Ship Mate, a startup incubated at UCLA’s startup incubator program, wants to be your cruise companion. Over half a million people have already downloaded the app that gives you all the information that you need to know before, during and after your cruise.
Jan and Mike Jirout, the two brothers behind Ship Mate have stocked their app to the hilt. It’s literally a one stop mobile destination for everything involving a cruise.
They’ve found that most users are downloading the app about a month before their cruise sets sail. In the pre cruise period Ship Mate is great for checking out rendezvous points and finding activities to participate in while on the cruise. You can also plan out your dining and see in advance ship maps and other resources that you didn’t even think of.
When it’s time to board your cruise ship Ship Mate has ship maps, ship information and even access to deck cams so you can see the action going on around you. There’s also photo galleries and social aspects like cruise chat that will allow you to chat with other users on and off your ship.
The Ship Mate app doesn’t stop after the cruise stops though. You can add more photos to the photo galleries, rate your cruise experience, rate locations and continue chatting about your cruise with others who have gone on cruises. People seem to love Ship Mate as they’ve already done over half a billion cross platform downloads and they’re seeing over 70,000 daily users.
We got a chance to talk with Mike Jirout about Ship Mate, check out the interview below:
What is Ship Mate?
Ship Mate is the most popular mobile app for individuals going on a cruise vacation. To date, the app has close to a half-million downloads on both the Android and iPhone platforms. The app has maintained a consistent spot in Apple’s Top 10 Travel Apps and experiences over 70,00 uses per day.
We strive to be the most valuable cruise resource before, during and after an individual’s cruise. Typically, our users download the app a few months prior to boarding – they use Ship Mate for practical reasons like booking excursions, setting an interactive packing checklist, and researching destinations. Other features serve to get the cruiser excited about their trip, including photo galleries, ship locator, deck cams, cruise countdown, and cruise chat (one of the most popular features) – with close to 500k downloads, we have the most active community of cruisers getting to know each other prior to sailing. While on the cruise, users are enjoying our app’s deck maps, ship location guides, budgeting feature, and the port info (history, tips, location ratings, etc). The worst part of a cruise is when it’s over – fortunately, Ship Mate users can continue to share photos, rate ships and locations, and chat about their experience with the cruise community.
Who are the founders and what are their backgrounds
The founders are brothers – Jan & Mike Jirout. Jan is the tech guy and Mike does the business stuff. Jan is a ninja-mobile development guru with a formal education from Brandeis and MSU and Mike is a master of business as stated by UCLA Anderson and prepped by Boston College.
Where are you based?
We’re currently in an incubator program on UCLA’s campus
What is the startup culture like where you are based?
The incubator is filled with smart, young, techies, who like to laugh and enjoy a good case of beer. We fit in well here.
We’ve strategically based our professional focus on the vacation industry and benefit from it frequently. The more that we can combine work and play, the better.
If there are any programmers out there that love a combination of the following… programming, exotic destinations, buffets, drinks with umbrellas, luxury cruise liners, traveling, slurpees – than we strongly encourage you to firstname.lastname@example.org
What problem does your startup solve?
We provide solutions for three very important players in the industry: cruisers, cruise agents, & port-retailers.
Cruisers: generally they have a very limited set of data to make decisions regarding their cruise. We provide them with a ton of resources to get excited for their trip and be fully prepared. Often cruisers find themselves in the middle of the ocean with no internet access and no good source of info regarding the port they’ll soon arrive at. They get off of the ship and are pulled in every direction by retailers and service providers desperate for their business. Cruise passengers quickly become overwhelmed with options – how should they travel around the port? What should they see? What retailers should they trust? Where is the best place to find ____? We provide as much info as possible (with help from our Ship Mate community), to make sure our users don’t get ripped off and make the most of their time at each destination.
Cruise Agents: mobile apps are the new go-to source of info – every business wants their own, but they’re extremely expensive to build and very time consuming. We’re now allowing agents to customize Ship Mate for their clients. They’ll be able to book a cruise, send Ship Mate to their client, and have their profile embedded in the app for all future communications and booking needs.
What is one challenge that you’ve overcome in the startup process?
Growing the team – in terms of employees, advisors, and potential financial partners.
Our primary focus has been product facing and we haven’t had the time to concentrate on expanding. We hope to change that very soon.
Retailers: shops and service providers are extremely dependent on the spending power of the cruiser market. These retailers have very limited and expensive options if they want to present their goods/services to those getting off the ship. We provide an extremely targeted audience to these retailers at a much more reasonable price. For a fraction of the price of alternative marketing options, they’re able to offer our users great deals and other incentives to visit while at port.
Who are your mentors and role models?
There are some very impressive travel / tech startups that we like to follow, such as hipmunk.com, airbnb.com, tripping.com, etc. We love meeting with these guys and always get some great advice. We also benefit from the mentorship of some very impressive individuals that we’ve met through the Startup UCLA program we’re currently participating in.
We’re currently speaking with some travel industry giants and hoping that an official mentor/advisor relationship pans out. If there are any travel and/or tech executives out there that are interested in changing the cruising world, we’d love to chat.
There are also have some personal mentors that we each have in our lives.
Whats one thing the world doesn’t know about you or your startup?
That we’re 100% dedicated to giving our users the best experience possible. We have so many people tell us that they’re surprised to get an email response from us or to see us correct their issue within 24 hours. They’re not used to hearing back from app developers – we want them to know that we’re all ears and encourage every piece of feedback or advice that they’d like to offer. That’s how we know what to do next.
What’s next for Ship Mate?
We’re pushing out our web site to give our users another avenue to get excited about their cruise. We’ve gotten a great response so far and think that it’ll be the most popular resource for cruisers soon. We encourage all of our mobile users to log in and to see additional functionality here: http://www.shipmateapp.com/shipmate/userhome.html