‘We pivoted virtually overnight to integrate a custom family tree and the concept of milestones into Twile’

Twile of Epworth, in the US
Twile of Epworth, in the US
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The Twile team know all about changing direction - today’s family history website was originally aimed at personal trainers.

The digital start-up set off on the DotForge accelerator programme in Sheffield three years ago with the idea of building a timeline for fitness instructors so they could log clients’ workouts, diets and progress.

Last week it announced an investment deal with one of the world’s largest family history websites - findmypast.com - opening the door to 18million users.

Co-founder Paul Brooks, of Doncaster, said they joined DotForge with a vague concept, but after two months of market research realised the best response was from young parents who wanted to record their children growing up.

He added: “Because we were also young parents, it felt like the perfect direction. We built Twile into a private photo-sharing timeline. We had some early traction, but struggled to differentiate ourselves from the much larger competitors who were trying to solve the same problem – Microsoft, Google, Dropbox, Apple…

“After two years, we decided we needed to change direction before we ran out of money. We carried out user research and found most of the people who were using Twile were sharing old black-and-white photos to tell the story of their family history, rather than adding recent digital pictures.

“We pivoted virtually overnight to integrate a custom family tree and the concept of ‘milestones’ into Twile including births, marriages and deaths.

“We’ve never looked back – it took two years, but we had finally found the perfect market, product and business model – a clearly-defined group of customers in a very large, under-served market.”

Investments by South Yorkshire business leaders Neil MacDonald, John Cowling and Julie Kenny ‘allowed them to fail’, he added. “Their support has been really important to us, allowing us to experiment and fail a number of times while we worked to develop the product and the business.

“The key for us was staying lean – making our money last as long as possible, so we had the time to experiment and change direction.

“We actually went about the business in the wrong way. You’re supposed to find a problem and then build a product that solves it, but we already had the timeline and were trying to find a problem we could solve it with. Making the most of our cash meant we had the time to go the long way round.”

The findmypast.com announcement comes after a stellar start to the year for Twile which won two awards - and thousands of dollars - at RootsTech, the world’s largest family history festival, in Utah, last month.