Bischoff’s App, Hamik, Helps Students Hop From Hostel to Hostel

Some students are interviewing for summer internships, others are weighing their options of working in admissions or doing research on campus this summer, but trailblazing Warren Bischoff, CSOM ’21, is planning to return to China to continue developing  his new app, Hamik.

While traveling abroad in Taipei in January, Bischoff found himself in a hostel with a free afternoon. He got to talking with some of the other college travelers, and they decided to visit the Artist Village, an outdoor market where young creatives gather to exchange ideas, patron each others’ art, and display their creations. When they returned to the hostel, they realized how much more fun it would have been if everyone in the hostel knew about it.

Bischoff wanted to recreate this experience, not just in Taipei, but across the world. But he was unsure how to bring his idea to life.

He reached out to his cousin, childhood neighbor, and business partner—friends since their days of shoveling and selling snowflakes—Liam King, UVA ’22.

“Liam is more the ‘doer,’ I’m an idea guy,” said Bischoff. “I’m good at thinking of ideas and finding ways to do it, Liam can then zone in on the steps and make it happen.”

Together, the cousins created Hamik—a mix between a social media platform and an activity planning application where world travelers in hostels come together and plan adventures with each other. Users can connect to people through chats that are centered around hostels or cities where Hamik is partnered and see lists of activities going on in that area.

Users start by searching their desired city and then can choose to book hostels, bus tickets, tours, and Hamik-curated trips. They can talk in chat rooms with other travellers in the area who are looking for things to do.

“It’s a free chat and if you want to book you can,” Bischoff said. “Theoretically, you can use the app forever and never pay a dime.”

Bischoff and King make money when users book Hamik-sponsored events in the cities they’re visiting and pay a processing fee.

After creating the application, Warren and King moved on to forming partnerships with hostels and other businesses. They made an Excel spreadsheet with all the countries and cities that they were interested in pursuing.

Under every city, they listed hostel names and contact information. A few weeks into the summer they emailed every hostel on the spreadsheet. They chose which cities to continue working with based on how many interested hostels responded. If one city didn’t have as many responses, they wouldn’t focus on that city. If more than two responded, then it was beneficial to focus on that area because there would be multiple hubs.

“Overall, we are in about 25 or more cities, 18 to 20 countries, all six inhabited continents, and we are looking into expanding into North America soon,” Bischoff said.

When targeting a city, Bischoff and King send automated emails in a batch and fill in the name of the hostel. The response rate per city is anywhere from three to five percent for a group of 30. At the end of June and beginning of July, they were putting together their biggest email blast of the year, sending out around 300 emails a day for two weeks.

The hours they worked were different because of Hong Kong’s 12-hour time difference.  

“My work week would start at 7 p.m. and go until 3 a.m. for Hong Kong, sleep until 7 a.m. so I could get Europe, and then sleep in the afternoon,” Bischoff said. “Basically the whole summer was crazy non-stop work.”

Over the summer, Bischoff and King expanded as fast as they could, in order to form new partnerships. They scoped out cities such as London and Marrakesh, but ultimately they reached a point where they realized that if they wanted to make the app work, they had to focus on a single city. Now, while still maintaining their partnerships in other countries, Hamik is primarily focused on Hong Kong.

“We’re no longer expanding because we want to do our first cities right,” Bischoff said.

To form partnerships, Bischoff started by using contact information for the hostels he found online. He called and presented his idea for forming a hostel networking application, asking if they’d consider getting on board and supporting him. The difficult part of the process was making an official partnership with the hostels.

Most of the time, the people answering the calls liked the idea of Hamik, but were front desk employees and didn’t have the power to do anything. Bischoff was then forwarded to  managerial staff and found hostels willing to work with Hamik. Urban Pack, the first hostel Bischoff met with, helped with advertising by putting up signs and QR codes around the hostel and spreading the word to other businesses in Hong Kong. Bischoff talked with the owners of the hostel to establish the partnership in person. He didn’t conduct any formal business meetings, but instead spent most of the trip observing the intricacies of the process and conducting research.

“It was intimidating because I had no idea what I was doing,” Bischoff said. “I bought the owners two hats from the BC Bookstore as gifts. I didn’t have the application ready yet, but they trusted that I would get it done and agreed to support me.”

During his time in China, Bischoff tried to show himself off as a “cool American entrepreneur.” At first, he was scared of the meetings, but he soon realized that the people he was meeting with were just like him—they went to college, got a job, and now have a career in business.

“It’s not intimidating because we’re there for a mutual purpose,” Bischoff said.

The nightclub that Hamik partnered with in Hong Kong, PLAY Club, arranged for a meeting so that Bischoff could meet the managers. They talked for an hour and a half and, by the end of the night, they created a drink on the menu called the Hamik Lotus. The drink uses a bamboo straw instead of a plastic one, and Hamik gets a commission when people order it.

On a previous trip to China, Bischoff emailed a 3D printer factory asking for a tour in Hong Kong. The workers agreed and picked them up from their hostel, showed them around the factory, gave them free 3D-printed Kung Fu Panda samples, and drove them to dinner. Instead of a typical meal out in Hong Kong, the workers took them to a spot in the middle of the Chinese jungle, spending the night eating traditional food and taking whiskey shots.

Although Hamik focuses mostly on hostel arrangements and drink promotions, Bischoff and King are hoping to eventually introduce Hamik-customized trips to ensure everyone is able to find opportunities as exciting as theirs.

One idea Bischoff has is for undergraduates at top business schools who are interested in learning about international markets. Using the app, they would book a hostel in Hong Kong and spend the week like Bischoff and King—visiting companies, exploring the import and export docks, learning an overview of Chinese politics, and enjoying a new country.

“We want to offer the kind of trips where you take whiskey shots in the middle of the jungle with 3D printer workers,” Bischoff said. “We’re appealing to the people that don’t want a generic experience.”

Featured Image by Kaitlin Meeks / Heights Editor

December 2, 2018