Following my first DC Tech Meetup (last weeks feature), I had a chance to compile a list of top demonstrators who are looking to shake up the DC Tech scene this year. CapitolHop – a local transit app, topped my list and this week I had a chance to follow up with the duo to get their perspectives on all things social and tech. Though still infant to the DC Tech world, my intro to what an app launch party looks like was filled with stacks on stacks of Papa Johns pizza, accompanied by a cooler with a seemingly endless supply of beer, a variety of other spirits, nice spread of more tasty treats, charitable giving and a fun crowd of supporters, all set to the backdrop of an industrial urban chic creative studio…well done.
Beyond the specs and party people, the thing (or individuals) that stood out the most were the creators of this new transit app looking to shake up the DC commuter world. The CaptiolHop duo is fronted by Scott Simpson and Chetan Shenoy. These fellas aren’t exactly new to the tech scene, both recently worked with the iStrategyLabs as a designer and developer respectfully. What they are new to however is the app development, creation, and ownership process — this is the duos first app together. As you can imagine, a launch party is a great social time but doesn’t really allow the chance to record insights without keeping the host from the party (or maybe I just haven’t perfected it yet). I had a chance to catch up with Scott and Chetan over the phone to get this insight and see what’s next in store for CapitolHop.
I’m glad you guys we’re able to join on us for #TechTuesday. Before we start, can you tell me more about your individual roles with CapitolHop?
Scott: I am a user interface and user experience designer. So my job is basically to wireframe the app. Try to figure out all the different interactions that is going to take place, and then design something around that. So to put it simply, my job is to make the app user friendly and beautiful.
Chetan: I did all the iOs development and our backend servers, to make sure we’re feeding that information realtime. Yea, those two aspects.
And right now CapitolHop is only available on iOs devices, right?
Chetan: Yea, only on iOs right now.
Thoughts on Android app in the near future, maybe? No?
Scott: Maybe, we’ve had a lot of requests for that so it’s pretty high on our list!
On the Monday leading up to their launch party, the duo took on the DC Metro Challenge, which chronicles man’s attempts to traverse the Washington Metrorail system. The current record is set at 6 hrs, 26 mins — Chetan and Scott did it in 6 hrs, 43mins.
Cool cool, so let’s jump into our more topic specific questions. Let’s talk launch party — do you guys feel that the Launch Party was a success? What’re your overall thoughts of the event?
Chetan: Yea, I mean I think it was definitely a success. What Scott, we had about around 100 people…
Scott: Yea, we had around 100 people sign-up. We ended raising I think around $750 for Byteback, which is really successful – in my mind. Yea, we had a lot of people come out, we had a good time. We definitely raised the awareness of the app, I think our downloads pretty much tripled because of the launch party.
Very impressive. That leads me a bit to my next question — so why did you guys choose Byteback? I know a little bit about their organization from meeting with them and previous interactions, but can you tell me more about why you guys specifically chose them?
Chetan: We’ve been a part of the DC Tech scene for a while, and we’ve heard about a lot of…I mean naturally in DC you hear about a lot of nonprofits, through the whole scene we’ve heard a lot about these guys. I think it helps that they are doing tech stuff. You know, teaching people who typically haven’t been taught these things growing up like computer skills that are very necessary these days. I think that resonated with us as people of tech. So we kind of wanted to use that launch party as a platform to raise awareness, not only for our efforts, but for things that are happening in DC and raise some money like we did.
Very cool, very cool. So, I liked the venue by the way it was pretty sick. Again, I’m fairly new to DC – I just moved here back in July for work – so you know, theres still many things I feel like I have yet to explore. When I walked into to the venue, I was like ‘whoa’ …It had this whole industrial urban chic thing going (DC swank). How did you guys go about finding and getting such a cool venue?
Scott: Yea so, we both use to work for a company called iStrategylabs, they’re kind of a design agency/marketing firm based in Dupont Circle. We were good friends with one of the guys that worked there, and he recently just joined as the COO of the creative agency nclud. Since we’re good friends with him he allowed us to use their venue, and they even donated some money to Byteback…helped us put it all together. They were a huge help.
Nice. It’s about building relationships as I’m reminded. We’re now going to move on to the more tech portion of our talk. Tell me just about the development of CapitolHop? Why did you guys come up with the idea, and what sets it apart from the other apps out there?
Scott: So I think one of the main reason was Chetan and I both take public transit quite a bit. Neither one of us has cars, and so we rely on…well before we built CapitolHop, we relied on these other apps to sorta predict when the next train or bus was coming. Um, I think the main problem with other apps we were using was that they were pretty unreliable most of the time, the user interface was just not very intuitive, also the third thing was a lot of times we had to use multiple apps to accomplish one thing. For example like I use to have an app that gave me live bus departures and one that gave me all the live train departures. We kind of wanted to just combine both of those into one, into a really nice simple easy to use interface. Which I don’t think has really been made yet, until CapitolHop, for DC.
Chetan: The other thing was, that we wanted to build something, um…I mean this is our first app together, our first app in general actually, first native app, and so I think we saw that transit is something that everyone just has on them. It’s not like the sexiest space, it’s not like a social thing, we’re not requiring any Facebook integration or anything like that. If you look at top apps in every urban city in America, and probably worldwide, the top apps are usually the transit apps, it’s how you get around. So I think, that was a big thing for us as well too.
