因此，2014年8月，高盛、美国银行、贝莱德、摩根大通等全球最大的14家金融机构集体投资Symphony Communication Services Holdings公司，收购名为Perzo的安全即时通讯服务，也就不足为奇。上述企业希望用价格更低廉但安全性同样有保障的技术取代无处不在的彭博终端。
风险投资公司Merus Capital合伙人萨尔曼•乌拉20年前曾与格勒在微软Lync项目上共事，后来成为Perzo最早期的资助者之一。乌拉相信，该服务“有望成为企业级市场的WhatsApp”。去年，乌拉所在的Merus Capital公司在种子期向Symphony投资了20万美元。今年早些时候，Merus Capital加码，又注入了350万美元投资。
乌拉表示：“人人都猜测Symphony可能成为彭博终结者，但我们之前甚至都不知道彭博终端是什么。我们之前严重与世界脱节。”现在，乌拉比较熟悉彭博终端了。他这样描述自己第一次看到彭博终端界面时的震惊：“我简直不敢相信，我还以为他们是跟我开玩笑。”乌拉将其比作使用上世纪50年代的过时编程语言Cobal进行编程。他说道：“这像是老掉牙的东西。”确实，自20世纪80年代以来，彭博系统的硬件或软件界面鲜有更新，这招致了一些批评，甚至促使设计公司IDEO于2007年在Condé Nast Portfolio杂志上畅想了如何重新设计彭博系统的用户体验。
Since the early ‘90s, Bloomberg has dominated the financial communications market, its terminals serving as key entry points into the world’s financial corridors. Costing more than $20,000 a piece per year and connecting more than 320,000 clients with critical information, Bloomberg’s terminals are the industry standard when it comes to secure, instant messaging.
Still, financial firms are tired of the terminal’s exorbitant price tag, and many traders are still wary after Bloomberg reporters were caught snooping the activity of terminal users last year. (Bloomberg issued an apology and updated its newsroom rules in an effort to prevent such an incident from reoccurring.)
It’s not surprising, then, why 14 of the world’s biggest financial firms—including Goldman Sachs , Bank of America , BlackRock, J.P Morgan Chase , and others—bought a secure instant messaging service called Perzo in August 2014 through a venture called Symphony Communication Services Holdings. They want a cheaper, yet equally secure, technology to replace Bloomberg’s ubiquitous terminals.
Goldman Sachs, one of the most vocal gripers in the Bloomberg affair, shelled out $66 million to became the principal investor in Symphony. Founded in 2012 by Frenchman David Gurle (who hails from Cannes and previously worked at Microsoft, Thomson Reuters, and Skype), Perzo—since renamed Symphony—may soon offer a proprietary alternative to Bloomberg’s premium messaging tool. One advantage: the product grants enterprises control over how and with whom their employees chat, an appealing feature for those looking to comply with regulatory Chinese walls. (Bloomberg declined to comment.)
Gurle is an interesting figure himself. Not only does he have a background at several big-name companies, he’s also a licensed pilot who occasionally flies medical missions to transport organs and patients from airfield to hospital. He initially pitched the idea for a unified communications service—one that bundles messaging, voice and application sharing—at a meeting with Bill Gates in 2000. It went well. “If you’re in a product review with Bill, you’ll hear him say, ‘This is the stupidest idea I’ve ever heard,’” Gurle says. “I didn’t hear that comment, so it was a very positive outcome.”
Symphony can be considered a rebirth of that initial pitch. “Project Phoenix,” as the Microsoft endeavor was dubbed, evolved into Microsoft Lync, a business communications system. After leaving the software giant in 2003 to lead collaborative services at Thomson Reuters for seven years—Gurle’s first foray into the financial world—he joined Skype, where he headed the company’s enterprise business division. A year later, Gurle’s former employer Microsoft purchased Skype, bringing his career full circle. (The company recently announced that Microsoft Lync will be renamed Skype for Business next year.) Now Gurle has turned another revolution, returning to Wall Street.
Salman Ullah, a partner at the venture firm Merus Capital who two decades ago worked with Gurle on Microsoft Lync and later became one of Perzo’s earliest funders, believes the service “has the potential to be the WhatsApp for business,” as he put it. Last year, his firm invested $200,000 in Symphony’s seed round. Earlier this year, the firm upped its contribution, injecting an additional $3.5 million.
“Everybody has speculated about how Symphony could be a Bloomberg killer,” Ullah says. “We didn’t even know what it was. We were so decoupled from that world.” Now Ullah is more familiar. He describes his shock at first seeing the interface of the Bloomberg terminal: “I couldn’t believe it. I thought they were pulling my leg,” Ullah says. He compares the experience to coding in the démodé programming language Cobal from the ‘50s. “It’s like clay tablet era,” he says. Indeed, the Bloomberg system has seen few updates to its hardware or software interfaces since in the 1980s, a fact that’s illicit some criticism and even prompted user-interface IDEO to imagine a possible UX redesign for Condé Nast Portfolio magazine in 2007.
For Gurle’s part, his ambition exceeds unseating Bloomberg. With plans for a full release by this summer, he would like his end-to-end encrypted messaging tool to sweep the currently fragmented landscape (cluttered with Bloomberg chat, Thomson Reuters Eikon, AOL Instant Messenger, Yahoo chat, Gchat, etc.) with an all-in-one, fully compliant alternative. He hopes it will be just as popular with consumers as businesses.
As CEO of Symphony, Gurle plans to make the service open source, so people can build features, like content and news elements, on top, unlike the closed Bloomberg system. He also aims to embed helpful contextual intelligence in Symphony, such as an automated personal assistant. The service will likely be free with three paid tiers, he says, mentioning add-ons like access to corporate directories, unlimited storage, regulatory compliance, and network redundancies. In terms of the paid tier pricing, he expects: Professional (less than $10 per month), Enterprise (between $15 and $20 per month), and Enterprise Plus (less than $30 per month).
“I’m going to make a very bold statement,” Gurle declares. “If we end up forcing you to use two different communication tools—inboxes, let’s call it, for lack of a better term—then we have failed,” he says. “Then we will not have simplified your life, we will have made it more complicated.”
While that statement has yet to be proven, major enterprises are already putting a lot of faith in Symphony. Darren Cohen, then head of principal strategic investments at Goldman Sachs and who helped spark the merger tête-à-têtes, has been a firebrand within the consortium of investing companies. Goldman Sachs now leads the pack in adopting Symphony, and the company has already folded its former tool—Live Current, which allows employees to easily grab and share tweets (where news often breaks)—into Symphony. Though Cohen was unable to provide comment for the story, odds are good that he and his superiors are pleased with the deal; he has since been promoted to partner. The bigger question is whether Symphony will see a promotion of its own from ambitious startup to the new gold standard of the financial industry.