Written by Andrew Seale
Alec Gordon’s real-time texting Beam Messenger app didn’t take long to catch fire. Right away, news-site BuzzFeed picked up on the app and penned an article in November 2014.
“The Terrifyingly Transparent Texting Of The Future Is Here… that was the title, it was very sensationalist and that started a media storm,” says Gordon. He woke up the next day to see it making its round amongst the media – ABC, CNN, “every language, every country” – inspiring debate about the repercussions of seeing “everything” someone is typing as they type it.
“It was really fun to watch,” says the Russia-born, Toronto-based entrepreneur behind Beam Propulsion Lab, the maker of the app. That is, until the story got twisted.
“Somewhere in it all (an outlet) reported we were a California company and I was like, no no no, I’m very proud to be Torontonian,” he says. “And I corrected them, I emailed them back and they (switched it to) Toronto-based developer but California company.”
So Gordon followed it up by adding a sketch of the Toronto skyline in the “about” part of the settings, “so there was no confusion as to where we were from.”
“The media could not fathom the fact that something so widely reported, something so fresh could come out, outside the valley,” he says. Which feels strange to Gordon who has been building startups in Toronto for the past half-decade.
“I come from a small coastal town in Russia that would have likely driven me crazy from lack of prospects,” he says.
“Toronto as a city has given me ample opportunity to build new things and innovate… I thrive better in a big city environment, always felt that about myself.”
And it’s proven a good place to grow his ideas.
“We have a cluster of really good universities here with plenty of talented and hard working individuals,” he says. “This creates a sort of void for ideas and invention, which is why you can get to building something good, and find plenty of people along the way to help you.”
His first startup Flowton, developed a Natural User Interface allowing users to interact with devices like their TV, thermostat or lights using gesture recognition. But after an investor told him “hardware is marginal, apps is where it’s at” he decided he’d try to build something in that sphere. Hence the Beam Messenger app.
But it’s bigger than just an app, insists Gordon. He points to the recent accessibility bill passed by the Federal Communications Commission in the U.S. requiring real-time texting on phones.
“Essentially real-time texting is going to become standardized the way SMS was,” he says.
Gordon, who draws inspiration from sci-fi, say he envisions a future, one that he’s currently ironing out the finer details of, where speech and text will converge.
“Imagine a channel of communication where either input messages, text and speech, can become either of the two output methods – it’s true convergence,” he says. “All the technology is in place, the missing link is the real time interface and that’s what we built before – it’s remarkable that this doesn’t (already) exist.”