Trending: Amazon narrows HQ2 search to 20 cities, moving to next phase in contest for $5B economic prize

saga4If you like being tracked — voluntarily, that is  — then a Seattle startup backed by Paul Allen might be worth trying out.

Founded in 2011, Saga is a lifelogging app that records everything from the places you’ve been to the activities you do.

Operating under its umbrella company, A.R.O., Saga crunches all that data and presents it with infographics. The app also includes contextual notifications, which parse your lifelog data to understand what information you need at the time you need it.

For example, these notifications can tell you the optimal time to leave your house to beat traffic and estimate your travel time down to the minute, or when it’s going to start and stop raining at your current location.

“A.R.O. was founded on the belief that apps should be positive forces for change — whether that’s changing one’s own habits or taking small steps to make the world a better place to hang out in for a while,” 37-year-old CEO Andy Hickl said.

A.R.O. employs 37 and is backed by Allen himself, not Vulcan Capital, his investment arm. We caught up with Hickl to learn more about Saga in the latest edition of Startup Spotlight:

saga1Explain what you do so our parents can understand it: Saga records your life story, as told by the places you visited, and the things you did there, automatically. We make it easy and fun to look back on your day-to-day activities in a beautiful, holistic log — little to no manual input required.

Inspiration hit us when … There’s a saying that goes something like, “what is measured, improves.” This is one of the founding tenants of Saga and the lifelogging movement. We want to make it easier for people to record their daily lives so they are inspired to live healthier, more fulfilling, and more adventurous lives.

We think everyone is called to live a great story, and Saga is a tool to help you do that.

VC, Angel or Bootstrap: Saga (and its umbrella company, A.R.O., Inc.) is backed by Paul G. Allen.

Saga CEO Andy Hickl.
Saga CEO Andy Hickl.

Our ‘secret sauce’ is: Our true secret sauce is the set of alogorithms that allows Saga to accurately record a user’s location in the background without killing their phone’s battery. Constantly pinging a phone’s GPS is extremely power-intensive, which is why many ambient location trackers get uninstalled after a few days of use (we live by our phone’s battery after all!). Saga’s engineers have developed methods that allow the app to only use GPS only at the most ideal time — meaning that users can log their location in the background without watching their battery level disappear before their eyes.

The smartest move we’ve made so far: This summer we made the decision to add more robust social features to Saga. We always knew people would want to lifelog for personal reasons, but we were skeptical that they would want to share this data with friends and family. We decided to take a risk, though, and test the waters.

The results have been fantastic. Social lifelogging has been one of the apps key draws for our newest users and allows everyday people to share their favorite hotspots, activities, and trips with others.

saga3The biggest mistake we’ve made so far: Going back to the battery-saving technology above — before we made the breakthroughs that allowed Saga to run nearly invisible in the background, the app’s heavy battery usage nearly killed us before we even got off the ground.

When we first launched Saga into private beta in 2012, we received countless complaints from beta users about battery usage. We made the tough decision to pull the app off the App Store until we could overhaul the whole tracking algorithm. It was a scary decision, but it made our app better and our company stronger.

Would you rather have Gates, Jobs, Zuckerberg or Bezos in your corner: Gates. He’s never been afraid to break the rules on his way to the top.

Our world domination strategy starts when: We see one of the greatest benefits of an intelligent lifelogging app like Saga is being able to provide recommendations and information at the exact right moment, based on your context and past behavior. This is when our phones will stop becoming phones and turn into virtual companions.

I’ve said too much already, though. :)

Rivals should fear us because: There’s really nothing the Saga team can’t achieve, engineering and design-wise. I’ve seen my coworkers make incredible breakthroughs on problems that might have sunk another company. The talent in this office is a force to reckon with.

saga5We are truly unique because: We’re building some of the most innovative mobile technology in the world, right here in the Pacific Northwest. We love our hometown of Seattle and couldn’t imagine being able to build Saga within the echo chamber of Silicon Valley.

The biggest hurdle we’ve overcome is: Convincing users that lifelogging is not scary. In fact, it’s something we do everyday through Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Foursquare, personal diaries, etc. Saga allows you to bring all these sources together to keep a living record of what you do, and uncover new insights about your habits in the process.

What’s the one piece of advice you’d give to other entrepreneurs just starting out: Stick to your guns. If you have an innovative idea, nearly everyone you talk to will say you’re wrong. You have to find the strength to believe in the vision that got you into the venture in the first place, because it will be tough going for a long time. If everyone understood your idea from the start, then it probably wouldn’t be very innovative.

Saga-contextual infographic

Like what you're reading? Subscribe to GeekWire's free newsletters to catch every headline


Job Listings on GeekWork

Find more jobs on GeekWork. Employers, post a job here.