This article was published in the Summit 2021 issue

by AJ Brau, Founder and CEO, Wander

I was a rather peculiar child. My earliest school memories involve the painful exercise of trying to sit still in my seat, day dreaming being my saving grace. What would I daydream of? Whatever I was building at home.

These projects varied from small scale music compositions, or Lego masterpieces, to go karts and clubhouses. If you were to ask 8-year-old AJ what she wanted to be when she grew up, I would have answered either electrical or mechanical engineer. I just really loved to build stuff.

Then something magical happened. My Dad introduced me to the world of digital creation. I remember the tiny laptop he brought home, with macromedia flash and fireworks installed (which would eventually become Adobe Animate and Adobe Fireworks).

Digital creation was magical because I could go as fast as I wanted, and if I made a mistake, instead of costing money and a trip to the store, I could just hit “Control-Z” and keep going.

I built animations, and cut myself out of photos and onto pictures of crazy places. I learned how to be resilient and dig for software answers. As an 8-year-old trying to learn the Adobe creative suite, I had to learn to bang my head against the wall until I figured something out. This has proven invaluable in the years since.

These projects eventually led to building websites. I remember the first time I changed the color of a button and made the page scroll to the bottom on click. The excitement was too big to be contained! I had found my craft.

My world changed again on a trip to Lake Powell one year. This was around 2010 when apps were still becoming all the rage. While trying to use a combination of a paper map and google maps to find the nearest restroom, the idea of the Lake Powell App was born.

My Dad, being a technical PM, again took the opportunity to teach. He encouraged me to write a business plan and figure out the revenue and go-to-market strategies. He broke down how to trim down an idea to an mvp, how to draw wireframes, how to do usability testing, and how to work with designers and developers. He helped me network and find a UX designer and a developer to partner with, and two years later the Lake Powell Map App was on the App Store.

It was a simple concept: a curated map built by a local expert that showed your GPS location without a cellular connection. It had things google maps didn’t have, and it grouped placemarks in ways that made sense for Lake Powell. It was a hit. We made all of our money back and some. Thousands of people used it and loved it. Even the National Park Rangers used it to navigate the lake.

This is where Wander comes in. Fast forward to 2021, and the problem is just as big as it was 10 years ago. Millions of ski resorts, state parks, amusement parks, DMOs, museums, airports, malls, and other destinations and attractions across the globe are still using paper to distribute their visitor maps and guides, and we as visitors and recreators are still trying to comb through a swamp of travel blogs, apps, printed maps and guides to figure out where to go and what to do on our days off.

Wander is bridging this information gap by giving destinations a no-code way to build and distribute their maps and guides, while giving visitors a single place to search, browse, and save these resources that can all be taken completely offline. We rebuilt the Lake Powell App in 5 minutes on Wander.

In building this niche solution and seeing the adoption of our early customers, we have discovered a giant of an archaic industry that is searching for a technology leader. Covid has shaken the travel, recreation, and hospitality industries awake to a digital reality, and Wander is in the perfect place at the perfect time.

Take note.


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