Yarmouth app maker puts parks in your palm
YARMOUTH — Kerry Gallivan was hiking in Acadia National Park when he thought how great it would be to have information about trails, camping, water and weather in the palm of his hand.
As it turned out, there was no app for that.
So Gallivan decided to make one.
In 2010, he co-founded Chimani, a Yarmouth company that develops mobile apps for outdoor destinations, and national parks in particular.
His partner, Shaun Meredith, helped implement the Maine Learning Technology Initiative laptop project in schools more than a decade ago. Together, they've created 45 Chimani apps that have been downloaded more than half a million times by more than 120,000 people.
Now they're ready to take the business to the next level.
In December, Gallivan, 43, quit his day job as the technology director for Maine School Administrative District No. 75. Last week, Gorham Savings Bank announced that Chimani is among the semifinalists for its second annual LaunchPad competition, which awards $30,000 to a burgeoning local business.
Now, the company is set to make its first foray into state parks with the release of an app for Baxter State Park. And over the next year, Chimani hopes to hire several more employees and begin developing apps for parks across the globe.
Chimani's apps combine the content of a guidebook with the functionality of a smartphone. Each individual park app contains data on attractions, scenic views, bike rentals, parking, convenience stores, restrooms and much more, compiled by a team of travel writers and photographers.
Gallivan and Meredith have designed their own high-resolution topographic maps, which are updated monthly using data from OpenStreetMap, the world's largest open-source mapping project.
Most importantly, the apps work without cell phone service or Wi-Fi connectivity.
"In Yellowstone, you might roll into Old Faithful and have a great 3G connection, but if you go a mile in any direction, the signal is dead as a doornail," Gallivan said. "It's a real issue because many (park users) come from more urban, heavily connected environments and don't (expect) that. So that's where we've grown our name and reputation. We really designed this to be used in the parks."
Chimani apps also boast an augmented reality feature. At certain scenic outlooks, users can hold up their devices and pan around as if they're looking at their phone's camera; the app overlays small icons on top of the image, and when you touch them, it reveals information about the environment.
“When people get to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon, they're like, 'This is amazing!' Five minutes later, they're like, OK, it's a big canyon,” Gallivan said. “But what they're looking at is a wealth of information and perspective. The National Park Service can only put up so much educational signage that explains the view. (This feature) starts to identify all the different levels of geological history as you pan down into the canyon. That's where we start to push it far beyond a guidebook.”
Given the app's capabilities, it's not surprising that Chimani has been chosen as an early developer for Google Glass, the computer eyewear that's not yet available for consumer purchase.
While Chimani's potential seems enormous, there's still the question of how it will be monetized. The company originally tried a pay-per-download model, but Gallivan said “electronic content doesn't translate over as a commodity people want to pay for.” For now, the apps are free and include limited advertising.
But this spring, Chimani plans to roll out a subscription model that charges $9.99 a year for high-end capabilities, like offline use and augmented reality. Gallivan thinks his core customers' dedication will justify their investment.
“Our user base, particularly out west, people will fly into L.A. and go to the Grand Canyon, Bryce (Canyon National Park), they'll go up to Zion (National Park), and they're using a lot of the different apps,” he said. “We want to build a model almost like AAA, where they're using our apps, but at the same time they're getting some savings as we work with local vendors to build in discounts.”
In the meantime, Gallivan, who lives on Littlejohn Island, is in fundraising mode. He said he and Meredith hope to hire at least one more programmer, a user interface designer, and a marketing professional to round out the Chimani team.
The next step is to go global, a prospect that appeals to Gallivan's background in international development. Before turning to tech, he spent 12 years working in the field and lived abroad in Nepal and Zimbabwe. The word Chimani comes from the Chimanimani Mountains, on the border of Zimbabwe and Mozambique, where Gallivan once participated in an Outward Bound course.
Park personnel from Israel, South Africa, Spain, India, Iceland and New Zealand have already approached the company about designing apps for their countries.
“The national park model has been one of America's best exported concepts,” Gallivan said. “So the international perspective is what we're particularly interested in. There's great potential to really broaden this beyond the U.S.”