One Harvard student found a place to crash for a few days in Athens. Another met a Columbia student in China, and the two explored parts of Chengdu together. A third planned her trip to Brussels with tips she got from other peers: where to find the best frites and Belgian chocolates, and key phone numbers in case she needed help while traveling alone.
All three connected with others using Summer Playbook, a new student travel website that lets users reach out for tips, help, or just some company while on the road. It also encourages visitors to post stories of their adventures. Playbook, which has been around for three years, has been growing in popularity, and last year drew the attention of Silicon Valley, getting an infusion of cash from Y Combinator, a seed accelerator that gave an early lift to the likes of Airbnb, Dropbox, Doordash, and Reddit.
The website is the brainchild of Luke Heine and Raphael Rouvinov, both Harvard students who have taken time off from the College to build the startup. Heine, a senior with a concentration in sociology and a minor in computer science, and Rouvinov, a junior computer science concentrator, both plan to return for their diplomas in the future.
“We want to build a great, awesome product that people can use to connect with each other,” said Heine on a recent afternoon at the business partners’ one-bedroom apartment on Massachusetts Avenue that doubles as residence and startup office.
“We’d like to create something that people want, and see it grow big,” echoed Rouvinov, who joined Heine after trying the app during a trip to Tokyo and Seoul. “I met the coolest people, went to a ramen museum, had a crazy matcha ice cream, and did so many fun things.” Both Heine and Rouvinov have deep-seated interests in innovation and entrepreneurship. While in high school, Rouvinov was paired with a Wayne State University freshman at a University of Michigan hackathon, and the two created an app for Android systems to correct lazy eye using virtual reality. In 2018, Heine and classmate Cole Scanlon developed an admissions guide, filled with free resources for college access and financial aid, available online through the nonprofit Fair Opportunity Project.
The pair’s social network venture started its life five years ago as an Excel spreadsheet that Heine created to help Harvard students find cheap flights and accommodations during summer travels, a sort of low-tech couchsurfing.com. Heine hand-plotted the locales on a Google map and sent it as a document to students around the College.