Lion's Lair: Hamilton start-up's app is your personal guide to explorations of all kinds

Just months old, Walkbug is an app that can guide everything from a city tour to your golf game.
Chad Fullerton, Al Mithani and Nageeb Twal are founding members of Walkbug. (Julia Chapman/CBC)

On vacation in Europe with his wife, Al Mithani was on a walking tour and noticed wall after wall of cool graffiti.

He thought — there should be an app for that.

"Is there a walking tour for graffiti?" Mithani asked his guide.

The response was, 'not today,' and he thought it would be great to be able to walk around the city with his smartphone as a guide at his own pace and at his own time.

Mithani brought that idea back to Hamilton, where he partnered with seven local professionals and students in the communications, technology and business industries to make Walkbug, a smartphone app that uses tour paths to encourage city exploration.

Those tours — either curated by the Walkbug team or crowd sourced from users — can be as general as 'the best coffee shops in Westdale' or as niche as 'cool places around Hamilton to take photos of your car,' if that's what you're into, said Nageeb Twal, another Walkbug team member.

And Mithani, a passionate Hamiltonian like the rest of the team, is eager to get people out and about in the city where he was born and raised. 

The app

Walkbug should make you feel like you've got a friend in every city. That's their tagline, Mithani said.

The app differentiates from other apps that offer walking tours in that Walkbug adds video and audio elements to make the tour more personal.

McMaster students will use the Walkbug app this fall to guide themselves around the campus with a walking tour. (Julia Chapman/CBC)

"It tells a story as you're walking through," Chad Fullerton, a Walkbug team member, said.

"[The user] can leave a point on a map saying 'order this burger' or 'come here at sunset,'" Mithani said.

Tours can be made for any city around the world, Fullerton said. In fact, the team has a freelance-working friend who is travelling Europe and wanted to make a tour of good places to work when abroad.

Or if you're a bird lover, said Twal, Walkbug can take you to places to watch specific birds with audio clips so the user can hear what they sound like and identify the bird in real life.

There's even the hyper-local option suggested of a golf course. Wouldn't it be great to have the club pro tell you in an audio clip what the wind is like at a certain hole? Fullerton asked.

"The ideas just keep pouring in," Twal said.

The Walkbug team has a three-phase plan to source content for tours. First is curated or vetted tours by the Walkbug team. These would be 'Premium' tours and would require payment. Second is making tours for institutions or companies. Mithani said new McMaster University students will use their app technology during orientation this year. They've created a campus walking tour students will be able to use instead of an in-person guided walking tour.

Third is partnering with companies who offer walking tours, like Hamilton's HIStory and HERitage. Walkbug has digitized the Grand Durand tour using historical images and audio clips with facts about the neighbourhood, Mithani said.

Even though Walkbug is just months old, the team has already done market research. Over 80 per cent of the random sample of people the team surveyed said they'd be willing to pay between $1-5 for a curated tour with audio and video.

"It shows people are willing to pay," Mithani said. "And we're very confident they will [when the app is available]."

The team

"We are a true start-up," Fullerton said. "We were complete strangers."

Mithani held onto his idea until this past April and on a whim, pitched the app at Start-Up Weekend Hamilton. Seven other participants at the weekend event, aimed to cultivate and build innovative businesses, approached him wanting to sign on.

"We all have different talents and complimentary skills," Twal said. "We could have been 15 business guys and not one know how to use a keyboard, we're lucky."

Twal and Mithani are the tech guys and Fullerton is a communications professional. The other five members of their team cover video production, graphic design and wealth management, as well as business and entrepreneur students at McMaster University and the University of Waterloo.

Walkbug had the biggest team at April's Start-up Weekend, a sign to Mithani that he's got a winning idea.

"It shows how the idea inspires," he said. "People really wanted to see it happen."

Why Walkbug should win Lion's Lair

While some of Walkbug's competitors target niche markets like a supply case for triathletes or moving shelves for the elderly, this app is accessible to the largest market, Twal said.

"My mom can think of something to do with it and she can barely use her phone," Twal said.

For Mithani, Walkbug represents something bigger than a useful app.

"Everybody in Hamilton is talking about the positive change," he said. "Walkbug can show that positive change in an app."

The app IS that idea, that feeling that Hamilton is changing for the better. It's a way of putting all that positive energy in a place anyone cane see, Mithani said.

"It's a simple mechanism we can push out to the world," he said. "Walkbug is a way to show off the city and put Hamilton on the world stage."

CBC Hamilton's Julia Chapman will have full coverage of Lion's Lair 2013, including profiles of each of the 10 finalists, an inside look at their training and interviews with the Lions, right up to the gala on Oct. 10.