By Julie Epstein
The idea of being out to sea, stuck on a boat with your entire extended family sounds either like an awesome vacation or a total nightmare – depending on your family. For brothers Jan and Mike Jirout (’10) it became a business opportunity of Titanic proportions. Jan is the creator and Mike, the business developer behind the mobile app called Ship Mate. Recently, Mike, spoke to the UCLA Anderson Blog about Ship Mate, how it launched and the uncharted waters the family-run operation is sailing toward in the future.
The brothers Jirout -- with a little help from family and friends -- launched the app in 2009 after conceiving the idea during a family trip. Aside from the obvious innovation and user friendliness of Ship Mate, Mike credits a good deal of the brand’s success to hard work and to luck.
“About every two years we go on a huge family cruise; there’s usually more than 50 of us. One year, when we were all sailing to the Caribbean, my brother Jan came up with an idea to keep track of our family on board. He literally picked up a book and taught himself how to program and eventually created this app with two basic features: making a contact profile and being able to track where they are on the ship. He brought it to Apple and it turned out that the demand was huge. We were getting about 800 downloads a day in the beginning. We’ve maintained a spot in the Top 25 most downloaded travel apps for about eight months now and reached number nine at one point. When Jan put it together it was the very first cruising app so a good deal of it was timing. Now we’ve got a lot more features. You can track your ship’s location, look at a deck map, get port information for a bunch of the bars and restaurants when you dock make a daily itinerary and our chat feature allows you to stay in touch with those that will be on your cruise.”
From B-school to boating: How Mike’s years at UCLA Anderson contributed to Ship Mates’ success.
“I took a lot of entrepreneurial classes and I read so many business plans that it just gave me a lot of faith in our plan. We were capturing a certain time with this new technology that my brother was at the forefront of, and because he saw the future of mobile apps, we were in a position to establish ourselves as a leader in the industry. I took part in the Vistage-on-Campus Program at Anderson and we got to meet leaders in the industry including John Anderson and just meeting all of these high profile individuals and being comfortable speaking with them has really been an asset. I’m able to contact and reach out to them on a more comfortable basis and that’s something I got from (attending) Anderson. While Jan was developing the business plan I was in business school meeting with industry figures and my professors trying to vet it out, put it together and develop a framework to make it work. Through Anderson, Alan Buckelew, the CEO Of Princess Cruises put me in touch with his executive team and meeting them was really amazing.”