Our Start-up of the Week is Hiiker, an application that helps users discover, plan and track their long-distance hikes.
Meath-native Paul Finlay is the CEO, founder and lead developer of Hiiker. Prior to starting his own company, he spent much of his life working in his family’s bookmaking business, before completing an MBA.
Hiiker combines Finlay’s passion for the outdoors with his interest in app development, and aims to provide what he describes as a “much-needed solution for hikers all around the world”.
Finlay set up the business with his friends Eoin Hamilton and Peter Britton. Britton covers all areas related to design and Hamilton’s the media and marketing expert, while Finlay is a self-taught developer.
‘While the context of the app is quite niche, the scale is vast and global’
– PAUL FINLAY
The team’s goal is making it easier to plan long-distance and multi-day hikes, with a platform that provides information on routes, accommodation, weather and more.
“There has been a huge rise in participation of outdoor activities in recent years,” Finlay told Siliconrepublic.com.
“In particular, hiking has had an explosion in numbers. As an activity for all ages, there’s a huge opportunity for this app to become the go-to for planning hikes.”
The business is targeting hikers who want to transition from a casual day-long outing to something more challenging, such as a multi-day or even multi-week hike. Finlay said the ultimate goal is to document every multi-day hiking trail in the world.
“We have focused on Europe, Australia and New Zealand until now, but the focus is shifted to North America, with the goal of launching 500 trails there in February 2020,” he added.
The technology behind Hiiker
Currently, there is a free version of the Hiiker app that gives access to routes and basic tools to start exploring, but users can also pay once-off fees and monthly subscriptions to get access to premium features, trail information and offline maps.
“Hiiker is as much about the merging of existing technologies as it is about the creation of new advantages. The processing tools and production line for creating trails have allowed a team of five people in five countries to create a streamlined system for quickly processing trails,” Finlay said.
“The team maps out the trails using a variety of open-source data, high-quality satellite imagery, and even hiking on the ground to ensure the trail lines accurately reflect the reality on the ground.”
#hiikertrails Here is the TMB, the Tour du Mont Blanc that goes through 3 countries, and what, at times, feels like completely culturally distinct areas. In a days hiking, people speak a different language, eat different food, it's an unusual experience. https://t.co/RazSjFFPTd pic.twitter.com/VWUDTBbfwc
— Hiiker (@hiiker__) December 26, 2019
Finlay explained that, typically, a traditional publication could spend up to €10,000 creating a guide for a trail. But within a year this information could be outdated due to a changing landscape or the opening and closing of businesses along the trails.
“The Hiiker production system allows us to accurately reflect the trail, get the latest data and information about ancillary amenities and continuously update and improve the data based on user input,” he said.
Within five weeks of launching, Hiiker made it to the top three grossing apps in Ireland and the UK on the Google Play Store, and is now averaging 10,000 monthly users, according to Finlay.
Challenges and plans for the future
The start-up boss said that the team has faced numerous challenges setting up Hiiker. “The shortage of resources has forced us to create more and more efficient ways to process data. Originally, we were processing trails at a rate of one or two per week, and the efficiencies have meant that a single trail processor can now add up to 50 trails.
“While the context of the app is quite niche, the scale is vast and global,” Finlay added.
“Understanding the global marketplace for hiking can be tricky. Additional, hiking is seasonal. Most people do a long-distance hike in late spring, summer or early autumn. Hence, we are focusing our marketing efforts on the southern hemisphere for the back end of the year.”
It can also be difficult to start a B2C company in Ireland, he explained, with much of the investment available being targeted at B2B companies that aim to secure large multinationals as customers. However, he said: “Dublin is a fantastic hub for start-ups. There are so many events on, which we can use to network and learn more about potential opportunities.”
The company does intend to seek investment, mainly to help build on its catalogue in existing markets. Finlay said that the company is also interested in going after shorter weekend hiking routes.
“Investment would allow us to hire trail processors to expand this and to encourage more users to purchase subscriptions as they can get value more often out of the app, rather than once-off purchases of trails.”
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