Anti-spam developer seeks $3M in funding

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Former Pearl Communications chief Julian Ehrlich is again seeking funding for his spam prevention brainchild, an application that mimics the behaviour of a butler barring or granting entry to visitors at the door.

Former Pearl Communications chief Julian Ehrlich is again seeking funding for his spam prevention brainchild, an application that mimics the behaviour of a butler barring or granting entry to visitors at the door.

Ehrlich and his business partners -- under the auspices of holding company Blue Ensign Technologies -- have begun to canvass investors, punting $3 million in shares to fund the further development and proposed early 2005 release of his spam application, dubbed IMNcontrol.

Ehrlich, managing director of Blue Ensign's IMNcontrol arm, said he had been trying to raise funds for the IMNcontrol project for three years, based on an initial idea he had in 2001.

“It is torture trying to raise money in Australia for anything that is not a mine or real estate. The difficulty is you are hoping to be active in either a well-defined market -- which you need serious money to break into -- or you're hoping to carve out a new market -- in which case, there are no [precedents],” he said.

Despite fund-raising difficulties, Ehrlich believes IMNcontrol has something new and genuinely useful to offer.

IMNcontrol's applications take an opposite approach to most anti-spam software, in that it targets wanted email rather than focusing primarily on blocking or quarantining unwanted mail.

Ehrlich termed IMNcontrol's methodology “the way of the butler”. “A butler judges the relationship between the visitor and the master or mistress of the house, and shows them in or otherwise,” he said.

Butlers don't go through callers' pockets to determine appropriate content. Instead, they use the directions given by the boss to ascertain who may and may not be allowed entry at a particular time or for a particular reason.

“All that matters is the relationship between the visitors and the butler's employer,” Ehrlich said.

IMNcontrol's application was designed around categorising internet use based loosely on the notorious Myers Briggs psychometric test that groups respondents into 16 personality “types”.

He said the application helped users more efficiently and creatively deal with the tsunami of spam, tipped to surge ever higher as the years pass.

“If just one percent of the US's 24 million small businesses send one email a year to every US email user, each US email inbox will get 650 emails a day,” Ehrlich said.

Yet not all unexpected email was unwanted, he pointed out.

Ehrlich said IMNcontrol saw Myers Briggs simply as a useful tool to begin weeding out different ways people might choose to use the internet. “It relates to how you use the internet. Different types of people use the internet and email different ways,” he said. “And that has driven [IMNcontrol] development.”

By dividing users up into Myers Briggs' types and then developing clusters of features for each type, IMNcontrol development was accelerated, he suggested.

For example, IMNcontrol allowed users to customise email addresses for different types of relationships. Emails from customised addresses could be routed to a preferred inbox but were filtered according to those relationships, Ehrlich said.

IMNcontrol also allowed users to preview and select or reject incoming mail, based on, for example, whether they had attachments likely to slow the system down or overflow an inbox. Mail could also be filed and managed without fiddling with filters and folders, he said.

The aim was not so much to eliminate spam but to make it quicker and easier to deal with both wanted and unwanted email, he suggested.

The tripartite software, IMNcontrol Mail, Console and Web, is in alpha but beta-testing by users is expected by Christmas with commercial release scheduled for early 2005.

Unfortunately, the company did not envisage engaging the broader IT channel to sell IMNcontrol at this stage although ISPs would be targeted, Ehrlich said.

Blue Ensign Technologies is a ASX-listed venture of its directors, Ehrlich's Pearl Communications, and IMNcontrol partners Douglas Purdie and Richard Hanson. It changed its name from Pacific International in August. The company wants to sell 15 million shares at 20 cents each.

“Current debts are miniscule.  However, after the float of Blue Ensign they'll be lending $1.4 million to do the project,” Ehrlich said. “I'll notice that, believe me.”

He said pioneers got the best land but also tended to take the most arrows in the back. Whereas the US had a 300-year history of technology investment, Australia had no tradition in the area and private investors had tended to give technology a wide berth.

“Add that we've no capital gains tax on personal real estate and so, in Australia, we invest in home renovations before industrial and technical development,” he said.

Pacific International itself was a fax to email provider called e.COM Global until late 2002. “That proved disappointing,” Ehrlich said. “e.COM acquired Pacific International, a travel agency, for which the e.COM name was inappropriate and so adopted the Pacific International name.”

Then, the new Pacific International management had wanted to get back into technology so sold the travel business and adopted a generic name -- Blue Ensign Technologies. IMNcontrol was but the first technology investment for Blue Ensign Technologies, Ehrlich said.

Blue Ensign Technologies also had a “profitable” unified messaging arm that had been under-resourced for several years, he added.

“A key objective is to adequately resource the messaging side so that it can reach a potential similar to that seen in the USA and not really provided in Australia on the same scale,” Ehrlich said.

Ehrlich's original company, Pearl Communications, had failed to get funding to commercialise its offering, immediately following the collapse of high-profile e-tailer D-Store back at the start of this century.

“No one would return calls. It was horrible. I had to fire everyone a few weeks before Christmas 2000 and got ugly debts paying people's entitlements -- and not running away like so many others,” Ehrlich said.

Pearl Communications had a “truly wonderful” concept of deeply targeted, permission-based email that allowed people to anonymously specify what they wanted to buy in terms of their psychological needs instead of simple features, he said.

“The pilot was very successful but we needed a second round of funding to get from test to commercial,” Ehrlich said.

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