By Yasmin Akhavan
We all know what airport anxiety feels like: the helpless feeling you get when your flight’s boarding in an hour and you’re stuck in a security line that is way longer than you anticipated when you left for the airport. Enter Ment, an iOS app conceived by Rebecca Lima and her partner Kaja Kuczynska, a former pilot and a frequent flier with a head for problem solving. Ment, with a crowdsourced feedback and interactive interface, informs you of the estimated security wait times at airports before you leave and updates you in real time. Friends of Friends got to speak with Lima recently about her background and the inspiration behind Ment.
What’s your background?
I’m a private pilot; I come from a long line of pilots and entrepreneurs. I actually went to aeronautical school but I studied mechanical engineering, specifically, I did robotics. Yeah, I was kind of a nerd, still kind of am haha. Then I worked in the oil industry and that’s when I did a lot of travelling, and that’s when this problem starting really affecting me. Time is money so if I missed my flight or if I was delayed and I had a job the next day, I would have to be there because it’s a loss in revenue for the client. So, something that I deal with to this day is the anxiety of going to the airport. And I come from aviation, so it’s worse. That’s really how I got involved. It kind of full-circled for me: I come from aviation, I’ve been flying my whole life, we’ve travelled since I was born, I worked in oil for 3 years, found out that I didn’t really like it and it was like 80-90 hours a week and I was miserable. And now I work 80-90 hours a week and I’m the happiest I’ve ever been! Broke but happy!
“I would rather live my passion everyday; it might not manifest the most amount of money but at least I can wake up with purpose.”
When are you launching the product?
We’re launching at JFK, and doing a 3-month test there where we’ll essentially do a boost on the ground and do a lot of promotional stuff at the airport. Specifically at the air trams, because we found out that 7.3 million passengers funneled through that Jamaica station last year. It’ll bottle everyone into one area so we really feel like we can talk to people there. I’m super excited but there’s so much that needs to be done still!
After the 3 month test, do you plan to stay in NY or launch in other cities?
We want to do a strategic roll out. We’re going to do the top 10 airports with the worst security lines and we want to tap into the New York market. So we’re going to do JFK, Laguardia, and then Newark- they’re all on the list for worst airports. And then moving onto the next ones, so Chicago O’Hare airport and then LAX and then moving into other airports as well. The 3 month test is going to give us a lot of insight on how people are engaging with it and what they’re asking for next so then we can roll out into the other airports with a more robust platform instead of just the security wait times.
What inspired you? You said you worked with aviation so it was a problem you had to go through often, right?
Yeah, this has been the biggest pain in the ass for me for years. When I used to travel for work, I was on the road a lot and I travel for fun too. I have friends that work in airlines and we fly for very cheap so an off-chance that I’d go to the airport would happen- and I’d start having anxiety before I even walk out my door into my uber: am i gonna miss this flight? what’s the security like? Is the airport crammed right now? What’s happening? So this was an issue for me from the beginning. And I’m super neurotic so I have to know everything that’s going on. I love to be in control and know what’s happening so to me it’s debilitating. After talking to other people who have the same problem, I realized this is normal and I started to think about why someone hasn’t done this or done this correctly? So that’s been my inspiration. Helping the traveler because I, myself am the user for this app. I built this essentially for myself and everyone else can benefit from it too!
When did this idea come into place?
This originated as a community-driven app, more of like Tinder for airports and that’s what it escalated to but I didn’t really want that reputation. I’ll let other people take that on, but how I see it is that travelers can help other travelers and that’s really the thesis behind everything. I feel like as a community of transient people in this area you can help one another.
“Being there for the traveller is really our goal with the company, and addressing traveller’s needs.”
And how long ago was that?
Probably like 6 or 7 months ago. I actually thought about this idea since like maybe 2 years ago- but I really started executing the idea like a year and a half ago. It has pivoted so many times because of listening to people and going back to the drawing board- really understanding the problem and building something that not only gives travelers value but is an experience as well. So when I took that original idea, I thought this would be nice to have but not a must-have. A must-have is something that gives you value as a utility. That’s really when we decided to make a shift into a utility app with a gamified feature on top of that.
I’ve been personally working on this for years. I moved to New York, and then I was living in South Florida for a year after I quit my job, working with my dad. I was really unhappy, and then I decided I really wanted to do this. I learned iOS development and UI/UX design and I built the V1 of what it was but it was awful. I was so embarrassed. And then I found my first 2 developers on Instagram. I would post broken code online on my Instagram and tag worldcode, and developers would literally reach out to me and ask what I was working on and if they could be a part of it. And then I flew out to California on a whim and met one of them at the most random Starbucks in the middle of nowhere California and he became my first developer on it. I haven’t had a lot of money to do it- I’ve taken all my oil money and invested my whole life savings into this business.
So up until now, what’s been the most challenging part and the most rewarding part of this whole process?
The most challenging part for me is building teams. I went to aeronautical school, I didn’t know anyone who could be the CTO, so I hacked my way into finding people who really, really love what we’re doing. Now I’ve found 4 people who are my ride or dies- they’re like “we’re in this, we don’t really care how much or if we’re getting paid right now we just want to build something really cool with you and take this to the next level” because they see the vision.
The most rewarding part has been honestly, just seeing how people are reacting to it. My friends and family and even strangers reaching out and asking how they can get involved is probably the most humbling and crazy experience that I’ve had so far. Knowing that I’m building something that people actually want. Wherever this goes I know that I’m staying true to myself and the vision of the company- it’s crazy to think about. It’s super cool to see that people care, and people care about me. When I worked a 9-5 job, I did so much work for the company and I never got anything for myself. It’s not about money but it’s about the feeling of purpose and drive that you get when you wake up in the morning: “I can’t let myself down and I can’t let other people down. People are counting on me, travelers are counting on me! I need to do this, I need to keep going!”
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