Kieka, the navigation app on a crusade to abolish the crowded commuter experience has launched in a rather unusual time of great need for social distance.
The London-centric app, which was a Covid19 Resilience Grant recipient, was founded by Josh Van Etten. We sat down with the half-British-Dutch Apptrepreneur to find out all about the app he founded and his vision for the future. We got to know Josh via email and video call to give you a double-dose of virtual acquaintanceship. So, if podcasts are your thing, then hit the play button below, or if you prefer a literary get-to-know-you, then keep on reading!
In this podcast:
- Josh and Kieka introduction (00:57)
- Why Josh created Kieka (02:04)
- What Josh hopes to achieve with the Covid19 Resilience Grant funding (03:15)
- Why Josh does not prefer the Facebook user acquisition platform (03:50)
- How and why the Singapore Government reached out to Kieka (04:55)
- What congestion looks like in London (06:52)
- What Kieka will look like in a post COVID-19 world (08:36)
- Advice for Apptrepreneurs (09:23)
Get to know Kieka
Please tell us about yourself and your app?
With a background in design & marketing, I work for an award-winning design agency helping launch apps like Supercell’s Brawl Stars to over 100 million downloads, and $270million in player spend. Over the past few years, I have helped startups build apps and products that have been featured on the global Apple AppStore. I am a digital designer at Waste Creative, a design agency in the heart of Farringdon, London. Graduating from University 3 years ago, I landed myself a job straight away, having only a one week gap from finishing my school life to a working career.
From that moment on, I found my stride being promoted twice in two years. I work with lots of amazing people and an environment where people’s personal work is praised tremendously. Working as a designer, I always have time for freelance projects, and this is where I met a now good friend Leo who owns his own app called Reelshot, which has been featured globally. He was the one who gave me the drive to build something of my own.
I was always torn between getting the Tube from Chancery Lane, or Farringdon with my office smack bang in the middle. There is nothing worse than finishing a long day of work and getting to the station to find the ticket hall rammed, sweaty armpits in your face and no explanation of how long it would be.
In a world where we can almost access any information, I thought it was crazy that I could never find out how busy a station was before leaving the office. I would rather stay for an extra 20 minutes, avoid that shoulder barging, and avoid that awkward shuffle to the front of the line to squeeze through a barrier.
So I started with wild ideas like putting noise monitoring machines in each station, I thought the louder it was the busier it would be, but quickly had too many issues. What if there is building work? What if there are screaming children? (which there are many!) Just too many variables to work with, so I was researching more and more and found TFL supply some congestion data from previous years.
This then sparked an entire chain of events that led me to find our developer late last year. Mark With over 20 years of top-level industry experience, Mark was a software architect at Nokia before the iPhone existed and has built apps featured by Apple in 20 countries. With previous experiences working on apps for Audi, BBC, Channel 4, and Domino’s Pizza, Mark has spent the entire year of 2020 building and testing Kieka vigorously. We got discussing the idea in more depth, and he just fell in love with the designs, the vision, and the need for an app like this. We ended up concluding that the best way to do this would be crowdsourced location data on top of previous years’ predictions. Our goal is simple, let people choose to stand in a crowded tube station or be notified when it’s quieter.
COVID has ramped up the need to avoid crowded and busy places. By giving people a choice, we want to make everyone feel safer while travelling. The Tube is such an integral part of our lives, so we need to get back to using it ASAP.
In an inherently industrial industry, we change the approach of old navigation apps by creating a stripped-back, user-friendly app spiced up with playful features and design elements to engage and delight users. With this playful approach, we use these five words to describe different levels of busyness at stations:
- Light Work
- Fucking Chaos
The government’s measures on commuting effectively during the pandemic involve commuters having to avoid travelling at certain times and on certain lines, which would be unnecessary if more people used Kieka. The app aims to be a part of the ‘new normal’ and aid the transition back into using public transport more frequently and efficiently, with a lower risk of spreading.
What made you apply for the Covid19 Resilience Grant?
As this is my first time launching an app for myself, it has definitely not been a smooth ride, but I can’t complain. It’s been a steep learning curve, but it has made it that much more enjoyable. I applied for the grant because marketing is such a massive part of making an app successful, and the first 10,000 users were always going to be tricky.
When I saw the grant opportunity, I thought we might be a perfect candidate as we have hit the ground running, getting some fantastic feedback and potential leads but lacking that real edge on ads to help us scale. Working as a designer, I had of course, heard and knew what App Samurai did, so I thought your AI-driven tool could help us. As a completely free app, the benefit for users is massive in a time like this.
What are you hoping to achieve with these funds?
This is most definitely going to be used for our scale-and-grow strategy. Facebook marketing is a mess and if we can use AppSamurai to gain our first 10,000 users we will be ready to go for our seed funding and coming back for more ads!
How has the pandemic impacted your business?
We are fortunate in the sense that COVID has made our USP even more valuable “avoid busy stations” but it has thrown its fair share of issues. Especially when we were developing, it was challenging to get our dev to come down to London to test it. We had to work out ways to adapt and overcome these scenarios.
To start with, we wanted to create a geofenced station that would allow us to track people going in and out of certain areas, but with COVID, it was impossible to test this, so we ended up creating a way to collect people’s locations and work backward. It’s not ideal, and we will change it, but for this stage, we are happy. Sometimes it’s better to collect slightly more than less.
The most significant impact and we still are unsure of how this will play out is that a lot fewer people use the tubes, last year there were over a billion journeys. I dread to think what that number will be this year. We have some smart ways to navigate through these times and are excited to grow.
Overall I think we have been lucky with COVID compared to most as we don’t have overheads, and it allowed us to focus our time in creating the best product. I think it shows in the final outcome. It really is a product of passion!
Who was your greatest mentor during your career?
I wouldn’t say I have one specific mentor but different mentors that help me through different stages. But looking back, there are two that really have shaped my attitude. Firstly it was my 3rd-year tutor at University. I remember going to a tutorial one day about one-third of my way through the final year, she asked “what do you want out of your university education?”.
The reason she asked was I didn’t do so well in the first term. I replied, “I want to come out of here with a 2:1!” and long story short, she said the only way that will happen is if you get a first in your Final Major Project, so that settled it. I came in every day, worked my ass off, and when it came round to collecting my grades, I got a high 1st. The best grade I had ever got! I never felt so proud of myself. It showed me that if you want something really bad, all it takes is hard work!
The second person who drove me a lot was my older brother, he is two years older than me and has always been “better” when it comes to work and education. For my last two years of University my brother was working in London and smashing it. I was so proud of him, and he was getting promotions left, right, and centre. Whenever I spoke with him, he was always working and grafting to push himself. The competitive nature as brothers has always been there between us.
I think the two of them have shown me that hard work pays off. It has really been the driving force behind me building and creating Kieka. I think it can be summed up by the Thomas Jefferson quote “I find that the harder I work, the more luck I seem to have”