Explora: tourist-focused mobile phone rental service tested as side-project - Technical.ly

Explora: tourist-focused mobile phone rental service tested as side-project

Experienced Bed-Stuy developer Raquel Bujans, who works at edtech giant Amplify, readies to launch the latest side project startup she's helped to get off the ground, Explora.

Raquel Bujans, veteran developer, about to launch the latest startup she's advised, Explora. At the Brooklyn Roasting Company.

Photo by Brady Dale.

Raquel Bujans is on her second side project development job with a startup in the last year. Her latest project launches today, Explora, a tourist-focused mobile phone rental service.

The idea behind Explora is that visitors to the U.S. can rent a cell phone (a Nexus 5) to use while they are here. It will come loaded with apps useful to travelers, complete access to the Internet, texting, everything they could need.

More than that, the vision is to make the phone into a virtual tour guide. The team is working on partnerships with hotels and other companies, so that phones can come loaded with phone numbers and information personalized to the specific traveler’s itinerary — such as reservation numbers, concierge numbers and tips for the area right around where the traveler might be staying.

Adjusting all that data on the devices for each client could have been much more work than it will be. Bujans is the one who figured out how to create a library of phone disk images, so that rather than manually downloading apps one by one, they can simply load a completed phone image onto the device before shipping off. It just takes a few minutes.

Founded by Raj Patel in Manhattan, Bujans came on as the team’s developer in January. She was wrapping up another side stint helping Brooklyn’s new socially conscious Groupon competitor, Karm.io, get started. A friend of hers who worked out of the same coworking space as Patel urged her to join the team.

Bujans transitioned to computer science in college at Washington University. She went there to study art, but found herself more interested in how the 3D modeling programs she used worked than she was in making 3D models.

“I never even had a computer growing up until I went to college and it was required,” she said.

By day, the Bed-Stuy resident is a senior mobile developer at Amplify, the News Corp edtech division. She is currently working on an app for middle school students to work on vocabulary. Previously, she worked on a model of the human body that lets students see different systems and what happens to systems when different things happened to the body.

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She came to the world of New York tech by way of game development. When you’re working on games, she said, everyone is moving so fast that you’re expected to drop into gigantic piles of code and just get going. It’s taught her to adapt quickly.

She worked for Vicarious Visions in upstate New York (known for the Tony Hawk games, among others) and then Kaos Studios in New York City, until it closed in 2012. She worked as the tools programmer on Homefront, a role in which she sat between design, engineering and art, helping the teams communicate, automating what she could.

“Every day we’d have a play test,” she said, during the development of Homefront, “And Design would want feedback.”

People’s comments were so subjective that they were hard to work with, so she had the idea to build a system that would track exactly how everyone played the game in playtests — exactly where their avatar moved, shot and where it eventually died. This allowed the design team to see how levels were getting played in aggregate and better adjust levels accordingly.

Having worked in a lot of parts of the tech scene, she sees the appeal of startups as she readies Explora to launch. She said, “I’ve worked for startups before, but this is like my startup. I feel really attached to it.”

Companies: Amplify
People: Raquel Bujans
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