How family can help you build the app of your dreams

There’s an old adage that blood and business don’t mix.

If that’s true, no one ever told Alton Franco and Marjorie Mroz, and it’s probably for the best. The couple has been in business together for many years now in Hawai’i, and with their most recent venture they’re bringing in the rest of the family.

iBounc is a mobile concierge that allows you to book tours, activities, guides, and other unique local experiences. The idea is to help people spend less time booking tours and activities while on vacation, and the couple promises it will help save you money, too.

Follow Your Bliss

iBounc is a love story that began more than 3,500 miles from where the company was founded.

The couple found each other the same day Mroz lost her mother. She was living in Texas when she met Franco through Facebook. He was living in Maui at the time, and the two hit it off. It didn’t take long for Mroz to make a big decision.

“I met Franco on Facebook the day my mother died—10 minutes later. I felt it was a gift from my mother, and then I flew to Maui on my mother’s birthday.”

As life-changing decisions go, it was a pretty easy one. Mroz had always wanted to live in Maui and always told herself she’d retire there. Meeting Franco gave her the extra push.

“I decided ‘why wait?’ Life is short. You need to follow your passion and bliss. So I end[ed] up giving everything away … [took] a leap of faith and moved to Maui,” she said.

The Entrepreneurial Spirit

Before Mroz arrived, Franco—who was born and raised in Hawai’i and has worked in and around the state’s tourism industry since he was a child—was in the midst of running another business with friends: obstacle courses set up along the beach that included giant inflatables in the ocean. For fun he would also tour people—usually friends of friends—around the island for free in his jeep.

From the beginning of their relationship, the pair have fueled each other’s drive. After the two got to know each other online, Mroz had some advice for Franco.

“Mroz called me ‘tour guide Franco’ and she said ‘you need to start charging for your jeep tours. You’re always going around sending me photos, you’re taking the people around and you are doing it for free,'” said Franco.

Franco and his friends eventually sold the obstacle course business, and he decided to take Mroz’s advice. The two began offering tours and charging for them, eventually earning enough to buy a second jeep, and later a few more.

Changing Course

It was while running the jeep business that they came up with the idea for iBounc.

Part of their work included going to local hotels to explain the tour packages they were offering.

“We would sit there sometimes an hour to an hour and a half just to talk to the concierge about booking our tours and that’s how some of the ideas started,” said Mroz.

These wait times coupled with mounting costs were beginning to take a toll on their business.

“What we wanted to do was find out how we could eliminate all our costs because out here in Hawai’i it is very expensive; to maintain our jeeps and all of our vehicles and then to pay for insurances was killing us,” said Franco, who added that the industry standard is concierge and booking agents holding money for anywhere between 30 and 60 days.

“So for small companies like ourselves, it’s very hard to grow a business like we were doing here in Hawai’i.”

A Different Path

As they were looking at ways to save money they realized they could rent out their tour guides. Instead of maintaining a fleet of jeeps, the guides would drive rental cars rented by the guests. That eliminated 96 percent of their overhead costs.

This had the added bonus of driving down prices for their customers. Previously, the cost of an eight-hour tour cost $500 for the first guest and $400 for each additional guest. After the change, customers only had to pay a $500 flat fee (plus the rental car cost) to rent a local guide. So Mroz and Franco began phasing out their fleet of jeeps and scaled the company throughout Hawai’i by adding more tour guides.

Upon seeing the success of the business, the family sat down to brainstorm a way to evolve it. That’s when they struck on the idea of developing a live booking system for tour guides the same way Uber did for the taxi industry.

“And so we here we are today,” Franco said with a laugh.

How It Works

iBounc functions as a mobile concierge. It allows users to book their tour and activities whether they’re in the early planning stages, already on their way to the airport, or even if they’ve already arrived at their destination.

Franco says it’s good for people who like to plan their vacation ahead of time, but it works for everyone.

“If you’re [one of] the 18 to 30-year-olds that runs around with their heads cut off, that wants everything now, you can book while you’re in line buying your plane ticket or while you’re on the plane or sitting at the airport because your flight is delayed,” said Franco.

The app offers activities from a wide range of providers, and includes exclusive experiences offered through iBounc.

Companies that add their tours or activities into the system can pay an optional membership fee in order to advertise any discount rates or deals they may have. That helps travelers save money and companies recoup costs in the offseason.

Keeping It In The Family

After they’d finalized the idea, Mroz’s son Zachary returned home from college and began helping with the design.

Zachary and Franco spent a few months in Silicon Valley and San Francisco learning the ins and outs of the startup world.

“Learning the industry and being out in San Francisco was very valuable for myself and I’m sure for Zachary also,” said Franco. “He’s learned a lot. Not being in the [tech] industry myself, and not knowing anything about building an app or investors and VCs, incubators; that was all interesting.”

Friends Of The Family

It was during their visit to the Bay Area that they found out about Gigster.

“When we first started talking about the possibilities of this app happening, we never knew that we could hire a company,” said Franco.

They began talking with friends in the Valley and San Francisco who had built apps with their own developers. The family was looking at working with one specific programmer, but found the service fee was too high.

After doing some research online they realized they could hire a firm to build the app for them and discovered Gigster.

Bootstrapping

The family has gone all-in on the business, funding the venture themselves.

“We moved from our large house in Makawao, which is upcountry down to a condo in Kihei, and we are living in small quarters,” said Mroz.

Adding to the pressure of downsizing, the couple live with Mroz’s two children and take care of Franco’s father.

“So we have been really bootstrapping to make this app happen. You know, we have sold everything,” she said.

iBounc will launch in Hawai’i the first week of September. Eventually they plan to scale out to the western United States.

Franco says that the state’s tourists originate primarily from four main western U.S. hubs that fly direct to Hawai’i; those are the places they’re focused on expanding into. From there, they plan on expanding to the rest of the world.

And no matter where they go next, you can bet they’ll do it as a family.

Looking to expand your idea? Gigster can help.

Tyler Trumbull

Ty splits his time between Canada and Mexico. He’s been writing for Gigster since early 2016 where he really enjoys learning and sharing clients’ stories. He plays banjo in one of Mexico’s only country bands, wishes he could write like Thomas Pynchon, and is generally a fan of the Oxford comma.