Polar vortexes aside, it’s no secret that we love our hometown of Chicago, and we love it even more when people want to visit. So we were excited to team up with new client Hop the Pond, a young company that helps students with J1 visas find temporary work, housing, and fun things to do in Chicago over the summer.
Hop the Pond was started by Chicago native Mark Reiter and Irishman Kevin Egan. Both had tough experiences as students traveling abroad, where they had trouble getting part-time jobs and affordable places to live, as well as knowing where to go or what to do for entertainment.
“You shouldn’t have to visit a city and spend 3 or 4 weeks searching for a job, or aimlessly looking for accommodation, events, and nights out with your age group,” says Kevin.
“I had always felt that if I had known of a company or even a person that knew all of the current social events, I would have felt more fulfilled,” adds Mark.
So together they launched Hop the Pond as a concierge service for J1 visa holders, taking the logistical guesswork out of living in a foreign city for a few months. Though Chicago may not be as widely known as a destination for traveling students, it’s an ideal location, given the myriad of things to do and see, friendly people, and relatively low cost-of-living for a major city environment.
J1 students, or “Hoppers,” can purchase different products from Hop the Pond to make the most out of their stay, including guaranteed summer job placement, summer housing, cell phone packages, bank account signups, and even transportation to and from the airport. Hop the Pond also plans day trips to places like Great America and hosts weekly rooftop parties in Wrigleyville, where Hoppers can hang out together.
Hop the Pond came to us with little more than a marquee website, and they had been managing the day-to-day business and following up with Hoppers manually. To secure jobs and housing for the students, they needed a lot of documentation like visas and resumes; as they were continuing to grow, keeping track of the paperwork and phone calls was becoming an issue. In addition to wanting a new, friendly website that conveyed their brand and services, they needed a system that made it easy for users to buy their products and automated these processes on the backend.
Under a tight budget and deadline of less than six weeks, we built them a new platform that streamlines their process, makes their business run more efficiently, reduces the potential for clerical error, and communicates their brand’s goals and messaging:
- Purchasing: Services and trips are easy to find and buy, and a new, built-in payment gateway automatically collects and tracks payments and refunds.
- Documentation: Hoppers can fill out necessary forms and upload additional documents, like visas and resumes, directly to the site, where Hop the Pond administrators can verify and manage them.
- User Profiles: User accounts let administrators keep track of Hoppers’ purchases and paperwork, which they can then share with potential employers or landlords.
- Video and Photos: Multimedia conveys Hop the Pond’s voice, their enthusiasm about helping students thrive in a new city, and why Chicago is an ideal place for students to live.
- Testimonials and Press: New Testimonial and Press pages help get the word out about the company and the great services it provides.
- Responsive Design: Taking into account the site’s primary users—college students who mostly interact on mobile devices—we made the site responsive so it can be viewed at any size.
- Scalability: As Hop the Pond continues to scale their business, administrators can update the site with new products and offerings and manage a growing user base.
The team at Hop the Pond was fantastic to work with, and we’re excited to follow along with them as they expand and encounter new challenges. This project gave us the opportunity to partner with a young business and help them grow to their potential—if we can help bring some fresh faces to Chicago and show off all the things our city has to offer, that’s just icing on the cake.