Very rarely would one pinpoint a vintage car show as the site for modern innovation.
It was in this setting of lax fuel emissions standards and pastel-painted tailfins, however, that ETAwiz — a free, location based-service app recently launched in the Apple App Store — would find its beginning between CEO and Founder Kevin Anderson and Chief Operating Officer Michael Aguirre.
As its name implies, ETAwiz orients itself around the abilities to share, receive and coordinate travelers’ expected times of arrival. From its most casual to most corporate of uses, ETAwiz is marketed as being able to service groups between “two and two-thousand members,” though the upper boundary is actually open-ended.
Designed to be used irrespective of audience — friends meeting for a post-work drink; a pizza delivery service informing a family when it should set out the paper plates; or a stranded motorist waiting for roadside assistance — Aguirre’s and Anderson’s app was constructed around the adage that “knowledge is power.”
“If I don’t know if someone is coming to my home or office, my mind starts to wander,” said Aguirre. “Just using this app, just knowing their ETA, that could definitely make you feel better” — particularly in an emergency or other high-stress situation.
That reduction in uncertainty makes sense, noted Arthur Markman, the Annabel Iron Worsham Centennial Professor of Psychology and Marketing at the University of Texas at Austin.
“For a person who is traveling, there is a certain amount of stress that can happen when they are running late or when circumstances, like traffic, that are out of their control are keeping them from reaching the meeting point on time,” he said, noting this could potentially lead to dangerous behavior behind the wheel.
However, “if travelers know that their ETA is available to the other party, then that can alleviate some of the stress of running late,” Markman said.
Yet in a society where one of the largest afflictions to date is FOMO, or the “fear of missing out,” ETAwiz attempts to go beyond the mere elimination of stress.
“The app is designed [to be] very viral,” said Anderson, noting a component that links the app to a user’s Facebook account for social-media sharing. Employed to fill the “gap in real life social engagement” by allowing app users to post on social media, ETAwiz not only signifies interest in an event, but provides latent attendees a jolt to join in. It also capitalizes on word-of-mouth momentum.
Unlike coordinating travel, when it comes to forecasting the development for a mobile application, there is no app for that.
The idea for ETAwiz emerged around December 2014 and entered its development phase the following March. The dynamic between the partners, who additionally work together on VentureMeets — a professional networking group in Central Massachusetts — and the IT service firm Comportz, is best summarized by Aguirre:
“Kevin is a spearhead, and I happen to be a spear,” he said.
In a climate rife with crowdfunding platforms and “angel investors,” ETAwiz’s javelin was perhaps given its best thrust, and a competitive advantage, by finding its seed money already rooted in house. “It is actually very free,” said Aguirre, acknowledging that “not everyone can have the best suggestion unless they are working on it.”
Lacking the constant communication typically experienced when involved with superfluous investors, by March 2015 the team had narrowed primarily to Aguirre, Anderson and Joshua Jarvis, a Texas-based programmer who had previously worked with Anderson.
It was during this period in the early spring of 2015 that ETAwiz first launched as a web browsing experience. In constructing this initial phase of development, Anderson, Aguirre and Jarvis were able to provide a proof of concept and gain feedback without large sunken costs or unwanted attention.
“When it comes to coming up with something like this, if you don’t have a patent, the only protection for your intellectual property is how quiet can you keep it,” said Aguirre. Feedback came from the partners’ connections through VentureMeets, colleagues, and personal and professional contacts primarily within the Worcester-Boston corridor.
Finding the initial warm reception and broader possibilities through mobile app development, the team began the initial work of expanding ETAwiz from the web on to the application market, while maintaining the browser experience for those without Apple devices.
The design process unfolded on two distinct levels: branding and programming. Name selection was the first element in establishing a brand, not just for the app but for the company itself. “We see that as a really common model,” said Aguirre, regarding the title consistency.
Despite the novelty of location-based apps, this selection process — composed of brainstorming, cross-referencing products, trademark identification, and myriad other considerations — was made in a straightforward manner, if not without a few residual costs.
“I own over one hundred domains,” Anderson conceded.
After being given the ETAwiz name, the app’s aesthetics were primarily the job of Matthew Reynolds, a freelance graphic designer based in Boston who had previously collaborated with Anderson on eOxity, a web-based social platform between businesses and consumers. Given a set of interface sketches, the vision of the team and an outline of ETAwiz’s primary functions, Reynolds was allowed to impose his own creative lens on the app’s ultimate design.
“The goal is to have the content, design and experience all working together to engage the user,” said Reynolds — a simple interface, orchestrated to maximize consumer usability through a “less is more” ethos.
From a purely aesthetic level, the app was premised through “bold” and “sturdy” fonts, and constructed to convey modernity and innovation, all while feeling “fast, prominent, clean and unique,” according to Reynolds.
