Jonathan Chashper founded WolfPack to solve the problem of communication and navigation for groups. His company's first product came out a problem he himself faced – how to keep track of everyone on a group ride.
How would you describe your business and the problems you are solving?
WolfPack is a mobile app that provides an integrated experience for travelling in a group. A user can invite fellow riders to join their pack, organize a group run at a specified time and date, and experience an on-ride navigation interface that provides real-time updates on rider position and basic communications. While providing this experience to the user, the WolfPack system collects trip information and makes it accessible to anyone interested in exploring new routes.
WolfPack integrates the Google Maps navigation interface with improvements: the ability to simply communicate with fellow group riders and a geofence that notifies riders if they have strayed away from the group.
Coordinating a group while travelling is challenging for two reasons. One, It’s hard to stay together while riding. Nearly 70% of motorcycle riders we polled either participate in group rides or would like to, yet the experience presents challenges as people often get separated and lost. Two, It’s hard to communicate. Between noise, distance between riders, road hazards, and the need to stay focused, riding a motorcycle makes one-to-one communication challenging and one-to-many communication close to impossible. Riders often resort to hand gestures or even passing other motorists in order to yell instructions. WolfPack was born to address these fundamental issues.
What inspired you to start your company?
When I turned 40 I decided to start riding motorcycles. Some people say it's a mid-life crisis, I say it's the greatest excuse ever to just do stuff you've wanted to do all your life. So I went out, got a license, started riding a motorcycle, and one of the trips I went on with my buddies we got separated. When you're on a motorcycle you can't really call anyone, so I had to pull over, take my phone out, and start dialing them. But now they're riding on their bikes, not realizing that I'm behind, and obviously no one can answer the phone because again, they're riding. By the time they realized I wasn't with them and they pulled over, I was already riding so it was very frustrating. It took us an hour and a half to two hours to reconnect. At that point the trip was ruined, nobody wanted to keep riding, and we went home. As I was riding back I was thinking there has to be a solution. It doesn't make sense that there's no solution to this problem of keeping groups together. So as I was riding I had my eureka moment that your phone can be used for actually solving that problem.
Do you have a name for your own motorcycle group?
We're called the Originals because we're the original wolf pack.
Given that most startups fail, what inspired you to take the risk of launching one?
First of all, it's passion. I've been in start-ups my entire life, did every position from a programmer to a CEO, so we have a lot of experience in bringing products to market correctly and we really understand the problem. If you don't understand the problem, then what are you building? Most startups fail because they don't have a product market fit. We feel that this is one of our key advantages because we have a very good product-market fit. The fact that we are already at 22,000 users in 115 countries worldwide on a very slim marketing budget is a great indication; and the biggest indication for us is that we see the viral effect happening with our riders. The other day I saw that 15 people from Australia downloaded one after the other. So I got curious and sure enough, this one guy found us, downloaded the app, and immediately invited 15 people and planned four rides with it. This is the number one indication that we are onto something.
Who is in your core team? What are some qualities or personality traits in your team members that make them a good fit for the company's work or goals?
Our core team is: Evan Haines, Product Manager; Nina Gabriadze, Marketing Manager; and our own five-person development team. Evan, Nina and I have been working together for about three years, we know each other well and bring a unique blend of experience, innovation, and curiosity to what we do.
Why did you choose to use an equity crowdfunding model, and what drew you to Republic?
Equity crowdfunding is the right way to go if startups look to raise funds quickly while getting supporters along the way. Every investor is now "part of the pack" and our success is immediately their success, which creates a different level of commitment from them and from us. This is not just a "toy and a t-shirt" deal like on other crowdfunding platforms.
The major reason we went with Republic is the personal feel we got from the team. From the phone calls to the video conferencing to the face-to-face meetings. They are not just committed but also involved. I am very happy with the choice I made.
Can you briefly explain what makes you stand out among your competition and gives you an edge over them?
The first thing is the way we look at the problem. All navigation tools (GPS, Google, Waze) and other applications trying to operate in the market are focused on a single rider. We look at the problem differently, from the "group" perspective, rather than the single rider perspective.
