Jon Bittner is the co-founder and CEO of Betaspring alum Splitwise, a Providence company that has developed an expense-sharing app that last year was named among the 50 Best iPhone Apps of 2013.
Bittner spoke with Providence Business News about his company’s success and future plans.
PBN: Why do you think Splitwise has found success as an expense-sharing app when similar apps have failed?
BITTNER: One big difference is the way we started. Even before we had an app, we were very focused on solving problems that caused stressful conversations (or secret frustrations) about money. Our “fairness calculators” help people decide a fair split – for instance, roommates dividing rent with unequal bedrooms. This gave us a strong starting community for a successful launch.
Splitwise is also the first app to offer not only a website but mobile sharing on both iPhone and Android as well, which is very important if your group has a mix of people with different phones. Ultimately, we focus on user experience, support and product quality, which helps us grow through word of mouth. A lot of our competitors were not able to grow because they didn’t invest enough in user experience and supporting the community.
PBN: How has your location in Providence helped or hurt you in terms of recruiting employees, attracting investors, etc?
BITTNER: Providence has been really great for Splitwise and we’re happy we stayed here after Betaspring invested in us in 2012. We love the tech community here, from larger startups like Swipely/Teespring/Utilidata to the very early startups coming through Betaspring. The universities keep a steady flow of talent in, and the startup community is fortunate to have Venture For America also helping recruit outside talent for Providence start-ups.
The quality of life is amazing here, though I sometimes worry that students who went to school in Providence don’t always see how much Providence has to offer young professionals. Access to customers isn’t a problem because we reach people through the Internet.
For access to national media and startup capital, we mostly have to leave the state (for now) and I travel a lot. But we’re close to Boston and New York, and most investors seem to be comfortable with New England locations that are a train ride away.
PBN: Before founding Splitwise, you were a graduate student of astrophysics. Did you take any lessons from astrophysics into how you run your business?
BITTNER: I think science helps me think about business all the time. I believe every new business is an experiment. Starting a startup is really a series of guesses or hypotheses about what customers want, and what the potential revenues and costs will be. As a scientist you need to look at the data and see what has been done before, but also to think about how you can try something new. Astrophysics was wonderful fun to study, and I think it encouraged me to think about things as simply as possible and ask many questions, but also not to expect answers to be intuitive or obvious.
PBN: Splitwise recently announced the release of a multiple payers function and the beta-testing of an offline mode. How do these updates improve upon the app, and what future updates do you have planned?
BITTNER: We’re very excited about the Android update because it brings us very close to feature parity between iPhone and Android. We try and evolve all three platforms as fast as we can, but sometime we’ll create a new feature for one set of customers first to see if it sticks. This will be the fastest version of Android yet and now Android will be more advanced than iPhone in some ways. Going forward, we expect to broaden our support for different ways to pay and also to add additional content and features for couples, who have been big users of Splitwise.
PBN: What’s next for Splitwise? Do you have any plans to expand in the near future?
BITTNER: Our goals for Splitwise over the next year are to continue to integrate more closely with existing payment platforms, to reduce data entry for users, and to create new and exciting product experiences. I can’t announce too many details right now but we are hard at work. We do expect to hire a few more people later this year or early next year.