Tired of Coordinating Arrival Times or Notifying If You’ll Be Early or Late? Use Twist! App Walkthrough & CEO Interview

by Michael Sheehan on January 31, 2013

in Android, Apple, Application, Cellular, General, Google, Interview, iOS, Mobile, Opinion, Review, Software

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As a parent in a busy family of 5 with 3 kid schedules to coordinate, activities galore and timing managed literally down to the minute, I have often felt a bit overwhelmed trying to let everyone know when I would arrive for a pickup or where I was en route to a variety of destinations. You can’t text while you drive and sometimes it isn’t convenient to get calls or bug people by calling them to let them know that you are running late. Wouldn’t it be nice to have an app that knows where you are going, when you will arrive and notifies all interested parties on your ETA? And do it all automatically in the background? Well there is! It’s called Twist. It’s free. And it’s fantastic!

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Honestly, I thought that if I got another phone call or text saying “Where you at?” one more time, I was going to lose my mind. Now, Twist is so ingrained in my family’s lifestyle, we use it as a verb: “Can you Twist me?” or “Don’t forget to Twist us!”

I will go into some of the functionality that makes Twist such an essential smartphone application for parents and kids (actually, this app is for anyone who plans meetings with other people…uh, that would be just about everybody!) After the functionality walk-thru, be sure to read my interview with Twist co-founder & CEO, Bill Lee.

The Art of Twisting

As I mentioned, Twist is a free iOS and Android app. Before you go any further, go out and install it. If you still need some convincing, here’s a high-level overview of how it works. In a nutshell, you:

  1. Decide on a destination
  2. Select the people who you want to notify
  3. Head out to your destination

Twist does the rest. If the people who you are notifying are also Twist users, they get notifications of your progress, your ETA, can send you in-app messages and can actually watch your real-time progress within the app. If the recipients are not Twist users and you have their cell phone, they will receive text notifications.

Oh, and this application seems to be updated quite regularly so some of the screen captures that follow are already out of date. With regular feature enhancements and bug fixes, it’s nice to see an app getting so much care.

So let’s walk through the creation of a Twist. First, you can either search for a destination by name, a contact, an address, or use a pre-defined favorite. As I frequently pick my daughter from ballet, I have that location as a favorite.

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Once nice thing that you will notice is that you get transportation times automatically calculated.

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In the confirmation screen, you can: edit your destination, select the recipients, designate how you are going (driving, public transportation, walking or biking), decide if you are going now or in the future, and create the Twist.

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If you grant Twist access to your contacts, you can select who you want to notify from there. You can pre-define who should be on the regular recipient list within the favorite setup. Just check off the people you want to notify.

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Here I changed the method of transportation from driving to walking and you can see how the ETA changes. You can read more about how the ETA is calculated in the interview below.

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I changed it back to driving and you can see the route that it calculated. Another nice thing is, the Twist will automatically “start” once you begin moving. And once the app senses that you are on the go, it will automatically notify all of the recipients of your ETA.

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If you need to send a group of recipients a message, you can do that right within the application (just don’t do it when you are driving!). People on the other end can send you messages as well (my youngest daughter loves doing this).

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As you proceed along your route, if you get delayed or if your arrival time changes, the recipients will be notified automatically.

You can get a lot of information about your destination as well including phone, web address, streetview of the site, driving directions and the weather, all extremely handy and helpful.

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As you get in close proximity to your destination, the other Twisters will be notified that you are about a minute away. It’s almost magical when this happens!

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There are other functions that are built in to Twist (and more coming, according to CEO Bill Lee). But briefly, if you grant Twist access to your calendars, it can search your events and start doing some ETA planning for you automatically (I haven’t tested this feature). Also, if there are other Twister who are going to the same destination but from a different starting point, then can say “I’m going to” and join your Twist. That way, you can coordinate the arrival of multiple parties. Now THAT’S planning!

Twist Insights from the CEO

As with many apps, products and services that I review, test and use, I always want to learn more about why they were created, what inspired the creation and what the future holds for them. So Twist CEO and co-founder, Bill Lee answered a ton of questions that I threw at him which you can fully read below.

HighTechDad: What inspired you to create Twist?

Bill Lee: As an entrepreneur and investor, I took over a hundred meetings last year and invariably someone was not on-time. Whether that person was stuck in traffic, couldn’t find parking, or simply just running behind schedule, I found myself receiving panicked texts and phone calls (and occasionally I wouldn’t hear anything and would be left wondering if they were even going to show up!). This Bermuda Triangle of a lost hour made me think there had to be an easier way.

Apps like Foursquare had solidified the use of location-based apps among consumers, but they only were addressing where people were. Indeed, the crowded SoLoMo (social, location, mobile) space focused on a lot of things, but no one seemed to really get one of our most valued commodities, time.

It was these two factors – lost time and the need to address the when vs. the where – that inspired me to put together an all-star team to create Twist.

Bill_LeeHTD: How big of a team did you use to create it?

