Hi, we are Sandbox, a collective of women in tech from Asia, South America, and the US offering a unique perspective to the team with skills in development, UI/UX, marketing, and project management. We are 5 strangers brought together by our passion for travelling in a fun and safe way, and a strong desire to create a product we can all use as fellow travellers.
This is the story of Hodo.
Hodo comes from Ancient Greek and signifies road; path; travel. Sandbox is on a journey to create the best experience for a user whether they are travelling solo, or with others, by combining the power of Cloud, Machine Learning, and Chat integration to become the world’s best travel companion. If you're in need of an activity before or during your travels, Hodo is here to provide relevant, essential information. Hodo solves the challenge of not knowing where to start when it comes to activities and finding out everything you need to know about a specific area for planning purposes and emergency support. We are here to give you access to the information you need instantly.
What it does
The IoT problem we are trying to solve is by making lesser-known, and usually unrated information known in a broader way. As some local activities and experiences are lesser-known due to the lack of their own website, we are helping support their business by creating a portal that connects travellers to these gems. We also solve the issue of not having connectivity when you're travelling and feeling frustrated not knowing what to do or where to go because you don't have internet service. Hodo connects all the information in our database about the user, preferences and all activities & resources to display it in a smart way via chat.
Hodo exists to solve the challenge of not knowing what to do or where to find support before you travel, and while you’re travelling. Hodo shares ideas based on user preferences, and our knowledge of all travel destinations, broadly and locally. We help travellers make the most of their precious time by offering activities that are not only top-rated but have been vetted by our Hodo travel experts. We also serve as a resource to help users understand local currency, local transport and ride-sharing options, country entry and exit requirements, the status of COVID, and local contacts for hospitals, embassies and other important services.
Users can see activity suggestions and resources through desktop, mobile app, and chatbot experience via text message. Our chatbot component is crucial as we have also personally experienced destinations where there’s limited connectivity. This causes frustration when you’re not able to find an activity or an alternative plan if the weather decides to change for the worse. We are here for the traveller during their time of need: instantly.
Scenarios: What if the user is caught in a rainstorm, and needs to figure out an alternative plan? Text Hodo (4636) your location, and Hodo will reply with available suggestions via text.
- If you are interested in an Option, press the Option Code: 1, 2, 3 & so forth (depending on the list size), and Hodo will provide more details on how to get there, distance from your current location, and whether the activity is ticketed or not.
What if you or someone you’re travelling with is experiencing an emergency, at that moment, but don’t have enough Internet access to load the app or mobile browser?
- Text Hodo (4636) with HELP and Hodo will list out the local police contact (and distance from your location if your GPS is on) and the closest hospital
- If you select an Option: Take me to the closest Hospital, Hodo will automatically help you dial the closest ride-share, or inform you on the fastest way to get to the location based on current traffic and knowledge of the local area
We will be offering a FREE version and a PREMIUM version.
Free The most common languages, globally:
- Mandarin Chinese
If a user is aware of where they’d like to travel to, they’ll create a Destination Profile. This is required as it allows us to suggest the most relevant activities, and provide the most relevant resources for a user to consider.
If a user is unaware of where they’d like to travel to, we will offer an option to “Explore Places”, which will take the traveller to the trending destinations in real-time. They can view more Destination Ideas which will lead the user to a zoomed-out map, along with a dropdown to narrow down their choice. Once they select a location, we’ll zoom in on the map to showcase the levels of COVID in real-time (eventually after the pandemic is at a manageable place, we will show levels of tourism instead), but based on what’s happening with our world in current times, having a legend showcasing the levels of COVID is likely to impact a user’s decision on whether they’d move forward with visiting a destination or not.
If a user chooses a destination, and would like to “Explore”, they’ll be prompted to fill out their Destination Profile.
If a user is a Guest (not logged in), and chooses not to share their information with Hodo, they’ll be taken to the Destination Survey and the user will be led to a screen to fill out the Destination Survey without needing to input travel dates. As the Guest is not logged in or chooses to share their profile with us, we will limit results shared, and will only offer (1) language, English.
If a user is logged in, Hodo will automatically welcome the user back, and take them to their Destination Profile (based on their last logged in activity). The user will also have the ability to add another Destination Profile, or they can stay edit their current Destination Profile.
Chatbot feature offered, if enabled: Users will be able to choose how often to receive the messages
- receive updates as it comes
- receive a daily digest at X time (user gets to choose)
- receive a weekly digest
We plan to monetize through our Premium features, at $50/annual per user. This is competitively priced against TripIt.