The second thing is that our technology is NOT limited to motorcycles. In fact, the way we built the system, it can be used in cars, on bicycles, or even when people ski. The versatility of our technology and the unique view we took to the problem is what sets us apart.
When riders are using WolfPack to communicate with each other, are they meant to communicate while they’re riding or only when they're pulled over?
When you're on a motorcycle you cannot type because you would kill yourself. So to prevent you from killing yourself, we created the Three Tap communications system. If you tap the screen while you're riding you have a big button that says "MESSAGES." When you hit that button you have four other big buttons with pre-canned messages that you created before so you can safely communicate with your buddies without the need to actually text or take your eyes off the road for more than a second. WolfPack is all about security and safety and the enjoyment of the ride. We don't want you to fiddle with the application when you ride and that's why there's nothing but temperature, navigation, and the radar indicating where your buddies are.
WolfPack allows for social interactions between users. Does this include being able to share photos and videos or integrating social media accounts?
We also have two very interesting features with WolfPack. One is what we call the public run. Imagine that you got a motorcycle and you want to go riding, But because you just got it you don't know anyone. You can look for public runs available in your area, and the public run would be something that I could create myself. I could say this Saturday we're going to start here in Maryland and go to Gettysburg. I just put it out there and people who decide to join my public run will show up. It's a great way to meet new people.
Another important community feature is that every ride ever performed with WolfPack worldwide, and now we have about 4,000 of those, is available to every user. So now imagine you travel to California and you want to go on a motorcycle ride but you don't know the area. You can go on WolfPack and look for trips in California. We're the only ones who allow people to reproduce past rides. When you go on a trip on Google, you can't go back two months later and see what route you took. With us, any ride, everywhere in the world that was used with WolfPack you can immediately reproduce it. And you can rate the ride, note if it's scenic or risky, things that bikers are looking for.
A big aspect of WolfPack is safety. It’s much safer when you ride with a group because cars notice groups better than they notice a single rider. And with WolfPack it's very easy to do that. Creating the group and inviting people takes literally seconds. Planning the ride, even a very complex ride, will take a minute or two. One more thing we're working on is a partnership with a company that will allow us to integrate into WolfPack all motorcycle events in the country and a list of about 10,000 motorcycle-friendly venues. Whether it's a restaurant, a bar, a hotel, or anything else, you can plan a ride from point A to point B but hit a good restaurant which is biker-friendly or a nice bar in the evening when you're ready to relax. We really are trying to create an ecosystem where we can provide a lot of value to the riders using WolfPack.
I think of motorcycle riders as Hell's Angels type of people, who maybe wouldn't want to use a smartphone app to navigate their rides. Have you encountered any of these riders?
First of all, thank Hollywood for doing that. There are people like that but I think they're the minority. I think most people are like the people in the movie Wild Hogs. Essentially these are people like you and me that just enjoy the ride. It used to be in the 70s and 80s that you had to be a rough dude, shower once a month, and be 300 pounds to be on a bike. But that's not the case today. A lot of professionals use the motorcycle experience to offload stress, so most people are not like what you described. When people are on their motorcycles they look very intimidating. We have our leather jackets and helmets and we look scary. But you talk to them and you find out half of them are lawyers, the other half are accountants and then you have software developers and everyday people.
What is your mission/end-goal, and do you anticipate this to change over time?
Our vision is to eventually access the $1.2 trillion tour and travel market. Our strategy is to “puddle jump" from one niche to another, with the motorcycle sector as our chosen launch market.
We looked to the motorcycle market as our launch market for several reasons. First, because it is a high-frequency leisure activity (motorcycle riders ride often (sometimes every weekend), increasing the opportunity for us to gain and retain customers). Next, it’s a group-focused activity (most motorcycle riders in the US ride find group riding to be a more social and safe experience), and our app is designed for groups. Safety and fun are also key because motorcycles riders care about the quality of the ride, safety, and fun. And finally the willingness to invest in the experience. Motorcycle riders are happy to spend money to improve their riding experience (it even has a name, "farkle" - a combination of "function" and "sparkle").
This may change as we move forward, and as many startups, we will adapt to market needs. Right now, we are holding the course focusing on the motorcycle market. The rest will follow.