Tom Katis Voxer turns your phone into a walkie-talkie. Folks download it, try it and realise that it’s a bit more than that. It was born out of frustration with existing push-to-talk systems and of founder Tom Katis‘s experiences in Afghanistan –  the “complete inability to multi-task while being shot out”. He served twice, and was in Silicon Valley between those two occasions. When he went back, he was really conscious of how badly designed so many of the tools they had were.

They key to Voxer is that everybody gets the message – they can listen live, but if they don’t, they still get the message as part of a threaded conversation. He suggests that the technology underlying had to unite live transmission with e-mail like message transmission. Live systems have to interrupt – which is why people tend to use messaging systems. Voxer gets around that by letting you jump in at any point when you realise your friend is talking – and the system plays the message so far a little faster so you start to catch up.

He’s cagey about releasing download figures, as he think’s that’s a vanity metric. Engagement is his preferred measure – how many people use the app daily, and he claims to have “exceptional” engagement. Growth really shot up when they went cross-platform.

He doesn’t believe that we’re all going to become deaf as the world becomes mobile – it’s just that the live voice system doesn’t make it easy. There’s room for a new way of doing that, and that’s what he’s see Voxer as. It’s a useful application, which people get a lot of fun from, and he wants to see it grow all over the place. And he disagrees with the idea that startup life is all about the team, not the idea and pivot, pivot, pivot. He’s keen on being determined to make an idea work…