Sunday, July 12, 2015

Startup life & dreams: Paq

Hi all! It's been several years since my last post and to say the least, it's been quite the ride. Here are a few of the highlights:
  • June 2012: I led a Birthright trip to Israel and decided to stay. Round 3 in Israel.
  • July 2012: I joined Ethan from my garin at ad-tech start-up, Adotomi Agency, where I led the sales team. Employee number 14.
  • September 2013: With ~40 employees, Adotomi Agency was acquired by Matomy Media Group. I joined Matomy and led the international social sales team.
  • January 2015: I joined Ethan to establish Paq, our first start-up.
Oh, and I'm also living with my incredible girlfriend, Debbie (2.5 years!), and dog-like-alien-thing, Roxie, the pug. Life is good.

So let's cut straight to the main question: why am I crazy? Why did I leave an incredible job and forge out on my own?

If you've read my previous entries you've come to know that I don't take the "easy path." Bypassing Wall Street and moving to Israel to serve as a Lone Soldier was the first of a myriad decisions that set me on the path I am today. Simply put, I love challenges. I firmly believe that challenges make us who we are while defining the type of life we live.

Israel has received significant notoriety in recent years as the "Startup Nation." With the highest VC investment per capita and the highest density of startups in the world, the buzz is real. At Adotomi, I was thrown into the fire, learning how to sell to Korea and San Fransisco simultaneously. A heavy dosage of long hours, a tablespoon of persistence (what some would call hutzpah) and a dash--or two--of questioning the rules is the recipe for success in the Holy Land.

Our startup, Paq, is a mix of all of these components. More than anything, it's born out of our frustrations from the past few years:

Firstly, when I made Aliyah and began preparation for my military service, the logistics were a nightmare. Which government office did I need to go to for each step of the process? What hours were the offices open (usually something absurd like Mon and Wed from 10AM-1PM)? What do I need to bring (often 7 different forms)? Which buses take me there?

To be kind, it was asinine. There was no central resource, and worse yet, offices constantly moved. The only way to attempt to navigate the situation was word of mouth, but even that usually failed.

Secondly, while traveling after the army, I deferred to TripAdvisor, HostelBookers, and other resources for recommendations. However, I discovered that in South America (and later Southeast Asia), that often times the information on the websites was incorrect: the address was wrong or misplaced on the website's map. Beyond that, navigating many of the villages to find the hostel or food kiosk became a massive headache (if you're lucky to be in a village with street names, good luck reading them or sorting the street's 4 names).

Travelers quickly realize that with today's tools, after finding the hidden gems that make traveling so unique (street performers, city art, etc.), it's rather impossible to share. You tell your new friend at the hostel about the great empanada stand in Bariloche, she writes it down, and hunts all over the city to find it. Good luck with that one.

Ethan and I constantly discussed these frustrations and realized that they shared several core problems: 
  • Fractured: When we were looking for a relevant review or recommendation of a location, we were frustratingly switching between social networks, social discovery apps, emails, texts and Google searches, not to mention trying to find the actual physical location.
  • Mobile: While there are some decent desktop solution, current mobile map-making/location-sharing tools are either too complicated (made for experts who know what geo-spatial reasoning and what KML files are) or lack critical features that make the apps useful for you and me.
  • Privacy: While popular apps like Snapchat & YikYak have led a movement towards more social privacy, there isn’t a leading platform that’s designed to share content about locations privately with specific groups or people.
  • Inflexible: While several apps in the social discovery space succeed in allowing users to contribute and consume content about very well-defined locations (i.e. restaurants and bars), they lack the flexibility to provide context for sharing "abstract" locations such as the empanada stand in Bariloche or the best view of Halong Bay.
Identifying these problems, we got to work on the solution: Paq. First and foremost, we've put the map front and center, encouraging locations to be accurate and easily finding what's around you. Believing in privacy, we've created two options of sharing "boxes" (locations): privately and publicly. Similar to Whatsapp groups, the box creator determines who can see the private boxes, what the title of the box is, and where it can be moved.

Emphasizing flexibility is key for our vision. Boxes are labeled and searchable via #'s that users add: for one person the local pizza place is #peplovers while for another it's #bestpizza. In addition, long-pressing on any part of the map--regardless of where you are--will drop a box in that location.

The overarching frustration of the fractured experience kept haunting us, so we integrated with Google navigation. Now, if you select any box, a right-turn arrow icon pops up, letting you choose between Google Maps (and bus routes) or your favorite navigation apps such as Waze.

We are working in conjunction with the Michael Levin Lone Soldier Center to help lone soldiers solve the problems that haunted us. In addition, we've begun to penetrate the market of Israeli's traveling after the army with a better and safer way to travel. Travelers are transparently sharing hostel prices and for those offering bad services, making sure others stay away. Paq is the future of travel and a new level of consumer transparency.

The ultimate vision of Paq is to be the “One Map” the world uses to find any location, real-time recommendations, and the leading location-based advertising platform. We're working hard to achieve this dream, and with your help, we'll get there.

The first step is creating an incredible community, and that begins with you. If you have an Android, please download Paq...and don't forget to give us a nice rating! :)
Also, visit our website to read our blog and see awesome maps made by other Paqqers.

Always happy to chat privately...feel free to reach out to me:

Happy Paq'in!