That mixture of efficiency and whimsy may be best reflected in the ETAwiz logo.
“A logo must maintain its legibility and integrity in different sizes, colors and surfaces,” said Reynolds, who eventually found the proper balance between the capitalized “ETA” and lower-case “wiz” through changes in fonts and visual contrasts, all set behind a pinpoint clock face.
For added effect, when launching the app, the pinned clock’s hands move steadily through the loading process.
While its branding proved to be smooth, the application’s ultimate development was not without detours.
“We were using a contractor that we found online. We had worked with them in the past on something … something small,” said Aguirre. When scaled up, however, the New York-based developers and the subcontractors they utilized outside the country erected fundamental barriers between the two parties around issues of quality, priority and efficiency.
Seeing the writing on the wall — if not also in the application’s finance sheets — Anderson and Aguirre decided to shift the development team, ultimately bringing their source code back to Worcester.
“I had presented at VentureMeets, and so that was when we talked to them and sold them the idea of us kind of stepping in,” said Ryan Canuel, the co-founder and CEO of Petricore, a Worcester-based game and app developer that uses contract work to support much of its in-house application development.
“We got the source code, which was uncompilable, so we had to make it work,” said James Spavold, Petricore’s chief technology officer/user interface engineer, and the primary point-man of ETAwiz when it shifted to Petricore.
Initially built around milestones, the source code that was provided from the original developers was “wishy-washy” at best, if not otherwise absent altogether. “We came in and finished up the functionality of the app — bringing it up to par — and then went back and polished what they had already finished,” Spavold said.
Those actions didn’t go unnoticed by the ETAwiz team. Referring to Petricore, Aguirre said “they were able to basically scrap the project [and] build it twice the size at half the price.”
As opposed to a self-contained game, Spavold said “It was a whole new ball game. You’re not just working with the phone; you’re working with — in this case, Google — and their maps, so you have to balance a bunch of things, just not one.”
While ETAwiz used Google Maps, it was not using Google’s Android operating system for its initial launch, but rather Apple’s iOS. Largely a difference in programming language, it nonetheless proved an “interesting” challenge.
By using support online through forums and Google’s own documentation, making the transition across platforms, and switching from a background of self-contained games to location-based apps became achievable.
What smoothed the way for ETAwiz over the transition across developers, and avoiding the inherent pitfalls, was a combination of vision, communication and a level of individual freedom that had been a hallmark of Aguirre’s, Anderson’s and Jarvis’ dynamic throughout the ETAwiz incubation.
“They had a really clear idea of what they wanted and it was all contained in this specification sheet,” said Canuel, noting there were assigned hours to each task, but flexibility was provided by Anderson and Aguirre, given Petricore’s additional work obligations.
Four months ago, ETAwiz’s test account was first formally submitted for consideration by Apple.
Overall, the process is something of a slog, with the iOS version of the app starting its development in the summer of 2015. A quick glance at the Apple App Store Review Guidelines makes it clear that submitting your app is just the start.
“If your app looks like it was cobbled together in a few days, or you’re trying to get your first practice app into the store to impress your friends, please brace yourself for rejection,” the App Store guidelines note before delving into a list of 14 separate guidelines for apps between development, design and marketing elements presented to prospective applicants.
“When you go on the interview process, you have to wait four to five days, and then you are back in the waiting pool,” Anderson said.
Yet it was precisely that level of intricacy that led Aguirre and Anderson to first utilize iOS over Android.
“A lot of people just assume we like [the] iPhone better,” said Aguirre, who explained that the string of barriers presented by the Apple App Store — including its stringent approval process, the level of coding mastery required, and its abundance of regulations — essentially made an iOS app a symbolic endeavor for the ETAwiz team.
“If we want to succeed, we’ve got to take the bigger challenge first,” he said. “Taking on iOS initially is basically saying to us, ‘If we can get it done at Apple, we can get it done at Google.’ ”
Going forward, ETAwiz is working to branch out to the Android OS, while also expanding and refining the elements present on the iOS app.
Beyond personal use, Anderson and Aguirre are actively pursuing the app’s use by private businesses both in using the app wholesale, or by integrating the technology into separate corporate applications.
“By the end of the year, our sales are going to be ramping up for commercial use,” said Aguirre, who noted the need to remain levelheaded. “Once you start licensing and customizing, that team has to grow proportionally. We are not limiting our team, but we have to be cautious to not overextend ourselves.”
Currently targeting 10 people and actively talking to six, and spanning from standalone businesses to larger corporate entities, ETAwiz anticipates expanding its in-house development for this new venture while continuously maintaining and refining the iOS app and aiding in the launch of the Android version.
The ETAwiz app is currently available through the Apple App Store here.