Well, a new app for iPhone, takes what is arguably one of the least exciting categories of apps and does something very different with it, by making the to-do list public and social. It’s not an entirely unique concept – apps like Any.DO and Astrid also provide social features integrated with task management – but Well’s approach feels more like creating a broad community around to-dos, a getting-things-done social network instead of a to-do list with sharing features.
The app was created by a team of former Digg and Blip.fm engineers who make up startup Jeraff, including co-founder Arin Sarkissian. He said in an interview that after working at Digg he felt the urge to get back to working with an early stage startup, and investor friends and others in the startup scene eventually convinced him to create his own instead of becoming an early-stage employee somewhere else.
“You have this weird situation where at work you have this great visibility into your organization and into the individuals inside the organization, what they plan on doing or what they are doing at this moment,” Sarkissian explained about the idea behind Well, and how it grew out of seeing tools like Yammer and Basecamp being used in business settings. “That, combined with an experience I had where one of my best friends wanted to buy a really powerful Mac and I just happened to be selling one, and I ended up selling it to someone else on Craigslist, had me asking ‘Why do I know everything about what’s going on at work, but with my friends I’m missing out on their intentions?’”
So while it came out of productivity tools, Well itself isn’t really about productivity in the traditional sense of to-do apps, though it can do that too with the option to switch lists to private if a user is looking to keep something private or doesn’t see how it would benefit from community input. But for the most part, it’s designed around the idea that there’s really no reason anyone should be concealing their to-do lists – especially the kind for building reading lists, keeping track of upcoming movies to check out, or gathering a list of study materials for a course or degree. In those cases, Well is betting that public list visibility, paired with the ability to follow others and their lists as well as make suggestions for addition to anyone else’s is exactly what’s needed for that kind of to-do.
So unlike other to-do list apps, Well has a social feed and feels more like a social networking tool than something related to productivity. It also has an extremely attractive and usable interface design, which for a task management app, something people often open once and then forget about entirely, is an absolute necessity. Especially for one that ultimately depends on user-generated content to provide the meat and potatoes for its core hook: shared list creation and curation. And aside from great aesthetics, Well is also about keeping people socially driven to return to their lists over and over.
“We definitely wanted to build something engaging so that you have subliminal reasons to come back to the app,” he said. “So if you’re not the organized type but you’re getting notified that somebody has liked one of the movies you want to see, or liked the fact that you’ve lost ten pounds or whatever, it brings you back.”
After initially raising a seed round of around $200,000, the Jeraff team build a prototype of Well and attracted a lot of interest from investors and closed another round at the end of March for just over $1 million. Sarkissian says that Well will be focused on user growth and getting the experience right for the foreseeable future, preferring to leave revenue generation to a later stage in the app’s development. However, he believes there are already strong possibilities for where that revenue could come from, since essentially what Well is doing in a lot of cases is gather buyer intent. While he doesn’t believe intrusive ads are the way to go, Sarkissian says that sponsored list item suggestions and relevant offers from brands that directly satisfy an expressed need could work nicely as a way for Well to profit down the line.