Scott: Yea, and we also wanted to give something back to DC… DC has a great community, a great tech community and we wanted to give something back to that as well.
How do you factor in the Washington Metropolitan Transit Authority (WMTA) delays? Since you are pulling real time data, do you guys ever encounter times where what they’re giving you is not always what’s being run at the time?
Chetan: That’s unfortunately the name of the game. That we do have to rely on WMTA and the NextBus system, which actually isn’t owned by WMTA. It’s not only we have to depend on WMTA, we have to depend on third party providers, depend on traffic conditions being correct, it’s a lot of dependencies. Especially with v.1 we can’t really focus too much on worrying about that, so we’re sorta just feeding data directly.
Scott: Yea you know unfortunately the app can only be as good as the data we’re receiving, but there’s some pretty cool things in the features that we want to do, to kind of help improve that data and help people know if that information is accurate or not.
This goes into my next question about future developments. What do you guys foresee being in any future CapitolHop upgrades? I know at the launch party you guys talked a lot about wanting to focus it as local. I liked that mention a lot, because here at the blog our big thing is Think Social, Go Local, Be Global. So you can be a socially driven person, who is a local and involved in their community, while understanding that their impact can be global even on a local scale. So with future developments, what do see CapitolHop incorporating to make the user experience even better than it is now. Like, making it the premier DC Transit app?
Chetan: Ha. Scott and I were discussing this earlier but one of the biggest things that not only we want, but we’ve heard users want, is trip planning. I think even you were pointing this out to me when we were at the party, that I think Transit does that and we don’t. That’s one big thing we want to put in like on a future update.
Scott: Yea, and another one is SmartTrip data. So being able to attach your SmartTrip card to the app, and then being able to check your balance. I know that’s something that hasn’t really been integrated into any of the other apps as of yet. Another thing is going back to the last point I was talking about, how we want to inform people whether or not this data we’re pulling is accurate at a time. We thinking even trying to bring in some social elements, because a lot of people like to complain via twitter about a bus or train being late (i.e. @unsuckdcmetro)…so bringing in some social data.
Nice. So the final section is on social. We’re exploring the thoughts on the social impact of tech. We’ve seen the Facebook impact and the Twitter impact, but the more and more we dive into the world of tech we see that its become synopsis with our daily lives. Could you guys give me your insights and perspective, on how tech can leave a positive and sustainable social impact?
Chetan: That’s a really deep questions. Ha, I mean it’s cool I like it. I think one of the biggest things about tech and the web in general, is that it’s all about information and users access to that information. That’s why people love Google, and these days it’s all about Facebook, Twitter, and all those social things, because we’re getting information a lot quicker and a lot more accurate. Whereas in the past you had to depend on government bodies or someone else to get information, but now you can go straight to the source. Like Twitter, we’re seeing things bypass official news sources to get real time information on stuff, and I mean including transit stuff…people are seeing that information and that’s where that value is created. I think that’s the biggest part of tech, is more people are using these thing, more people have access to cellphones and smartphones as well…and so it’s just about making sure people have information is the biggest thing.
Scott: The only thing I would add is that I’ve found that people in the tech community to be some of the most helpful people out there. For example, we reached out to a couple of people who’ve already made transit app asking them for help on how do we accomplish this, how do we do this, etc. Everyone that we spoke with, were more than helpful with us accomplishing that. Which was more than helpful. One of the stuff that we even used within the app was something that a lot of people contributed to, which was some of the code that was used for CapitolHop.
Chetan: Right, it’s a lot of open source. I think DC is really good about the whole open source scene, which allows more and more people to learn, to use, to create all these things which we all depend on at the end of the day. I think the more people use it, the more it spreads, and the more equitable we can all become in the future. It’s not just one sector I feel like is benefiting, it’s almost everyone benefits with open source and tech.
What inspires you to design and develop?
Scott: For me, I love seeing somebody out there that’s using something that I’ve made and it’s helping me them. Something that is helping them catch the train or catch bus, I get a lot satisfaction out of seeing other people use the things that I’ve made, and hopefully helping them out.
Cheetan: Definitely to add on to that, we do get a lot of pride out of that. I think the other thing is that when we see other apps or services and we’re like we have the ability to make that better and we know we do, so why not show it instead of just talking about it. I think that’s like a big driving factor for us, is to create these things.
My final question for you guys is, what do you guys hope will be the social impact of CapitolHop?
Cheetan: I think ideally we’d like to get to the point where it’s the app that people go to. It’s synopsis with traveling within inter city, like public transit. We want it to be the app everyone uses to get around.
Scott: Yep…Our whole goal is to make something that makes people’s lives easier, like traveling around the city.
If you’re in the area you should definitely download and navigate DC with CapitolHop. It’s practical usage and sleek design makes it a one stop shop easy to use transit app…and plus it’s local! Peace, Love, and #TechTuesday!
Mariel Kanene is Founder and Editor of TheArtOfPersptive.co and lead storyteller with a focus on music, startups and travel. His passion for storytelling was born in Kinshasa, Congo and bred in Washington, DC where he resides. By day, Mariel spends his days slowly trying to change the world—one meaningful interaction at a time. He loves reading factual-fiction, good podcasts, traveling, health and fitness, foreign languages and good conversations over good coffee and even better rum. He hates talking about himself in third person.Thanks for stopping by. Always appreciated. Find me on: Twitter | Instagram | Linkedin | Website.