LuckyCal, Winner of Facebook Grant, Makes Your Calendar into a Connector

9/30/08Follow @wroush

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fill it in with what you could be doing tomorrow, what your friends are doing tonight?”

Vakil went off and built a prototype that would do just this. But Ambient ended up with a new CEO, Carl Yankowski, who wanted to place safer bets. “The clock was more of an experimental project—a Media Lab type of thing,” Vakil acknowledges. He also realized that while an analog clock might be good at showing a user what’s happening in the next 8 to 12 hours, “It’s never going to tell you that Coldplay is playing in two weeks when you’re going to be in San Francisco and you might be able to get tickets.”

A calendar seemed like a more natural setting for such information. Vakil wrote a patent application around the idea, and rounded up a few programmer friends to implement it. The new startup decided to enter the fbFund competition shortly after the fund was announced in September 2007.

How LuckyCal WorksPart of the attraction of working with Facebook was that the Facebook Platform, the set of programming interfaces open to outside developers, already made it easy to grab critical data from users’ profiles, such as the dates, durations, and locations of events on their calendars. Another encouraging sign, says Vakil, was that the fbFund screeners “were interested not just in how we were going to make things better for Facebook users but ultimately how we were going to make money. Most [developers] say they’re just going to put ads up, which is unimaginative—it’s really just saying that you don’t know how you’re going to make money. But they liked our business plan, and thought it was very complementary to Facebook’s.”

After a rigorous interview process, LuckyCal won the full $250,000 it had requested—a real achievement, considering that more than 1,000 teams of developers applied for the grants. The money has remarkably few strings attached—it’s a grant, not an equity investment or a convertible note. “It’s acted like a angel round for us,” says Vakil. “Otherwise I would have been out there raising angel funding from others, which is much more time consuming. Hopefully, we will coast on this through getting some customers and, if necessary, raising some venture capital at a later point in our product development.”

Right now, LuckyCal makes money on affiliate commissions—when people buy tickets to nearby concerts through Ticketmaster, or when they act on relevant hotel or airline offers culled from sites like Expedia and Kayak. Later, says Vakil, the company hopes to sell its software as a plug-in for personal-information-management and enterprise scheduling systems. The idea is to help big companies be more efficient about travel planning—by showing them in advance, for example, that two sales representatives are planning trips to the same area, allowing them to either team up or consolidate.

“IBM has 380,000 employees and 200,000 of them travel every year,” says Vakil. “Say that the average trip costs $2,000. If you could, conservatively, save every employee who travels one trip every two years, you’re talking a savings of almost $200 million a year. Even for IBM, that’s real money.”

LuckyCal has a fancy buzzword for its calendar-matching technology: “predictive presence.” But in the end, says Vakil, all the software really does is “look at where you are and where other people are, then look at how those two overlap in time and in space.” There’s no luck involved: just lots of data, all of which is already sitting there, waiting for someone to connect it.

Wade Roush is a contributing editor at Xconomy. Follow @wroush

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