Aussie's airport lounge app takes off

A young Australian living in Silicon Valley was feeling "very privileged" on Thursday after Apple prominently featured in its App Store an airport lounge discovery app he co-created.

With nearly 1 million apps in the store, it's a huge win for Zac Altman and his start-up team.

Formerly of Vaucluse in Sydney, Altman, 20, and his two US co-founders this week launched LoungeBuddy, an app that promises to "unlock the mystery of airport lounges".

The free app provides users with information about airport lounges around the world, including location, operating hours, amenities, and photos and reviews from other members.

According to its founders, users looking for such information often struggle to find it.

Altman co-founded the app with Tyler Dikman, 29, and Brent Griffith, 28. At 15, Dikman founded CoolTronics, a technology consulting firm that became a multimillion-dollar company. Dikman also worked at consumer entertainment start-up Redux, where Griffith previously worked.

The LoungeBuddy app appealed to Apple's App Store editors so much that on Thursday morning it featured on every country's App Store homepage under "Best New Apps". It was also selected by Apple's editors to appear among 55 other apps in the App Store's "Designed for iOS 7" section, which features apps like The New York Times.

Altman says LoungeBuddy came about from a common frustration both Dickman and he encountered while travelling  - delayed flights.

"Air travel often sucks, with one out of six travellers having a significant flight disruption on their journey and 60 per cent of trips having a layover," Altman said. "We've had our fair share of flyer's fatigue. Flying can be a really negative experience and we want to change that."


With LoungeBuddy, users can find what lounges they can get into based on what credit card they use, which airline membership they have or whether they can pay a one-time fee.

"Airport lounges are these oases to get away from the busy concourse with comfortable lounging and complimentary beer, wine and snacks," Altman said.

"Some have showers, or sit down meals, or even a spa with free massages. It's hard enough to find the information about these lounges, with conflicting information at every turn, and the access requirements are complex. LoungeBuddy has done the hard work so our members don't have to."

The app, which already has thousands of people using it in more than 60 countries after they were offered the chance to trial it before its official launch, is designed for frequent and infrequent flyers.

From the feedback to date, Altman said many people were discovering lounges they didn't know they had access to.

Based on the number of people that LoungeBuddy estimates go through airport lounges in the top 300 airports worldwide, Dickman estimates the industry is worth more than $US10 billion.

Although the LoungeBuddy app is free, its founders see different ways to monetise it. It doesn't yet offer a feature to buy walk-in passes to lounges, but this is being worked on. The start-up is also looking at promotions with airlines.

Altman, whose team has been using airport lounges as a co-working space to build their app over the past 14 months, said he was celebrating the LoungeBuddy app launch and Apple promotion with a gourmet pizza.

"It feels like a million downloads (hopefully), as it's given us a very privileged opportunity to get in front of a massive audience early on," he said. "Apple's good graces don't come easily, so we are making the most of this event by scrutinising the cavalcade of feedback and usage data …"

Dikman said the start-up's use of lounges as a workplace gave them access to amenities such as free Wi-Fi, showers, gyms, drinks, snacks and sometimes full meals for a reasonable price. At about $US1.30 a day due to membership, Dickman said it was by far the cheapest co-working space he'd used.

Altman and Dikman thought up the idea of LoungeBuddy when Altman crashed on Dikman's couch in July last year while on an extended trip to the US. Griffith later joined them.

"We were talking about what was next, what each of us was going to do next," Altman said. "I was like, 'I want to do something in travel,' and Ty was like, 'That's exactly what I was thinking.' So we sat down and we were, like, what could we do in the travel space?''

At that point the name LoungeBuddy came about.

Dickman, who has more than 1 million travel miles to his name, said he ended up "having these great adventures" when he reached his destination, but that airport time "was really bad".

"It was poorly managed time and I always had access to airport lounges. But it wasn't necessarily the lounges that were right for my needs at the time. And even if I could figure out what lounges were right for my needs, I'd then spend hours of my time trying to figure [out which one to use]. And that was certainly time no one else would ever be willing to spend."

Altman is a serial entrepreneur. His Australian taxi booking app Taxi Pro was late last year acquired by an undisclosed suitor for an undisclosed amount. Prior to creating it, he worked for tech start-ups, ran a number of sites and did contract work.

The start-ups he worked for included Collusion, GoCatch, RentSmart and Punchey. He also created an app for university students, called UniRadar, to discover, track and be notified of events at or around campus, and helped create the charity app GiveEasy. Another app he created, called Truckr, allowed users to find nearby food trucks in Sydney.

Altman learnt to program when he was just 10 years old. When he turned 12 and asked his parents to buy a computer monitor for him they said no. Following the rejection, he decided to start earning money and applied for a job at his local pet store. His CV was ultimately rejected.

"I was like, 'What else could I do for money?'" Altman said. "And so I thought I had these skills building websites and so I went online and then I posted up a job and somebody took it and they said, 'We want you to build this [website].' [I had] no idea how to build it. I was like, 'Yep, sure, I’ll do that, it’ll cost you this amount.' And then I went and built it and they paid me."

He then used the money to buy the monitor, which is still at his home back in Sydney

After creating his first site, he continued to make more during much of his high school life and then went on to found his own. One website,, covered news and reviews about Microsoft's now defunct MP3 player Zune. As the device wasn't available in Australia, the site also offered to import the Zune from the US to those who wanted one.

"I was selling them in Australia to make money ... because it's really easy to buy stuff in the US and take them to Australia and sell them at a higher mark-up and make a lot of money," he said.

Another site Altman ran sold iPhone unlocking toolkits for when the first iPhone came out and wasn't able to be used on Australian mobile phone networks due to being locked to US carriers.

Altman found a Chinese manufacturer who sold them for $5 and then resold them for $40, which was about half the price of what everyone else in Australia was selling them for at the time.

"I ended up making some decent money on that, all out of my parents' home in Sydney," he said.

Altman, who was a student at Sydney Grammar School and later studied a bachelor of information technology at UTS before deferring, met Dikman and Griffith at the Las Vegas Consumer Electronics Show when he was 16 and on a family trip to the US.

"Every year from then on we met up at CES until last year, when I came for a longer period and Tyler invited me to crash at his place," Altman said. "And that’s when LoungeBuddy [started]."

Altman said he looked to his grandparents, who "have made a lot out of nothing", for inspiration.

"They've showed me that hard work and perspiration pays off," he said.

twitter This reporter is on Facebook: /bengrubb