Adventures in the city

Award-winning CityWhisk app localizes discovery



Shot on location at Pour Coffee Parlour

Caitlin McGrath

Jonathan Marcowicz is the first real explorer I’ve ever met.

We sit in a café, sip coffee, and reminisce of travel. He speaks of his past like he’s still there: a heuriger inVenice, a Chopin concert in France, serendipitous nights of intrigue in Versailles. His voice has heart; his eyes tell me all I need to know. And, really, I do know.

I tell him about an Ireland trip that changed my life. About Dingle, where the locals pointed me down a windy dirt road, past roaming sheep and old ruins, a path that led me to a drop-dead gorgeous cliff edging the endless Atlantic Ocean.

“That’s it!” he says. “Exactly.”

To Marcowicz, locals are the secret ingredients for intrepid adventure—a belief he cemented after a New Orleans New Year’s road trip.The more natives he spoke with, the more unique and engaging his expe- rience became. That’s how CityWhisk—a mobile app he cofounded with Marissa McDowell and Stacey Lampell—was born. The app offers travel itineraries from a local perspective and recently won first place in the Existing Civic App category at the 2014 AT&T Rochester Civic App Challenge.

“You know those Choose Your Own Adventure books?” he asks. “CityWhisk is like that—like a personalized, shared adventure.”

“I’m in,” I say.

Marcowicz describes his illustrious travel history with an almost wayfaring, wanderlust charm. And in addition to being an Adirondack enthusiast and a classically trained musician, there’s something else about Marcowicz I find fascinating. But I try not to lose focus as he shares his story: six years in the Air Force National Guard; an out of college job in planning and development for the city of Schenectady; and most recently, an MBA from the Simon School of Business at the University of Rochester.

He sees CityWhisk as a new tool for savvy bloggers, writers, and explorers to build their brand. He sees experts, known internationally for their itineraries, equipping millions of users for unique travel. He sees small businesses discovering new ways to gain traction within their local communities.

“What makes local, local?” he says. “We want to find that out.”

And then it hits me, like a full bladder on a road trip. Marcowicz is not your average travel junkie. He’s not your average explorer, either. Marcowicz is a cunning and clever entrepreneur. He’s smart as hell, profession- al, experienced. He tells me, “You have to know your customers. You have to know what you’re selling.” He says entrepreneurs “circumvent the normal pathways,” and I nod.

He’s a salesman, as all entrepreneurs are, but incredibly sincere. To Marcowicz, adventure isn’t a plastic toy. Adventure, he believes, can solve real problems. It can bring people out of the suburbs and into the city. It can revive small business, a failing town. Adventure can circumvent the normal pathways.

As Marcowicz and I part ways, I declare a new path. I look for the app on the Google Play Android store.What do you want to do today? Outdoors, frugal, indulgent? “I’m in,” I say. I want it all. 

Kevin Carr studies entrepreneurship and creative writing at the University of Rochester. In addition, he is a freelance copyeditor, a playwright, and blogger at TheNumberKevin.com. Once a year, Kevin takes a day off. 

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