Electrical Engineering and Computer Science

CSE Alum co-founds goal-tracking company Beeminder

Need a little help to stay on track with your life goals? CSE alum Daniel Reeves (CSE PhD 2005) has created Beeminder, an on-line service that leverages your monetary pledge to help you stick to your goals.

Born from his need to stay motivated and power through the dissertation writing process while a student at Michigan, Dan and future Beeminder co-founder Bethany Soule (also a Michigan graduate) created a series of incentive schemes and productivity hacks that they called the Voluntary Harassment Program. It was such a motivator that Dan finished his Ph.D. that year and then asked Bethany to marry him. Later, the two built a simple website for friends that combined the idea of tracking goals with monetary wagers. This laid the foundation for what would later become Beeminder.

Today, Beeminder is a motivational tool for setting “goals with a sting.” Beeminder allows you to pledge money to stay on track for any quantifiable goal, such as losing weight, saving for a vacation, or increasing the number of pushups you can do. The program graphs your progress over time and tracks your results along a “yellow brick road” to your goal. Beeminder prompts you to easily add progress data when needed, or accepts data automatically from a number of compatible digital devices, and integrates with popular fitness and productivity sites to help you keep pace with your achievements. The motivating sting behind the service: If you go off track for your goal, you lose your pledge money.

Dan points out that although Beeminder is developed for all types of goals, it remains a great tool for PhD students who are struggling to get their dissertations done. A guest post on the Beeminder blog illustrates this.

Beeminder is free to use, if you can avoid getting stung. As Dan puts it, “If you always stay perfectly on track for your goals, then you probably don’t really need Beeminder.” However, he’s fine with those people using it as a tracking and visualization tool and never paying. The people who do need Beeminder are the majority of us who will pay our pledges from time to time. But when users do pay, 80% of them re-up and get back on the Beeminder wagon. “They wouldn’t keep paying us if Beeminder weren’t worth it,” says Dan.

Beeminder was recently noted in a Wall Street Journal article about the Quantified Self movement, which Beeminder considers itself at the center of. It’s all part of Beeminder’s goal: to help people use data to change their own behavior.

Daniel Reeves completed his PhD in CSE as a student of Prof. Michael Wellman (also an avid Beeminder user) in 2005, then spent four years at Yahoo! Research in New York City before co-founding Beeminder in 2010. His research has focused on the application of game-theoretic and computational techniques to strategic behavior in games, particularly for eCommerce-inspired market mechanisms. He is one of the creators of and top competitors in the annual international Trading Agent Competition.


Alumni News; Michael Wellman