Brenna Swanston[follow id=”brenna_swanston”]
Guidekick’s story began with three Cal Poly graduates and some 15th-century Inca ruins.
Josh Holland, Mark Paddon and Aaron Rivera had thoroughly prepared for their post-graduation trip to Machu Picchu in October 2012. They read travel guides, listened to audiobooks and even hired a personal tour guide — but their efforts weren’t quite enough.
“We were still having a lot of trouble learning exactly what we were looking at when we were physically there,” Guidekick Chief Creative Officer Holland said. “So we knew that a rock pillar was significant in some way, shape or form, but we were having trouble figuring out exactly what it was we were looking at and sort of the story behind it.”
Their problem sparked an idea.
Now take a travel guide, an audiobook and a tour guide, wrap them all into a cell-phone-sized package and slip it in users’ pockets or purses. It becomes their tour guide sidekick — a Guidekick.
If a user approaches an item of historical significance, Guidekick detects the location via GPS and vibrates to signal a notification. It then provides an array of historical information about the site via text, audio and graphics.
“It’s very much up to the visitor how he or she wants to learn,” Holland said.
Holland, a graphic communication graduate, collaborated with his computer science graduate teammates in spring 2013 to officially implement the idea. Though a Peru trip had initially inspired Guidekick’s concept, the team started off by tackling a historical site a little closer to home: Hearst Castle.
They approached museum director Hoyt Fields and pitched the idea of applying the Guidekick concept to Hearst Castle.
Fields was all for it.
The team developed the application, called the Hearst Castle mobile app. They released it in spring 2014 on iTunes, which placed it in the “best new app” list in the the travel category.
Fields said he saw many young Hearst Castle visitors use the application after their tours to learn more about the castle’s history. For example, when they would approach one of the castle’s 3,600-year-old statues, the app showed photos of William Hearst when he first bought the statue and different iterations of the statue by other sculptors.
The app also offers oral histories from people who saw the castle in its hey-day.
“The young people love to mess around with their gadgets and things,” Fields said. “They all have a phone or an iPod or a thing and they can read about it if they want or listen to it if they want. It really is a wonderful application.”
Fields said that while Hearst Castle was the perfect starting point for the Guidekick team, he could see the concept spreading to all historical destinations.
“We were in their backyard,” he said. “But I can see it being used by other institutions, other museums. It’s just a fabulous application to enhance visitors’ experience.”
And that’s exactly what the Guidekick team intends to do.
The official Guidekick app is slated to drop by the end of 2014, with full guides to historical destinations in San Francisco, including Golden Gate Park, the Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz Federal Penitentiary and the Sutro Baths, Holland said.
Meanwhile, the team is conducting user tests for the application to gauge whether people would like the app or find it useful.
“The hope was always that it would turn into something we could continue to work on,” Holland said. “But like any up-and-coming business, there’s a lot of uncertainty. We had the confidence we could build something awesome. We just didn’t know if it was something people would want to use on a large scale.”
But as it turns out, people want to use Guidekick.
“We’re testing people and seeing how excited they become,” Holland said. “It’s really boosted the energy level of the team and our confidence and how happy we are to be working on something we think will change people’s way of learning about these places.”
The team is eager to see how Guidekick users benefit from the app, he said.
“Before, we were building something for ourselves,” Holland said. “But it’s evolved to be something larger than that.”
Guidekick’s model resembles applications that give historical tours of specific targeted areas, such as Gettysburg. Holland said he didn’t consider these apps serious competition because they have no goals to expand beyond their singular areas of interest.
Business professor and founder of Cal Poly’s Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship Jonathan York mentors the Guidekick team at the San Luis Obispo HotHouse.
The team has open ears for customer feedback, which is necessary for entrepreneurial success, York said.
“They listen to what the customer is saying, they don’t fall so in love with their idea that they’re unwilling to change it when they need to and they work really fast and really hard,” he said.
York can see Guidekick growing in popularity and success in the future, he said.
“I think it’s great,” York said. “I think they found what appears to me to be a real opportunity. It’s just going to be a matter now of continuing to work hard and make it happen.”
Having seen users’ reactions, Holland said his team is ambitious and dedicated to the app’s future.
“We know that there is a demand if it’s communicated to people clearly that something like this exists,” he said. “Now it is definitely a long-term goal and something we want to keep doing.”
In fact, the Guidekick team intends to take over the world.
“Ideally, some form of Guidekick — whether it’s a mobile device or another device in the future — would exist at every historical location in the world,” Holland said. “Every time you visit one of these locations, you’d know you’d be able to learn about it as deeply as you want. That would be the sort of ultimate vision we have for it.”
A correction has been made to an earlier version of the above photo caption, which misidentified Hector Zhu as a Machu Picchu tour guide.