Skiff: Changing the Privacy Paradigm

May 26 · 3 min read

By Konstantine Buhler on behalf of Team Sequoia

The last 250 years have been shaped by the principles of utilitarianism, which roughly asserts that actions are right if they’re useful to the majority. Utilitarianism was well-timed, as it validated industrialism and a free market economy.

But there’s a problem with utilitarianism: utility is subjective. Your utility and my utility are different. Some baseline utility is universal (we all have to eat), but a global utility function does not exist. This is particularly evident on the internet, where the dueling utilities of convenience and privacy compete. While convenience has historically superseded privacy among most internet users (in many cases privacy wasn’t even an option), that’s finally starting to change.

The shift to remote work has created huge disruptions around privacy. Organizations are looking for security more than ever before, with sensitive information being shared among distributed workforces all around the world. Consumer philosophy is also shifting: As hundreds of millions of people choose privacy-first products, a new ecosystem is emerging. Today, there is enormous potential for privacy-first products.

That’s why we were excited to meet Skiff. Determined to protect safety-critical communications and sensitive research, Skiff is developing a completely private platform for secure, online collaboration. It’s a place for freely sharing ideas. We are thrilled to lead Skiff’s seed round because we believe in their mission and their team.

Co-founders Andrew Milich and Jason Ginsberg are extremely technical and passionate polymaths. They also have genuine “founder-market fit.” They were quick to see the migration to end to end encryption — now affecting billions of consumers — not as a messaging challenge but as a seismic shift in how platforms are built. And both have personal experiences working with high-security needs and building cutting edge technology.

Andrew worked on safety, systems, and security at SpaceX, and graduated with the #1 record from Stanford Engineering. I first met him in a Computer Systems course. He would come to office hours not looking for help, but rather to help other students who were running into roadblocks, as he’d already completed the assignments. He was also well-known and well-liked — rare qualities in a highest-GPA winner.

Jason worked on next-gen computing in Apple’s new technology development group, and with the Pentagon’s Joint AI Center. He won top design awards and exhibited at MoMA. I wear one of his designs — the CMYK hat — more than any other hat I own.

It’s not often that paradigm-changing technology is delivered with complete usability and bonafide empathy — but that’s what Andrew and Jason are doing. Within three weeks of launching their beta, Skiff has onboarded thousands of diverse users from cryptocurrency CEOs and corporate board members, to influencers and artists. Very few products in the world are broad enough to touch all of those people, which suggests a market-creating vision with reach.

Their team is growing fast, with a deeply technical engineering culture like WhatsApp or Stripe, and are recruiting now. Their mission is not just utilitarian — it’s deontological — and we look forward to supporting them as they work to fulfill it.

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