Photo: Billy Griffin
A few years ago, buddies Billy Griffin, a Navy lieutenant, and Tony Hatala, a Marine captain, decided it should be much easier to find the phone numbers for resources on military posts.It’s especially frustrating for new troops, who show up on a base for the first time with a set of orders and no idea where to go.
The pair were clearly not alone in their frustration and after squeezing in some programming during deployments, family obligations, and military life their app, MilitaryTraveler, recently hit 30,000 downloads on iTunes.
But it all started with that one conversation in 2010. Griffin and Hatala were both deployed on the USS Peleliu, and in their sliver of downtime they started talking about how an app to consolidate all the information someone might need on a military base would look. The idea took on a life and Hatala started creating the model.
They limited themselves to Marine bases at first, there are fewer of them, and after all Hatala is a Marine. For months it was just the two of them, logging all the base information they could find either in print or on base websites.
In March 2011, they officially launched the app on iTunes, and followed it up shortly thereafter with an Android version. The update, 1.6, debuted this spring and has proven a hit, with a 4+ rating from the App Store and 4.8 out of 5 rating on Android.
Along with the phone numbers for base staples like Morale, Welfare and Recreation (MWR), barbershops, and dining facilities — they included vital numbers for inprocessing — and transition moves that always seem to be harried and unorganized.
But what Griffin and Hatala are most proud of is the “Request for Correction” option, that allows the app to be interactive.
“People will write in and say they’re trying to get in touch with so-and-so, and I will call on my lunch break,” Griffin says, currently working at the Pentagon.
What the correction request does is allows additions from people on the ground into the app’s basic framework including every base in the United States. The user input allows the guys to go back and as Griffin says, “Make the app phenomenal.”
Though Griffin and Hatala handled the data input themselves for the first year, now that Hatala’s deployed, they’re delegating some of the work. A friend’s fiancée is updating movie times, and they’ve started signing licensing contracts with base MWRs.
Aside from helping Griffin and Hatala avoid carpal tunnel syndrome, the MWRs will get the word out, promoting the app when they promote activities such as marathons and concerts.
“We’re still going to help, but they’ll bear the burden of updating links and other information,” Griffin says.
They’re not giving up too much control, though. Griffin plans to devote more time to the project after his Navy stint is up in spring 2013.
And while Hatala has a few more years of service left, Griffin says his friend wants to go to Harvard Business School and take their app ambitions to the next level.
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