Lee: I co-founded the company with Mike Belshe, a rock star in the engineering space who sold his first company to Microsoft, was part of the founding Chrome team at Google, and later founded and wrote the SPDY protocol. We brought on two other stellar co-founders (Edward Marks and Frank VanZile) and from there, we hired an A-team of 12 engineers pulled from Google, Apple, MIT and Stanford. We are growing at a steady rate and recently expanded on our Android and UI team to make sure the product is best-in-class for all our customers.

HTD: What is the “coolest” use case that you have heard of people using Twist?

Lee: Over the summer, we had a bride use Twist on her wedding day to know exactly when her wedding planner, bridesmaids, hair stylist, and makeup artist were going to arrive. She said that it added a calming precision to a normally stressful day, and eliminated any chance of a bad hair day.

HTD: What are you plans for monetization?

Lee: Right now we’re focused on growth. We initially raised a $6 million Series A round from Bridgescale Partners, Eric Hahn (Inventures Group and former CTO of Netscape), and Jeff Skoll (first President of eBay and founder of Participant Media), as well as co-founder Mike Belshe and myself.

Long term, we see opportunities to provide our Twist Time Technology to services that rely (or should rely) on punctuality. Have you ever wasted time waiting for the cable guy, or sat around wondering when your cab would actually be outside? We know that adding accurate arrival times to various types of businesses, such as these, will be invaluable to their customers.

HTD: What are your plans for integration with other services?

Lee: We’ve had a lot of interest from companies and apps that want to improve their ETAs. It’s exciting that we’re looking at becoming the time platform of choice, sort of like FedEx is to delivery, in this regard.

HTD: Waze recently introduced a similar feature, how do you view your’s as different?

Lee: Waze is a great app, but they are primarily a crowd-sourced traffic and navigation app that focuses on location and where you are, while Twist’s concentration is on time and when you will actually be arriving. The new feature Waze recently implemented is again for navigation – it directs you to a certain location or shows others where you are, forcing you to have to request coordinates from the person you’re meeting and wait for them to respond. It is a timely process. Twist is an easy-to-use, aesthetically pleasing solution that can be completed in a matter of seconds.

HTD: Will you be adding spoken directions (e.g., via an integration) so that I can avoid having to run a Driving Directions app and Twist?

Lee: Turn-by-turn directions are actually already built into the app, but we’re looking into new ways to make this easier for customers and to promote safe driving. We want to automate as much of this as possible for the user so they can concentrate on getting from Point A to B safely, without worry.

HTD: What cool features will be coming in the future (that can be public knowledge)?

Lee: Our roadmap is full of awesome advances, some nuanced and some large, but most of them driven by customer feedback and demand. We’re building something that’s whole point is to improve people’s lives, so hearing from our users is what drives a lot of features. Look for a big announcement in the next month!

HTD: What is the origin of the name “Twist” – I actually use it as a verb now with my family.

Lee: It’s great to hear that Twist is helping families and friends to better coordinate their lives! The name itself is a twist on time, and we wanted something that conveyed feeling and swiftness in a friendly way. A lot of people have asked about this so we wrote a blog post about this very question.

HTD: Do you track any of the usage or driving patterns (either for personal/account or anonymous)?

Lee: We believe in holding our app to the highest privacy standard. We keep all data anonymous and the users are in complete control of what info gets shared and who it gets shared with. That said, it’s been really cool to look at this from a big data perspective, and we’re always analyzing the larger patterns to improve the overall Twist experience.

HTD: How do you calculate the estimated arrival time? Is it similar to Waze? Is it crowd-sourced or are you using real-time traffic?

Lee: Twist is the most accurate way to let people know when you will arrive at a given destination.

We use proprietary GPS and traffic algorithms to determine estimated time of arrival, along with unique techniques that save that cherished mobile battery. We also account for personal habits and various modes of transportation.

HTD: Do you have any interesting anecdotes to share?

Lee: We get so many customer success stories, but this is one of my favorites: A user named Rob sent a Twist to his father-in-law about getting home from work. The father’s first response was, “How did you get onto my phone?” Then he started placing bets with his wife as to when Rob would be there based on when his phone said he would. They both were watching the Twist on the map, and thought it was magic. Needless to say, he opened the front door right when Rob arrived. When we transcend generational technical challenges like this, it reminds me that we’re onto something paradigm shifting.

Overall, the customer success stories I like the most involve bringing people together more often. David Sacks, the CEO of Yammer, told me that he uses Twist every day to let his family know when he’s heading home so he can spend more quality time with them. When you think about it, time’s our most precious commodity, so this makes me feel like we’re enriching lives, one Twist at a time.

What Are You or Your Friends Waiting For?

It should be obvious by now that my family and I simply loves Twist. It’s ease-of-use and incredibly useful functionality makes it one of those core, must-have apps for your smartphone. And, given that the service is free (as is the app), it’s really hard to see why you wouldn’t want to use it! And it is so easy, my 9 year old uses it without any problems or questions.

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So leave those concerns about letting people know when you are arriving or where you are on the route behind. Just Twist ‘em!

HTD says: Have you become a Twister yet?

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