AP NEWS

Globetrotting teens create app

July 5, 2018

GREENWICH — On the way back from Ali Baba, a 3-D printing factory in the countryside of northern China, rain fell in sheets and the storm toppled a tree across a dark road, blocking traffic.

Warren Bischoff, 19, jumped out of the car carrying cousin, Liam King, 18, and the three Chinese employees from Ali Baba they had just met who had given them a tour of the factory and treated them to dim sum hours earlier. Using only his hands (Bischoff doesn’t speak Mandarin) he redirected traffic so the crammed car could start up again.

When the two teens from Greenwich settled in that night, they tallied up their total spending for the impromptu excursion: just 90 cents. Their tour guide and new friend, Mr. Fan, welcomed them, offered tea (and cigarettes) and gave them a once-in-a-lifetime day trip.

Curated tours like this are just one feature the world-traveling duo plans to include in Hamik, an app they created. It connects travelers who never would have met at registered hostels, allowing travelers to message each other and set up day trips or nights out.

“Hamik exists to awaken the adventurer within the tourist and to introduce like-minded people separated only by language and culture,” Bischoff said of the app and their company of the same name, which has its office in Old Greenwich.

Bischoff got the idea for Hamik while traveling in Taipei, Taiwan, this January. He was staying at the hostel Meander when a traveler he’d never met asked if he’d like to join his excursion to the Artist’s Village.

After they returned, Bischoff’s first thought was: “Who else would’ve loved to come along if they had known we were doing this?” His second thought was: “There’s no app for that.”

Stateside, he contacted King and the two set out to fill the hole. King, the app’s chief technical officer, started coding immediately. They contacted an app developer based in Dearborn, Mich., to decide what features to include, including messaging and activity planning.

In March, they sent out emails and made calls to hostels in Asia — where the idea originated — and Urban Pack Hostel in Hong Kong was the first to get on board. The young entrepreneurs met with hostel representatives in Hong Kong, who told them that hostels have a social atmosphere but no messaging platform for connecting travelers.

In May, a working beta app launched. It’s far from perfect, but Bischoff estimates hundreds of people have seen it and some have even used it. Right now, however, the two longtime friends are focused on recruiting hostels.

They even persuaded The Dictionary Hostel in London to agree to a marketing stunt. It’s top-secret, Bischoff said, but it involves a toy panda, the app’s mascot, a hammock and a giant scavenger hunt.

The app works in 15 hostels, located everywhere from Hong Kong to London to Iceland to Serbia. They haven’t yet included the U.S. because American hostels are part of a chain, and the nascent company is not yet ready to target big chains.

As word spreads, hostels have started contacting Bischoff and King. The app mostly benefits travelers, but it requires little commitment from participating hostels — just agreeing to work with Hamik and putting up a poster and a sticker, King said.

King just graduated from Greens Farms Academy in Westport and will attend the University of Virginia in the fall. Bischoff is in his second year at Boston College, and graduated from Fordham Preparatory School.

“It’s been a crazy six months,” Bischoff said.

Even within the last month, King said, the app went from being a fun project to an actual business venture: It’s now a registered LLC with a trademark and a terms of use policy.

“It’s become more real,” King said.

These major changes occurred while both Bischoff and King were in school. King said Bischoff called him while he was immersed in Advanced Placement testing week and asked him to draft a terms of use and privacy policy that were needed on the next day.

Now that school’s out, they have more time to devote to the app. The two spend about 10 or 11 hours daily answering emails and completing tasks, but they do take Sundays off.

In that time, they’ve learned a lot — and even some unexpected lessons.

“People are more friendly than we sometimes give them credit for,” Bischoff said. “That’s one thing we didn’t expect.”

That might be just connecting him with the right department within the hostel or offering to pick him and King up from the airport.

“Whenever we’re around the world and we land somewhere, we want to meet people like our friend, Mr. Fan,” Bischoff said. “We want this app to create a network where people can sign in and feel at home wherever they are.”

Neither have reached 20, yet both have traipsed across the globe. King, who beats Bischoff by two continents, has been to Tanzania, Rwanda, Burundi, Hong Kong, China, Amsterdam, London, Paris, Rome, Tuscany, Brussels, Peru, Australia and New Zealand. Bischoff has been to Germany, Austria, Lichtenstein, China, Hong Kong, Macau, Taiwan, Greece (where his family is from), Israel, France and Italy.

The two world travelers don’t want their users to have hectic experiences abroad, however. Hence the name, which is an alternate spelling of hammock.

“There’s nothing stressful about a hammock,” Bischoff said. “You just feel at home.”

jo.kroeker@hearstmediact.com

AP RADIO
Update hourly