Our Startup Story

We love hearing how other companies have found their way into the world, so we wanted to share the TextExpander origin story with you!

The Co-Founders Meet

Greg, having been converted to the Mac platform in college, did a stint as an Apple engineer before setting out on his own to launch a company. 2002 saw him successfully running his one-man-shop and selling the faxing software, PageSender.

Fellow co-founder Philip was also of an entrepreneurial spirit. He’d left his previous venture by 2002 to get back into a passion of his, developing on the Mac platform. Having fallen in love with the Mac the very first time he saw one in 1984, he was eager to find a new project in that space.

Both attended Macworld San Francisco 2003, Greg to exhibit PageSender and Philip to search for ideas. Macworld was “the” spot to mix and mingle with both users and press. It’s at this time that Greg’s friend and former boss, Judy MacDonald Johnston, an entrepreneur several times over and collector of people, suggested that Greg meet up with a friend of her sister’s, Philip.

Group photo at Macworld 2005
Macworld 2005: Sean Newman (Friend), Greg (Smile Founder), Jean MacDonald (former Smile PR), Philip (Smile Founder), Brian (Smile Engineer)

And so the TextExpander co-founders meet. With a few other products to keep them busy in the early days of their partnership, TextExpander wasn’t born until a few years later, in 2006…

From Textpander to TextExpander

TextExpander actually started out as Textpander and was Smile’s first-ever acquisition, beginning as software developed by Peter Maurer. Greg and Philip wanted tools to ease the load of full-time development, full-time support, and driving a young company. A great text expansion option would help do just that. Smile purchased the software from Peter, who has since become a head at Many Tricks and a close Smile friend.

Macworld 2006 group photo
Macworld 2006: Philip (Smile Founder), Brian (Smile Engineer), Jean MacDonald (former Smile PR), Jane Pellicciotto (Allegro Designs), Greg (Smile Founder)

Text expansion was a huge help to us, but that initial iteration of the app needed some reliable updates. Realizing that if we were going to find the right tool for us, we decided to use our skills to develop updates on our own.

And so we set to work on TextExpander 2.0. We released it in October 2007 with a range of features that we still use in the app today, alongside some we don’t… MobileMe integration, anyone? TextExpander 2.0 included snippet groups, group import, hotkeys, printing, and AppleScript snippets. These were all functions we had needed most as our team grew. TextExpander was, at this stage, a Mac-only System Preference pane rather than the dedicated, multi-platform app it is today . . . but not for long.

Macworld 2009 group photo
Macworld 2009: Brian (Smile Engineer), Maia (Smile Marketing), Philip (Smile Founder), Lorene Romero (Friend, NCMUG), Angel (Smile Support), Greg (Smile Founder), Jean MacDonald (former Smile PR), Sean Newman (Friend)

The move to iOS

That change began with Apple Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC) in 2009, where Apple announced support for cut/copy/paste in iOS 3. The gauntlet for TextExpander launching on iPhone was actually thrown down not by us but by Dave and Roustem from AgileBits, the founders of the password manager app 1Password. They told us that if we didn’t decide to create TextExpander for iPhone, then they would.

This kickstarted the development of TextExpander for iPhone, which officially launched on August 26, 2009. The original iOS app was much simpler than it is now, and could only expand snippets in the Notes section of the app.

We mentioned Textpander creator Peter Maurer earlier; it was he who sparked TextExpander’s next step. As a close friend of Smile co-founder Greg Scown, Peter stayed at Greg’s house while they attended WWDC 2009. It was he who suggested that Greg start developing a software development kit (SDK), which would allow third-party developers to add support for TextExpander directly in their apps. After developing our SDK, some amazing productivity apps such as OmniFocus, Drafts, and Bear include native support for TextExpander.

It was iOS 8 that offered a real step-up to the TextExpander experience, as this was when Apple introduced custom keyboards. Custom keyboards enabled us to offer basic TextExpander expansion across any app.

The arrival of the TextExpander app

In March 2010 TextExpander made the jump from System Preferences pane into an app all of its own with Version 3. With it, we introduced single line fill-ins, Dropbox sync, capitalization correction, and hotkeys to create new snippets and to edit the last expanded snippet.

June 2012 saw the launch of TextExpander 4.0, where we had honed in on our enhanced fill-in support. This iteration introduced multi-line text fields, pop-up menus, and optional text sections to our fill-in functionality. TextExpander 4.0 added default values for fill-ins, the ability to expand snippets when filling a fill-in, and the ability to switch apps while filling a fill-in. It was at this point that we retired MobileMe sync, as Apple had since retired its MobileMe service.

Just under three years later came Version 5, which we shipped in May 2015. This was when we launched support for iCloud Drive, cross-platform JavaScript snippets, the snippet preview option, and TextExpander’s suggestions feature. To make filling in longer snippets easier, we ensured that fill-in fields could be instructed to appear at the top of the fill-in window.

TextExpander and the Cloud

In the background, we knew we wanted to level up our sharing capabilities. We’d worked with MobileMe, Dropbox, and iCloud Drive as cloud options, but found that the best way to offer easy snippet sharing across teams was to launch a cloud of our own. The beta was released in October 2015 with our friends from AgileBits there for the ride.

The next version went live in April 2016. Here, we had difficulties with pricing. There was resistance to a new subscription model, which customers were less used to then than we are today. We made some amendments in light of the feedback, and users enjoyed Public Groups for the first time.

TextExpander joins Windows

We were repeatedly asked about a Windows version of TextExpander prior to its launch, which we released in January 2017. One key benefit was that users with both Macs and Windows devices could use their one TextExpander account across both.

TextExpander Forward 2021
TextExpander Forward 2021

The whole that is TextExpander

Grey Osten, developer at TextExpander, recalls the first feature he worked on for TextExpander was adding search to iOS. He said, “It is great to think about just how far the product and our team has come since. To bring it full circle, I recently worked on implementing parts of search on the new universal client. This time we had so many more resources to puzzle over the best user experience and design for our customers.

“I remember the engineering summit where the idea of the core client came into the focus. After many conversations about why many nonnative apps don’t provide good user experiences and how to avoid those pitfalls, it was neat to watch all of us come to the conclusion that a universal app was the best way to deliver a quality product to our customers. It was a conclusion I never thought I would come to but there it was, clear as day.”

He continued, “The best thing Philip and Greg have done to grow the product has been growing those of us that make it. They bring together the best parts of everyone to create the whole that is TextExpander.”

TextExpander now

We’ve come a long way since our humble days as a Systems Preferences pane in 2006! Thousands of individuals and teams benefit from TextExpander’s tools, each saving an average of 4 to 8 hours every month. We’re available on Macs, iPads, iPhones, and Windows devices so that users can access the same snippets wherever they are.

We’re so proud of where we’ve come from and of the team we have behind us. We simply cannot wait to share with you our updates to TextExpander. In 19 years, we’ve grown to a team of 48+ across 5+ countries. We’re continuing to grow to best serve the needs of our customers.

We’ll leave with a note from one of our founders, Greg Scown, on our journey thusfar and what lies ahead:

“My greatest joy is to create something that is useful to others from a blank canvas. We’ve been able to do that with TextExpander, and it’s equally exciting to do that with the company. I’m humbled that we’ve been able to build a company others love to work at. I’m looking forward to building greater capabilities both for TextExpander and for the company as we grow together.”

If you enjoyed this post, we recommend…

Comments and Discussion

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.