TechFaster: Who are you, and what is iExit?
Evan Metrock: Sure, I’m Evan Metrock I’m the CEO of iExit, actually the CEO of Metrock Software which has created the iExit mobile app. iExit has been around for about three years, actually a little over three years. It was released into the app store on January 4th, 2010. It’s been through I believe 26 updates on the IOS app store. We are also on Android, we’ve been on Android for about a year and a half, we’ve somewhat neglected our Android app up until now, we are actually I believe it’ll be Wednesday of next week, I’m sure what the date it but it’ll be the very beginning of March where we’ll release a huge update to our Android version which will bring it up to the same feature set as the IOS app, which is super exciting. We’ve had so many people asking when the next update is for Android. And so that’s coming we’re talking about also getting a windows mobile sometime in the future, we don’t have a set date for that but we definitely want to be strong on IOS and Android. We’re currently very strong on IOS; we’re the number one paid travel app in the app store. And we’re hoping that when we get the Android update that we’ll market that and get it up to the same ranking on Android as it is on IOS.
TechFaster: Can you explain the initial building process a little bit? Did the application of the database come first?
Evan: Great question. That takes you back to the very beginning; I was working at careerbuilder.com as a software engineer back in 2008/2010 when Steve Jobs at the WWDC announced that third party developers would be able to develop apps for the app store and I thought it was cool, much like plenty of other developers out there I downloaded the SDK and started touring around with it, it took me six months to create my first app which was a concert finder based on your location, and I had the ability to make the application, the actual framework, but I didn’t have the concert data. And then I realized that I had to partner with someone for that and I actually reached out to a website called polestar which is a company I’ve used always to find concerts that would come to town. They thought it was interesting, we partnered, I made the app, the supplied the data ad we split revenue 50-50. Turns out, actually after that happened, 4-5 different concert finders hit the market that were all free so then we decided to make, LiveMusic was the name of that app, it’s still on the app store, we made that free and then I realize there’s not a whole lot of revenue to made from then unless I devote my full time to it, and I didn’t want to devote my full time to it because I came up with the idea of iExit at that time. And iExit was of a simpler template I had the ability to, I realized you could use the iPhone’s locations services and if you have the Exit data of what’s ahead, you could actually display the Exits in a way that’s much better than just casually coming across billboards. I realized that was a possibility but I didn’t have the data just like the concert app. So what I did was I googled interstate exit data and came across allstays.com it was the number one result when googling interstate exit data, I don’t know if they’re the number one result anymore but I clicked on the website and realized they have interstate exit locations and point of interest locations of the major categories like gas, food, lodging. I sent them an email, would you like to partner, I’ve got a great idea for an app. I already built the prototype that I sent over to them and they got back to me within 30 minutes and said absolutely. So that’s how the data came to be and the very first version and that’s how it got off from nothing in the early days. Fast forward to now and we’ve actually worked out an agreement where I have given allstay some of my development time and in exchange they’ve given me a lifetime license to use their database in its current form, the current form it was in a year and a half ago, but they were not gonna update it any longer so now it’s my responsibility to update this data so my current process for that is building a very massive series of web crawlers that will go to chickfile.com and grab the chickfile or go to comfortinn.com, go to all the different points of interest that my users find interesting and build a system of web crawlers and I actually have a developer that maintains that information so that if you got to web crawler for chickfile.com, it’s time consuming but once it’s built I should be able to dispend it again in six months and grab the newest location. So I’ve got an infrastructure in place to keep the data for points of interest and also a similar data system for keeping exits up to date. Exist don’t change as much as points of interest but they do change. Some, there will be new ones added all the time across the country. It’s not on me to keep track of that data but in the early days I found a partner to get started.
TechFaster: Any plans to incorporate a navigation feature into iExit?
Evan: The nature of iExit is that the directions of often not necessary because you’re on the interstate, if you’re told that this business is on exit 20 and it’s on the right, that’s all you need. The vast majority of the time that will be enough to get you to where you’re going. The way that we talk about iExit is that we are not a navigation app, we do not tell you how to get from point A to point B, we assume you know how to get to point B, we tell you where to stop along the way. Since were interstate driven with major highways, we’re exit based. It’s usually nothing terribly complicated so, from a navigation standpoint we do allow users to click on, if you’re looking at a Burger King that’s at 20, you can click on directions and that will toss you over to iMaps or Google maps app on iPhone and same on Android which you can use any of the navigation apps you have on there. We talked it over to a third party, I don’t think we’re ever gonna get into navigation on iExit.
