Our solution to the problems facing museums and travel

A primer for the places we live to learn about.

fter reading our previous article, you already know that we set out to transform the way people experience museums and encourage more meaningful explorations of the world.

Here’s how we got started:

Back in 2012, my co-founders Mike and Dem were working at a mobile app studio in San Francisco. They were approached by an art institution that had been given a $50,000 grant to build a digital tool for visitor engagement. When the institution first approached the studio, they assumed there would be ample funding left over. It turns out, the $50k budget was only about 1/10th of what it would need to be in order to build the software they had in mind at agency rates.

Woman staring at painting in a museum.
Photo by Pauline Loroy

Building software takes a whole lot of time and funding. We found ourselves thinking “every museum basically needs the same features in the app, so why has no one built this for them and offered it as an out-of-the-box solution?” We couldn’t believe that each museum was having to call a mobile app studio to custom build software. It would be like every family with children needing to call Toyota to custom build a minivan. Clearly, there had to be a better way.

We didn’t really think about this again for a few years, until another organization approached us with the same problem. It was at that time that we really understood that this was a completely forgotten-about market. For all of the tech entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley solving laundry and food delivery for 20-somethings, opportunities for their tech to make a difference in the nonprofit world were often overlooked. Some companies popped up and specialized in white-label solutions for museums. Still, visitors weren’t downloading individual museum apps, which meant low ROI.

We decided someone had to do something and started mocking up some solutions. With a prototype solution in hand, we started reaching out to institutions of all sizes. This research led to the formation of Gesso, a location-based platform to inspire meaningful wandering, provide immersive audio experiences, and solve needs in both the museum and travel industries. While our research was initially centered around museums, we quickly realized the opportunity to expand our platform to travelers as well.

Current travel options are lacking, guide books aren’t always easily digestible, and sightseeing programs can come off as too touristy and not authentic. This leaves a huge gap in the market for meaningful stories that deepen our connection to a place and culture. Our platform combines museum audio guides you actually want to listen to, thought-provoking city guides, and location-based podcasts (both our own and others that we love) to help tell these diverse stories that bind us… stories that enhance our experiences, not detract from them.

Traveler standing in front of pyramids in Egypt
Pyramids in Egypt | Photo by Andreea Ch

So where did the name Gesso come from? Artists have been priming surfaces with a compound called gesso (pronounced with a “J”, like jesso) for centuries, even dating back to Ancient Egypt. Throughout history, this primer has allowed artists and visionaries to share powerful ideas that spark awareness and drive change, tell inspiring stories, and provide insight on the diverse cultures and communities that coexist in the world. It’s because of this rich history behind one word that we named our platform Gesso, a name that we hope will inspire future generations of storytellers and creators.

To date, we’ve worked with institutions like the New Museum, International Center of Photography, High Line, Pollock-Krasner House, Asia Society, and Tenement Museum, to highlight their stories. We’re creating city guides and neighborhood primers for anyone who wants to see the world with a fresh perspective. And that’s just the beginning. We have big plans ahead.

Looking for ways to join our community? There are a ton of ways to stay involved. You can follow us here on Medium, download the Gesso Experiences app on iOS or Android, stay connected on social media, or listen to our latest podcast episode. Feel free to even get in touch with us — we would love to hear from you.

We’re thrilled that you’re a part of our story.



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Henna Wang

Co-founder of Gesso, next-gen audio guides for cities + museums. Follow for latest insights on audio, museum tech, travel tech, and more. www.gesso.app