Seven years ago, while Steve Greenwood was attending Harvard Business School, he began thinking about a way to organise all of his contacts.He had multiple email accounts and found himself wanting to access messages across them all from a single service. Then LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter launched, and he wanted to integrate those services too.
He started managing everything in an excel sheet; soon friends asked him to create similar organizational methods for them.
But Greenwood realised he couldn’t. He didn’t personally know what types of relationships his friends had with each of their contacts.
Over the next few years, Greenwood’s relationship management idea and prototype evolved. With a startup, Brewster, in the back of his mind, he joined Sam Lessin at another tech company, Drop.io.
When Drop.io was acquired by Facebook, Greenwood thought it was the perfect opportunity to bring Brewster to life.
“Facebook is an amazing company and we hope to be great partners with it at Brewster,” says Greenwood. “But I’ve had this idea for such a long time that when Drop.io was acquired, I saw it as an opportunity to spend all my time on my startup.”
Brewster first raised a round of financing from Union Square Ventures and other undisclosed investors last fall. (We’ve heard Square’s Jack Dorsey is another investor, but Brewster isn’t commenting on that.)
Greenwood spent the next eight months or so in stealth mode, quietly building Brewster’s robust technology with a team of fifteen people, most of whom are engineers.
Finally the iPhone app launched today.
Brewster is a smart contact list for the iPhone that constantly pulls in data from Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Foursquare, and Gmail. It merges them all and organizes the data into smart lists of people placed under categories such as “work,” “school” and “favourites.”
When you click on a contact in Brewster, you can call, text or email them. You can also scan their basic information, like their current job title and previous employers.
You’re only allowed to see as much information about a contact as you have about them in real life. So if you’re only LinkedIn friends with someone, you’ll only be able to see their professional information. If you’re both LinkedIn and Facebook friends with someone, you’ll be able to see both professional and personal information. If you’re connected to them on both networks and have them listed in your mobile contacts, you’ll be able to place calls or text them from Brewster.
Brewster is much more than just a contact list though. At its core, it’s a powerful social search tool.
For example, if you have a pair of Knicks tickets and you want to offer them to a friend who is a fan, you can search the word “Knicks” on Brewster. Brewster then sifts through all of your accounts, from Gmail messages to text messages, and pulls up people who either list themselves as fans on Facebook or whom you’ve conversed with about the Knicks.
But the app’s main mission, says Greenwood, is to understand relationships between people.
“We’re all changing jobs and going to different schools, and we now have all these different communication services,” he says. “There was a time when, if I wanted to talk to you, I’d call you. Now I can send you a Facebook message, text or email. But relationships are all of these services put together. We pull all of the data, merge the profiles, and create a search index that’s just for you, using algorithms to figure out who your closest relationships are with, and who you should be reaching out to more.”
There’s much more Greenwood wants to do with Brewster. For starters, an iPad or Android app would be nice. And currently, there are only 1-1 relationships on Brewster; Greenwood would like to expand to 1-many eventually.
But first thing’s first, and Brewster will stay heads down perfecting the iPhone app before releasing anything else.
Today, Brewster’s launch was definitely a success. So many people download the app it quasi-crashed. Accounts took hours to create rather than the typical three minutes Greenwood’s team experienced during stealth mode.
“This is something I’ve been thinking about for a long time and I’ve been obsessed with trying to solve this particular problem,” says Greenwood. “It’s amazing to think of something for so many years, finally share it, and have this kind of positive reaction.”
To explore Brewster, take a tour of the app here.