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App developed by locals lets users document their travels and share them with friends

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

Anna Sullivan remembers when she used to mark out her travels on a physical map using push pins.

It helped her visualize everywhere she had ever been — but, being a map, she could not just pull it out if a friend planning a trip asked her where to visit or eat. Sometimes, her mind would go blank during these “on the fly” requests for recommendations.

“It’s hard to think back on a trip sometimes,” she tells ARLnow. “I thought, ‘It’d be cool to have this with you all the time.'”

That is how the former Ballston resident came up with the idea for Pinplanet, which she describes as a digital travel scrapbook and trip planner. While she is the creative force behind the app, Harout Boujakjian, who lives in Courthouse, handles the technical, programming side of things with a third team member, Andrew Hornstra.

Pinplanet app cofounders Anna Sullivan and Harout Boujakjian at Chichén Itzá, a Mayan archeological site in Mexico (courtesy photo)

Sullivan and Boujakjian tested out Pinplanet on recent trips to Ireland and Mexico. Now instead, of trying to remember which restaurants they ate at or excursions they went on, they can pull up locations and experiences they pinned.

“It’s nicely curated,” he said. “It’s so much easier to point people to it.”

Sullivan had been kicking around the idea since college but it never went anywhere until she met Boujakjian in the summer of 2021. They began talking about making the app that fall and had a soft launch of a progressive web application by May 2022.

“Friends and family who tested it out wanted it to be a native mobile app,” he said. “So we took the plunge and got an iOS app out in November 2022. That was our hard launch.”

Since then, Sullivan and Boujakjian have honed the app, finding and fixing bugs or discovering new features to add, while on trips to New York, Philadelphia and Cincinnati.

Next, he and Hornstra will build an app for Android, which he said is not an easy feat for such a small team, all of whom have day jobs.

Another function he aims to realize in the next year would be something like an “explorer page,” which would use pinned trips from followers — paired, perhaps, with machine learning — to generate a grid of recommended places to inspire future trips for users.

Taking a page from the book of social media and popular music platforms, Sullivan says she wants to create a year-in-review feature.

“We’re probably going to dive in more on the travel stats and figure out other ways to make it interactive and flashy — have a yearly snapshot of your travels,” she said. “We’d put together a video of places you pinned in 2023 and make that something you can share. People love that kind of stuff.”

The iOS app interface for Pinplanet (courtesy photo)

She says users love downloading the app just to pin everywhere they have gone.

“Some are going to add every detail about their trip because ‘I want to make sure I remember every detail,'” she said. “Others, they just pin everywhere they’ve been and have 90 pins. They just want to see everything laid out.”

So far, the app has around 400 users. The co-founders say it is exciting to see more people join, especially when one person discovers the app and then gets all their friends to join — which is how Pinplanet picked up a group of users in Chechnya.

Although they developed a travel app while there were worldwide travel restrictions due to Covid, the duo found that people enjoyed using the app to inspire future travel.

“We knew a lot of people weren’t actively traveling at that time, so we really put a lot of focus in going in and adding everywhere you’ve ever been,” Sullivan said. “It would inspire future travel and get people excited about where they’re going to go next.”

Now, when they travel, they bring along business cards for Pinplanet.

“It’s hard to get people to download an app even for a company they’ve heard of — let alone one they’ve never heard of. People have app fatigue,” Sullivan said. “It’s definitely a delicate thing to get people interested in the idea first before downloading the app.”

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