“Beam Me!” New App Lets Users Privately Share Location
Sometimes the best way to find a co-founder for your startup is to work side-by-side with him or her in a successful capacity under another company. That’s exactly the case for Suzanne Lilley and Milenko Beslic, co-founders of Boston based startup, Beam.
Beam connects people on the go with an easy-to-use, free, private app that lets two people share their current locations for one hour. It’s like SnapChat for location sharing. The expiration of location tracking after 60 minutes takes away any “stalker” concerns users might have.
Beslic and Lilley met back in 2003 while both working for Cheapflights, where Beslic served as Director of Technology and Lilley as Head of Product. Beslic left the travel company in 2008 and remained involved in startups, including co-founding Boston-based Pingup.
Then he had his “ah-ha” moment.
One night last year the father of three teenage daughters had to pick one of them up at a friend’s house. Not familiar with the location, Beslic exchanged several texts messages with his daughter trying to locate her. Frustrated by the process, he thought there had to be another way.
“I thought; we both have iPhones and Google Maps, why can’t we see each other.”
Beslic found and tried a few different apps on the market, but all had a lot of friction and his daughters didn’t trust them. So finally, he decided to build a solution of his own.
“I’ve built products and companies before, so I knew I could do it. I connected with Suzanne and we got started on Beam last fall.”
“I had an amazing 12-year run with Cheapflights,” Lilley told me, “but had the entrepreneurial itch. Cheapflights was acquired in September, then Milenko and I discussed a way to solve this problem – I was sold.”
CONCEPT TO PRODUCT LAUNCH
The duo really began digging into the concept and building out an MVP late last year and within weeks they had a prototype in the hands of more than 200 family and friends.
“Our friends and their kids were using it without worrying about its trustworthiness and found it easy to navigate. This gave us the early validation we needed to push forward. ‘Beam me’ quickly became part of our and their vocabulary,” Lilley said.
Beslic and Lilley have honed in on three main characteristics for Beam as they saw these as the key pain points for other location sharing apps; Simplicity, Reliability and Trust.
Simplicity comes into play by allowing users to share their location with a friend in just two taps.
Beam's reliability includes partnering with Parkour Method to deliver location accuracy within a few meters and minimize battery draw to 1% per hour while “Beaming.” Integration of the Parkour Method SDK will launch later this month.
Trustworthiness might be the most important element of them all and is where the SnapChat-like functionality comes into play. One hour after sending your Beam, your location tracking with shut down. The person you send the Beam to is the only one who can track your location to begin with, but after 60 minutes, you disappear. Users also have the ability to stop their Beam at any time, so 60 minutes is just the max.
With Beam, you can suggest a meeting place with a pin drop or alert someone when you’re on the way or you’ve arrived. Want to find out where a friend or colleague is for last minute plans? Need to let someone know where to pick you up? Send a Beam.
Beam is a communications shortcut for sharing where you are, where you’re headed and when you’ll arrive with the people who need to know.
"We built Beam from the ground-up to be a simple, no-surprises way to add location as a dimension to how we communicate. Transparency and ease of use are at the heart of this product. Two taps to put you and me on a map, moving in real-time, when it suits us both," said Beslic.
Beam officially launched the iPhone app on July 1st and within the next few weeks will roll out Android. To date, the company, which consists of five people plus a team of offshore developers, has been completely self funded, but Lilley and Beslic are now actively looking to secure a seed round of up to $1 million, which will be used to grow their team and speed up development.
I’m told they have strong early traction with a users base into the thousands, with the vast majority of those users returning to use Beam every day. Additionally, Beam has heavy activity in the UK as Lilley, originally from London, and Beslic know the market well due to their time with Cheapflights, a UK-based company.
Having both been at Cheapflights from the early days and experiencing that rapid growth, Lilley and Beslic understand customer acquisition.
“Cheapflights wasn’t your typical consumer model. Travel is a very competitive space for user acquisition, and we’ll be using our experience from that journey to grow Beam,” Lilley said.
That growth will go beyond Beam’s currently functionality of simply sharing location on a one-to-one basis. Lilley and Beslic see Beam as a platform for putting any number of things you might want to see moving in real-time onto a map. To that end, they are finalizing an open API to give developers a platform for displaying things via Beam. Their goal is not to develop those solutions themselves, but to give developers a platform to deliver innovative and creative solutions that create amazing experiences.
One specific use case we discussed that any Boston commuter would appreciate was the ability to track the locations of buses and trains. Think of the user experience around Uber (see where your driver is) versus the MBTA, where the best way to (hopefully) get an update on your delayed train is through Twitter.
“Our goal is to bring maps to life and to use maps as a mean to communicate more effectively,” said Lilley.
Some more immediate add-ons could include group sharing or indoor location features.
As the Internet of Things continues to expand, Beam’s platform, once built, may become a valuable tool and solution. Until then, the Beam app will continue to serve the everyday person - making your meetings more convenient and picking up your kids a whole heck of a lot less frustrating!