Announcing City Notes, A New Mobile Travel Startup By… Me!
Short version: I just launched a new company, City Notes, which I’ve been working on for several months. We are making what we hope will be the best and most interesting travel guides for iPhones and iPads. Our first iPhone app, a special New York City Holiday Guide, is now in the App Store for $2.99. Please buy it and let me know what you like and don’t like. Read about it on TechCrunch. And follow us at @CityNotesTravel as we launch a lot more stuff next year, including our first bunch of city guides and our website.
Longer version: When I left my full-time job at Business Insider in the summer of 2011, my plan was to build something. I wasn’t sure yet what I wanted to build, and I started SplatF mostly to keep me busy, keep my name out there, and, ideally, pay the rent. It has succeeded at all of those. But despite a bunch of inbound requests, I didn’t want to build another tech news site into a full-blown company; I’d just done that, and I wasn’t so excited about building another banner-ad-littered website with super-short content shelf life.
I quickly figured out that I wanted to do something in mobile — it’s the future of media and computing, and a massive market, as I’d reported for years at BI and Forbes — and that I wanted to build real, honest things and sell them to people, not just “collect eyeballs.” Meanwhile, I had a broader life goal of getting off my ass more often and not sitting in front of the computer all day. I wanted to spend more time seeing the world, talking to people, thinking, and creating — not just starting at pixels. Thus my gig this year traveling and writing about real-world tech for ReadWrite.
I’ve been obsessed with travel since I was a kid. It probably has something to do with my last name — no, I’m not related to those Frommers, or this would have been a lot easier — and the fact that a nice trip once a year was about the only thing my parents ever spent money on. In 2004, after college, I backpacked around Europe for three months and started a travel blog to keep everyone back home in the loop. It was surprisingly popular, and I later kinda-tried turning it into a web business. But I was always too busy with my real job as a tech reporter, and never gave the travel site enough time, so it rotted.
About a year ago, I decided that my next business would finally combine my two interests: Mobile and travel. I’ve been frustrated with travel/guide apps on the iPhone and iPad, especially as I’ve traveled extensively with both devices over the past few years. The best guides are still in print, or are only available for one or two cities, or don’t work without data roaming, or don’t really approach mobile devices the way they should.
Meanwhile, for years, I’ve had a bunch of text files of ‘city notes’ that I’ve exchanged with travel-savvy friends. These became the best guides to the cities we knew well, including great food, cute shops, interesting neighborhoods, nice walks, etc. But they weren’t always current and they weren’t very elegant. I thought: Why don’t I make these text files into beautiful apps, keep them current, and sell them to people?
So, here we are. For now, the plan is pretty straightforward: To make really simple, interesting travel guides, designed first for the iPhone and iPad, and sell them. Our goal isn’t to rehash Wikitravel or display 300 touristy dumps on a map. We want to help you find the best and most interesting places in a city, not the most famous or most obvious, so you can have a great time.
It’s part technology company, it’s part media company, and it’s the products I’ve always wanted to use and build. And it’s easily the project I’d most want to spend the next several years of my life working on. It will be a fun challenge to build a fan base around a new brand, and to establish myself as a travel expert. But I’ve done this a couple times with tech, now, so I think I can do it again.
Since this past summer, I’ve been working with an agency program called Start and Build to create the first version of my apps and the simple CMS we’ll use to publish a lot of these apps, quickly and inexpensively. I’ve also recruited a partner, Mark Dorison, who will be taking over engineering and product as co-founder/CTO, as we eventually grow City Notes into a full-time project. Mobile publishing is in its infancy, travel is a huge market that we both love, and we’re stupidly excited about this opportunity.
We’ll launch a bunch more apps next year — I’m in Tokyo right now, in fact, researching for our guide — and some non-app stuff, too. But for now, we’d love to see how our New York Holiday Guide does, so please check it out, tell any friends who are visiting New York over the next few weeks, and let us know what you think. (We’ll also be building up our network of interesting curators around the world, to help us edit and promote the guides. Let us know if you have any leads.)
Oh, and what about SplatF? I’ve admittedly been slacking — the past few weeks especially — as I’ve been rushing to ship our first City Notes app. But my plan is to keep posting on SplatF forever. The volume may fluctuate, and the article topics may shift a bit to some of the stuff I’m thinking more about these days. You may get some more posts about wacky iPhone cases and paraphernalia abroad as I travel more. But SplatF isn’t going anywhere. (If anything, it could use a paint job.) Say Media exclusively awaits your sponsorship ideas.
As always, I’d love your feedback. For City Notes-related stuff, find me at firstname.lastname@example.org. For SplatF-related stuff, email@example.com works best. (No article pitches, though, please — that ship has sailed.)
Thanks for reading. Now check out City Notes.
Check out my new site: The New Consumer, a publication about how and why people spend their time and money.