In-Depth Local Activities: Hodo will provide more localized activities which aren’t as publicly offered. Let us do the legwork (we will be creating partnerships with local guides to help you find the most unique experiences that you can’t easily find on top forums like TripAdvisor) of finding the best activities a certain area has to offer, and how to book or visit, step-by-step. This will also affect the granularity of the messages our chatbot will share with the user.
Community: A place for premium users to discuss travelling topics, and form meet-ups. This will also be a place where travellers can easily connect with local guides directly.
Languages: What’s offered in Free + 20 other languages. If your local language is not offered, please share with firstname.lastname@example.org and we can take your feedback to integrate into our next version.
COVID Updates: We will share push notifications and update the app in real-time to share the latest on affected areas, and if it may affect your Destination Profile, and where you are currently located (if you allow the app to track your location).
Interface can change day to night mode and offers suggestions in real-time based on local time zone. For instance, if a premium user opens the app at 5 pm (local time), they’ll be shown suggestions for dinner and nightlife.
How we built it
Once we had our idea to become a travel resource, we conducted a survey using Google Forms to better understand travel habits and challenges. We were able to conduct primary research from close to 50 participants. This allowed us to narrow down our user experience and helped us identify where we can competitively offer a solution. We learned:
- People travelling solo or with friends/family have major concerns for safety and security. One of the reasons for their frustrations when it comes to travel planning comes from language barriers.
- Travelers want a robust itinerary so they don’t have to waste time looking up activities while they’re travelling.
- While on solo trips, travellers would like to meet like-minded people who are in the same vicinity.
- 89% of surveyed mentioned they prefer the flexibility to do what they want and when they want.
- 60% claim the desire to travel more often than pre-pandemic.
- 50% will take longer trips if they have the flexibility to work remotely.
- In addition, based on survey results, we were also able to narrow our target audience: Age group (31-40) travels 1-3 times a year & the age ranges (25-30) & (40-55) takes trips more than 3 times a year
Persona 1 - Solo Traveller (Racheal) Racheal is a business professional who runs her own startup in New York, often busy with meetings and calls all day. She prefers travelling solo and during her vacation time, she loves to set her own schedule as she explores new countries, experiences local food, and immerses herself in different cultures. She enjoys meeting other fellow travellers during her trip and have their company share an evening at a cafe over a cup of coffee.
- Top Apps: Tripadvisor, Airbnb
- Source of Information: Google, Travel Blogs, Recommendations/Suggestions From Friends
- Have a blend between the tourist & local experience
- Meet new people
- Get good advice from locals for food, social activities, shopping
- Worried about safety in new places of unfamiliar people and culture
- Hope to meet new friends who can do adventurous and fun stuff together but is uncertain
- Overwhelming travel guides
- Lack of available on the go information
- Not knowing where locals eat which places are safe to stay and travel
Persona 2 - People travelling with friends/family (Leon) Leon is an animator, who travels quite often. He enjoys trips with this family and close friends as long as he gets the liberty to explore and experience the locals. He enjoys the flexibility to visit places at the luxury of his own time and gets to know more about the people, their culture, and the history of the place.
- Top Apps: Tripadvisor, Airbnb
- Source of Information: Google, Recommendations/Suggestions From Friends
- Experience as much of the culture as possible
- Be more organized on a trip and use time wisely
- Prefers to do initial research on his own but doesn’t like asking an expert for help
- Complicated transportation
- Breakdowns in communication
- Visa rules and process
- Traveling long distances from the desired locations
- Experiences that aren’t family-friendly
- Unreliable travel plan information online
Following our market research, we also conducted competitive research based on the existing resources users pointed out in the survey that they commonly use to conduct trip planning
- Easily keeping personal itinerary in one location to know your schedule.
- Knowing co-workers' schedules while they travel.
- Having all confirmation numbers in one place.
- Summarises travel information.
- User interface hasn't been updated in years.
- Tripit is very USA travel-centric. Many confirmations for European bookings need a manual entry.
- Calendar sync should be near real-time.
- The website has a "registered till" date far in the future.
- Travel services seem to be offered on this site.
- The identity of the owner of the website is hidden.
- The Alexa rank (how much traffic) is rather low
- Great place to find amazing people.
- Must try for new friends and great conversations.
- Subscription is pricey.
