To kick off our Founder Feature series, the innovative David Eberle, co-founder of Typewise, shares his founder story.
I first heard of David when we received a email inviting us to meet him and the team at MWC 2020… Unfortunately the event got cancelled, but we kept in touch and delved into the Typewise smartphone keyboard app.
See what David had to say below when we asked him about his founder story, what he’s striving to achieve and more.
Q: Could you tell us about your company and what you’re striving to achieve?
A: In the bigger picture we want to make it easy and effortless for us humans to interact with our digital devices. Since the smartphone is the most used device, and the keyboard the most used interface (on average we access the keyboard 76 times every single day across all kinds of apps), we focus on this first. With Typewise we thus want to get rid of typos on our smartphones, and to get rid of these frustrating ‘arrgghh’ moments.
At the same time, we also want to make sure that the things we ’tell’ our devices stay private and secure. Therefore, we built a keyboard that runs completely offline and does not send what we type on our phones to the cloud, and thus fully protects user privacy.
Q: Who are you and what is your story?
A: Typewise was founded by two Swiss guys Janis Berneker and David Eberle. We met at the age of 14 in high school and have always been two makers with an interest in the latest technology. In our later professions as Data Scientist (Janis) and Management Consultant (David) we both had to write a lot on our smartphones, and both of us were annoyed by the bad usability.
The idea to develop an innovative keyboard for smartphones matured over time. One evening Janis had a flash of inspiration and within a few hours a concept was developed and in David’s mailbox. With David’s early morning answer “Let’s do it!” the project began. As a technology enthusiast, Janis devoted himself to product development and David took care of the market strategy.
The next step was the validation of a prototype called “WRIO Keyboard” on the crowdfunding platform Kickstarter, where we exceeded our funding target by 50%. This validated that our solution would be useful also to others and that there’s a viable business model. In the end we opted for the name “Typewise”, as it better reflects our vision of “typing wisely” and “the way of typing”.
Q: Can you tell us about the tech that’s powering your app?
A: Making interaction easier requires intelligent software that recognises and even anticipates what the user wants to do. For our keyboard this means (1) a smartly designed interface and (2) intelligent ’text prediction’ algorithms (powered by a Neural Network) that correct and complete words and even whole sentences. To fulfil our privacy promise these algorithms need to function fully offline, on the device. The challenge is that the neural network needs to (a) come with a well-developed, pre-loaded model so the keyboard functions from the first moment on, and (b) to be able to learn from the user without re-calculating the model in the cloud. For this we’re working together with Switzerland’s Federal Institute of Technology.
Q: What’s most exciting about your traction to date?
A: The feedback we get from users who don’t want to go back to the traditional keyboard. This really has kept us going. Especially when we hear from our first beta users who still use Typewise after more than 1 year. It’s this long-term stickiness that tells us we’re on to something here. That it’s not a fad or a ‘one-day wonder’. It’s also great when a tech journalist tells us he or she loves or product or that our “keyboard is amazing”.
The other factor is paying users. Because in the end what counts when running a business is if people are willing to pay for your product. While opinions gives us a morale boost, revenue gives us the confidence in investing into our business, because we know it will eventually be sustainable.
Q: Do you see yourself as an underdog?
A: Absolutely. Since every smartphone comes with a keyboard there is a lot of competition. Google, Apple and Microsoft, as well as a handful of Chinese companies (TouchPal, Kika, Cheetah) all operate keyboards that are installed on hundreds of millions of devices. They’re all based on the 140-year old typewriter keyboard and haven’t really changed much about it. It’s an old establishment that’s hard to change. Our different approach can also be very divisive. While some people love it from the beginning, others hate it instantly (mostly because one needs to invest a few days into getting used to it). This is difficult, but also a huge opportunity, as nobody else has really tried to change the way we type for the better.
Q: How many hours of sleep do you get and what is your morning/evening routine?
A: With two small kids at home that’s sometimes difficult but we manage. In the mornings, over a good home-made latte, I always check the news alerts on Typewise and the market in general (so we can react quickly when something happens), and reply to all customer reviews, questions and comments (we use an interactive chat group for our community). In the evenings I’m always looking forward to the daily downloads email that shows me how well we performed on the previous day.
Q: What are your goals over the next 3, 6 and 12 months?
A: 3-6 months: release the next major product version, that also has a traditional layout for new users to be able to start with Typewise immediately without learning it first (the hexagon layout like a “step 2” in the process for more advanced typers)
12-18 months: release our advanced AI technology we’re developing together with Switzerland’s Federal Institute of Technology and grow to 1 million users
Q: What’s one piece of advice you’d give to budding innovators taking the same journey?
A: Firstly, Test your idea with users before you really start: I think the Kickstarter project at the beginning was very helpful to gauge whether there are users willing to pay for your product. On the other hand, crowdfunding users are a special bunch and may be more willing to try something special than the typical end consumer that you’ll ultimately address. So keep this in mind.
Secondly, Do people search for the problem you’re solving: Our challenge is that most people are not really aware that they can change their keyboard, so they’re not searching for an alternative even though they’re bothered by the typos. So we have to do a lot of educational effort, which is costly and takes a lot of time. Were I to do another start-up, I’d opt for something that has more initial pull (which can be captured through growth marketing) vs push (which requires PR, big advertising, etc).
Finally, Have a great co-founder: without my co-founder Janis I’d have quit a long time ago. Running out of ideas, being demotivated, being overworked. Have someone to split the work, share the gains and ease the pains.