Successful Hawaii tech startups are rare. Unfortunately, often promising local startups need to relocate to the mainland to acquire venture capital, talent and customers.

Not so with Shaka Guide, a company founded in 2016 by Andrew Fowers, a San Diego native who came to the Aloha State as a BYU student. Shaka Guide’s self-guided GPS audio tours, which are downloaded on your smartphone, provide a wealth of easily digestible information. In short, by combining the smartphone with the automobile, Shaka Guide has created a very sweet spot in the affordable, self-guided tour business. I spoke to Andrew recently about the genesis of his company.

Question: How did you come up with a self-guided tour as business?

Answer: When I was in college I worked as a tour guide on Oahu. I noticed two types of travelers — people who took guided bus tours and people who explored on their own. As guides, we naturally shared Hawaii’s history and culture with tourists. Those who connected with this left with a deeper appreciation of the islands. That was the genesis for Shaka Guide tours to connect people with places through stories in an affordable manner.

Q: How has this self-guided model been received?

A: Since established in 2016, we’ve had over 1 million downloads and are the highest-rated (an average of 4.9 stars) Hawaii travel apps in the App and Play stores. In 2022 we launched 20 new tours in national parks like Joshua Tree, Grand Canyon and more. We plan to launch another 20 tours in other national parks this year and launch a tour in every mainland national park by 2024.

Q: There are other self-guided tours to Hawaii. How does Shaka Guide tours differ from the competition?

A: We really pride ourselves in our audio experience. Not only do we tell you about a stop you’re visiting with facts, but we also use sound effects and licensed local music to enhance the user’s journey.

The tour is a holistic trip, focusing on the complete experience! So, for example, if you’re on a tour in addition to historical facts, we’ll share local recommendations on the route such as restaurants and even bathrooms. So, it really is like having a tour guide with you in your car.

We also feel strongly about giving back to the community. A portion of every purchase is donated to 20 local nonprofits of the traveler’s choice.

Q: With social media, “secret” local beaches and the like are history. Have you received feedback from local people who are not happy about visitors invading their turf?

A: Certainly. We take this into account by often editing the tour in a way that provides balance to local communities. We live here too. For example, there was negative sentiment around Nahiku Landing on our Road to Hana Tour, so we removed it. In fact, we’ve removed numerous stops from this tour due to sentiment.

We also inform customers of conditions important to their safety and well-being. For example, if you’re approaching a dangerous beach, we’ll advise you not to swim. Same is true for certain hikes or snorkel spots. We also teach them about local etiquette so they can be respectful during their visit. We don’t take travelers to spots that are “off-the-beaten path,” private property, or illegal.

Q: Is there room for more startups who can leverage the hospitality industry?

A: Of course there is! Startups that approach this industry with innovation along with respecting the locals can blossom. The visitor industry can also leverage startups — there are plenty of local companies like mine that are looking to transform the industry and make it better. We’ve had help along the way. We were honored to be a part of the Blue Startups accelerator program. We also received mentoring from some great local angels. We received funding from both local and Japanese investors.


Rob Kay, a Honolulu-based writer, covers technology and sustainability for Tech View and is the creator of He can be reached at


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