Arlington man develops app to explore D.C. in clue-solving game

Sponsored by Monday Properties and written by ARLnow, Startup Monday is a weekly column that profiles Arlington-based startups, founders, and other local technology news. Monday Properties is proudly featuring 1515 Wilson Blvd in Rosslyn.

During the pandemic, Erik Neighbour wanted a fun way to get his friends together where they could stay socially distanced.

So, the Clarendon area resident created a scavenger hunt of sorts, using riddles to explore D.C. monuments. He put the riddles and challenges into an online form so they could use their phones to play.

“They liked it so much that I thought maybe there’s something more here,” he said.

He continued to refine and develop the game into its own app, called  Capital Clues, using coding skills that he first learned creating a financial literacy app. About 100 users downloaded it during a six-month beta testing period and it launched for the public to use two weeks ago, he said.

Users play Capital Clues in D.C. (courtesy Erik Neighbour)

The app provides riddles that guide users from one monument to the next. At each location, there are a series of questions that challenge the user to use observational skills to discover things about the monument. If you don’t get the question, there are hints, but it also can be skipped.

The answer page for each series of questions gives additional insights about what they found. The app has two courses, one from the Lincoln Memorial to the Washington Monument, and another that goes around the Tidal Basin, from the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial to the Thomas Jefferson Memorial.

When he first created the game for his friends, Neighbour used a third party service, but when he started to actually develop an app for the game, functionality around scoring and timing were important to him.

“People are motivated by certain things in games,” he said. “Some people really like the adventure of finding things, other people like myself are really competitive and I’m really motivated by score and want to know how I did on a leaderboard. And so with this app, we’re able to cater to multiple gaming personas and doing so in a branded experience, which has a seamless user experience.”

During the beta period, he said he was also focused on making sure the questions were challenging but still fun. He said he spent almost every other weekend watching people he recruited to play the game, which also led to an adjustment in how users were timed.

And while Neighbour said there are other competitors for scavenger hunt apps, including one called Let’s Roam, Capital Clues has questions that make you think outside of the box, sort of like an escape room experience, which inspired him.

The logo for Capital Clues (courtesy of Erik Neighbour)

Over the next year, he said he’ll evaluate how the app performs and how people react to it. If there is enough interest, he would consider expanding it, he said.

Given the number of tourists and interesting points in the area, there could be a large market for it, he said. And based on feedback he’s gotten, he thinks it’s a good alternative to paying for a tour of the monuments.

“D.C. is really unique in that we have high density of points of interest with the monuments and memorials in the area that’s really pedestrian friendly,” he said. “So I think it’s one of the most perfect places in the world for a game like Capital Clues.”

Neighbour doesn’t think Capital Clues will share some of the challenges the first app he helped build — Guardian Savings — did acquiring users because it was designed to be fun and he learned some lessons from the first app, such as the importance of marketing.

“You could have the best product, that doesn’t mean people are going to start using it,” he said.

Neighbour built Capital Clues on his own, which was fulfilling as part of his journey as a software developer, something he didn’t go to college for. The experience has also helped him in his day job, where he works in product management, leading two software teams, he noted.

Next up: Capital Clues will host a launch event on Wednesday, July 10, and the top winner will earn a monetary award.

The Capital Clues team: Austin Fry, Erik Neighbour, and Alexis Aronson (courtesy of Erik Neighbour)