- Trip planning made easy; vetted by travel experts
- The price point isn’t for the typical traveller; targets users in the higher-income bracket based on their pricing model and suggestions
When it came to developing the application, we took all the primary market research and knowledge of our competitors into consideration to focus on specific features:
- A global-centric interface, with the ability to review activity suggestions in a language the user is most comfortable with
- A chatbot feature (missing from the other travel resource sites)
- Resource hub to pair activities and centralized information on specifics of the location (currency accepted, local transport options, etc)
After focusing on our key features, the first step is sketching. At this stage, the UI/UX designer prepares the concept and flow of the app with the help of the rest of the team, including input from the Project Manager and Developer advising what’s feasible to build within a certain timeframe. At this time, we also discussed the branding identity of our product and went through several iterations of our logo, and what we want it to represent. This also helped us align on the visual identity: colour palette, logos, icons, and our brand voice.
After we were satisfied with a draft of the wireframes, we developed a prototype to start the development process which is divided into two parts:
The frontend: Django guarantees a flawless user-friendly experience. This involves data selection, formatting, and display, URL management.
The backend: Django Architecture (MTVC) Models: Describes your data Views: Controls what users see Template: How users sees it/HTML/CSS/JS Controller: URL dispatcher
During this time, we collaborated by questioning the flow of the product, the interface, and the user experience, and subsequently added additional frames as we discussed different versions of the user experience:
- What does a user see when they are logged in?
- What does a user see when they are first signing up?
- What does a user see if they decide to continue as a guest?
- What does a free user see vs a premium user?
Ultimately, given the timing, we weren't able to continue development and re-focused our time in fine-tuning the user experience since Devpost did not require building a functioning MVP, and we had a choice to develop a prototype concept for an application that can later become a functioning product.
We used Sketch App, and Invision App to plan our wireframes and create the user experience. This ultimately helped us refine our copy, identity, and the features we'd want to show.
We also used Canva to assist with our submission. After our wireframes were done, we animated it and added on Narration (via Zoom recording) to layer on an mp4 of a team member speaking to call out each feature.
Challenges we ran into
Branding Misalignment: We had an idea of what we wanted our service to be, and how we can make an impact on fellow travellers after reviewing survey results. Branding is crucial and serves as a north star for all the messaging our service will convey. We went through several rounds before aligning on a colour palette, and logo.
It's all in the details: We re-worked the plan after the initial wireframes were laid out; we questioned ourselves to evaluate each step to see if the user experience made sense. There was no detail too small. Every decision we made affected progress. Because of 1 pivot, the wireframes would need to be updated, as with the user experience mock, as with the narration for our video, and even this submission and how we frame our product.
Start small, think big (but we did the opposite): We wanted to add on a lot of different features to make this an “all-in-one” such as having a trip itinerary component, but we pivoted to focus on our strength of just simply being a travel companion for users so they can have fun, explore, and do it safely knowing we’d have resources available for them in-app or through text message.
Anxiety of not having development skills. This had caused doubts about our role within the team and within the hackathon itself. One would think: to join a hackathon, I need dev skills, right? This was a recurring thought amongst a few members. We found synergy through our strengths, not through what we lacked.
Accomplishments that we're proud of
Timing: It's incredible how much can be achieved in such a short amount of time. We were in shock every time we reached a milestone and saw the results of our labour when the screens came to life during Invision App preview, and when drafting our video submission. Even narrating it, which we thought was going to be tough to script, was effortless because we knew our product well enough towards the end.
Communication: We all have full-time obligations, whether it's school or work. The majority of us were able to clearly set expectations on when we were available to review or give feedback. We also had planned calls that worked for most time zones, generally at 8 AM EST. This helped us align and stay focused on the team.
Creating: We're all creators in our own way. As explained in Challenges, we called out our strengths instead of focusing on the skills we lacked. It became very clear, very fast how our roles would be defined based on those characteristics.
What we learned
- Language barriers are not a barrier at all.
- If you have a goal, you will do everything to work towards it. We are highly motivated individuals, not hackers. Only 1 of us had a hackathon experience out of 5.
- We learned the process of working with new systems and tools we weren't accustomed to.
What's next for Hodo
- Win this hackathon!
- Develop a working prototype and secure an initial round of partnerships for activities and tours
- Organize the first round of users
- Launch beta test for free & premium (with travel influencers)
- Improve interface based on the feedback of users
- Improve interface based on additional surveying of non-users
- Re-develop Hodo and adjust brand voice, if needed
- Relaunch beta to more users
- Collect additional feedback
- Generate additional partnerships after identifying user volume
- Get in touch with local tour guides from the most popular visited destinations
- Create conversion models to project revenue and raise funds
- Finalize what premium memberships look like based on key features used