desire for enterprises to own their own data and not have it on a Slack server,” he said. “Slack can know more about your business than you do.”

Companies can choose to archive messages or not, depending, for example, on whether a regulatory agency demands it, Zoller said. In addition, the software includes automatic translation between a variety of languages, Sewall said.

To help support the technology community and bring more professionals to Idaho, Sewall said he’s a big supporter of Boise State, particularly its computer science program.

“On a personal level, I’m trying to support young entrepreneurs through the process,” he said. “Anyone who calls, I make time, because I know how hard it is. It’s good for the Valley.”

At the same time, Sewall’s donations to Boise State have all been anonymous.

“I’m trying to build really good companies and help the state of Idaho,” he said. “I don’t like to get my name out there. I’m not trying to be J.R. Simplot.”

About Sharon Fisher

Sharon Fisher is an Idaho Business Review staff writer, covering financial institutions, technology, and business development. She holds a bachelor of science in computer science from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, and a masters in public administration and graduate certificates in geographic informational analysis and in community and regional planning from Boise State University. She likes explaining things and going to meetings. Join me on Twitter at @IBR_SLFisher.