Twist, a new iOS app from co-founders Bill Lee and Mike Belshe, is hoping to help give back some of people’s time by letting them better keep track of it. Twist does one relatively simple thing, but it does it in an elegant way that takes advantage of the smartphones most people are carrying around in their pocket these days. The app provides ETAs for you and anyone you want to share that with, making it simple to let someone know when you might be arriving and keeping you updated on your progress.
In-car navigation provides this already, letting you know when you can expect to arrive at your destination. But setting up a GPS can actually be quite cumbersome, and you probably don’t always need the directions, maps, etc. For a regular commute, all you really need are the beginning and end points, traffic information, and a good idea of when you’ll get where you’re going. If you want to share that info out, you can let a husband or wife know when to have dinner ready, for instance, or tell a nanny or babysitter when to expect you back.
“Twist is a simple and easy to use application that lets others know when you’re going to arrive,” Belshe explained in an interview. “A lot of other companies have been focused on ‘where,’ and we’re trying to be focused on ‘when.’ In the U.S., according to the department of transportation, Americans take about a billion trips every day, and about 15 to 20 percent of the time, they’re late. We can’t solve lateness in general, but we do think we can make it a lot better and help people reclaim that time.”
The startup has a team of 15 engineers working on the problem, and has already raised $6 million in funding, led by Matthew Cowan from Bridgescale, and including ParticipantMedia’s Jeff Skoll, eBay employee #1, as well as Lee and Belsh themselves. That’s a lot of funding at such an early stage, but Lee and Belshe have the résumés to back it up; Belshe is a former Chrome engineer who invented web browsing speed-up tech SPDY, and Lee is an experienced entrepreneur and investor who’s been involved in seeding companies ranging from Tesla Motors, to Yammer, to Tweetdeck and Posterous.
As of right now, Twist allows you to do just a few basic things like set up favorite locations, and set up recipients for ETA alerts from your address book. People can get notifications via SMS, so they don’t even have to be using Twist or even be on iOS in order to get updates, but Lee said that an Android version is in the works, and the company also plans to integrate more calendar-aware functionality (you can already set up a trip based on your iPhone’s calendar appointments).
Long-term, Twist is really about the tech underlying the service, which the company sees as something it can use to help other businesses manage and provide time-based features. “We think the magic of Uber was actually that they incorporated time just to let people know when cars were going to arrive, and we actually see a world of other opportunities for that,” Lee said. “For example, the local pizza guy could let you know when your pizza’s going to arrive, or all the people that can’t really afford a Fed Ex-type tracking system, like all the smaller shops doing that type of business we think we can supply services to.”
For now, though, the focus is firmly on the consumer app and building out that experience in order to attract users. Twist definitely addresses something people use their phone for everyday, and it’s also much safer (and less illegal) than sending a text updating your status while driving. And as Twist has the added benefit of keeping actual location information private, and just sharing with others the information they need (i.e., when you’ll actually be somewhere), it does look like it could become a standby on a lot of iPhone homescreens.