TechFaster: So all of the information is store locally? Is that by design?
Evan: That was one of the earlier decisions we made with the design because A, it’s easier from an infrastructure stand point and I think that’s why we did and you don’t have to tie it up to a web based API to pull information down and so it was the easiest way to get started but we realized years ago that you don’t really need iExit if you’re in a metropolitan area. If you’re looking to find a hotel or somewhere to get lunch or dinner or gas, every single exit is gonna have those things if you’re in a populated area. The only time, most of the time when you’re going to need iExit is in rural areas between, I live in Birmingham and when I’m driving to Atlanta there’s a stretch where there’s pretty poor service. And those are the times you’re gonna want to rely on iExit and figure out what’s ahead. And those are the points where you’re usually not gonna have good service, you might not have any service but you might, or if you do it’ll be pretty crappy. And some of our competitors rely on the web to get that information back. And at those times when you don’t have good service you’re going to have a very poor user experience using that application in rural, who knows where, only one out of the next four exits is going to have what you want. We realized while we made this decision in the early days because it was the easiest way to get started; now we realize it actually makes sense to store as much point of interests and exit data as much as we can on the phone. So you can turn your cell plan off, you can take an iPhone that has no cell plan and just has the GPs device in it and it’s gonna work going up and down the road. It’s not going to render the tiles on the map because that requires the internet, but that list is gonna show up. It’s gonna tell you, hey you’re on I20 going east without any internet getting to the phone. Which is, pretty powerful.
TechFaster: Are you monetizing the app, beyond the purchase price?
Evan: The way that we like to think about it at least from the direction we’re trying to go, we’re trying to get into monetizing more from the businesses that we display at iExit. Our main source of revenue is selling the app to iPhone users or owners for 99 cents. We’re the number one paid travel app, we’re doing well in that regard, but we’re sending people through the doors of Comfort Inn and all these different places and we’re not really realizing any revenue from that stand point, so that’s what we’re trying to get into. Just from a philosophical mindset, we picture ourselves as a modern billboard. You go up and down the road, you see billboards that the vast majority of them will be of the template, some business at some exit, and if you’re not paying attention to this billboard that you just passed, you’re gonna miss it, and what iExit does is it lengthens that window of opportunity to discover these businesses and that’s what we’re trying to market ourselves as a modern billboard. It’s a simple concept when you say it like that. It click and all the people say oh okay, you’re taking all the billboards out there, you’re kinda putting them all together in this easy to use application.
TechFaster: Why should I download iExit?
Evan: A lot of people ask about how are you different than some other app or why would I download iExit or even pay for iExit when I’ve got google maps or I’ve got around me on the Android or iMaps on the iPhone or any of these types of things and again it gets back to the idea that Google maps and iMaps work towards navigation and they will tell you points of interests around you and they’ll tell you points of interests maybe along your route but iExit is designed specifically interstate exit travel. With around me or these apps that will tell you points of interest around your radius, you can solve the problem were solving for you in iExit, it’s just much harder. You have to see well, here are the Arby’s around in my location and then you have to scroll up, okay ten miles ahead of me, nope nothing here, and keep scrolling up and nothing there. And you can solve these problems with a free app or a radius spaced app no problem. iExit just provides an extra convenience and it is designed specifically to get you this information as fast as possible. And it’s designed to minimize the user interaction you have with this application. We make you, the first thing that happens when you download iExit is that you have to agree that you will not use this while driving. But I can bet you that there are people out there that use it while driving. I mean that’s just a no brainer and we certainly don’t condone that but it was my vision from the beginning to make iExit as safe an app as used as possible. Where you don’t have to be pressing buttons whatsoever. You can open the app, you can let it sit there fifteen seconds if you’re driving on I65 North and then you can look back down at the app and it will have figured out that you’re driving on I65 North and will display the exits ahead of you without you pressing a single button. And if all you’re looking for is gas you can look down and see there are three exits ahead with a little blue icon ahead for gas, and boom it’s done. Or if you set your favorites already you can look down and click on favorites and see that one is coming up ten exits ahead. And you’re done and you’re out of the app. Most websites want you to stay on their site as much as possible so that they can show adds or whatever and get a longer session time, but google was about getting you off their site as quick as possible. You’re searcing for something you find it, hopefully you can find it in five second and move on with your life. That’s kinda the mentality I have with designing iExit is that I want you to open it up, quickly figure out what exit ahead of you has what’s going on with having to press minimal buttons and then you can move on with your life, out it back down and continue driving or hopefully then the passenger can put it down and then continue looking out the window.