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TikTok of people passing by Md. man spurs thousands of app downloads



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For three days, Megan Foulk watched thousands of people walk by her father, Jeff, without a glance. Jeff Foulk had traveled to Chicago to advertise his marine navigation app for iPhones and Androids, but few people stopped at his booth.

Feeling sorry for him, Megan secretly recorded onlookers ignoring her 62-year-old dad as he tried to distribute pamphlets. She posted the video on TikTok earlier this month with the caption, “Help blow up my dads boating app, he’s worked so hard on it and just wants people to try it out.”

By the next morning, more than 1 million people had watched the video. Over the next three days, the application, Argo — Boating Navigation, received more downloads than it had in three years and reached the top of Apple’s download charts in the navigation category.

“I just wanted to try something that’d help him blow up and get him more followers and users,” Megan, 20, told The Washington Post. “I just didn’t expect it to work.”

After graduating from the University of Delaware, Jeff Foulk moved into a Joppatowne, Md., condo around 1984. With the Chesapeake Bay nearby, Jeff became enamored with boating on his Grady-White.

Although he eventually ended up working as a defense contractor, Jeff said he thought often about building a marine navigation app. He had wished there was a convenient way to locate restaurants, marinas and anchorages across the water. After years of talking about building his ideal app, his wife, Jean, told him: “Stop thinking about it or do it.”

In November 2018, Jeff partnered with software company ByteLion to create Argo. Its name was inspired by the legendary ship in Greek mythology.

Jeff said he combined features from Waze, Yelp and social media platforms for an application that suggests routes across every body of water in the United States. It provides updates on hazards, police and weather, and users can share their experiences and photos.

When the free application launched in September 2019, it consumed Jeff’s life. He mentioned his progress at family dinners and on car rides and walks. At some point, his family gave him a navy blue shirt that read: “WARNING! I will tell you about my app.” He said he answered every comment on the application under “Captain Jeff,” an alias his 24-year-old daughter Kelly suggested.

Argo attracted 1,000 downloads after four months and 100,000 by November 2022. Still, the app had not become essential among the boating community. Jeff said he has not yet profited from Argo.

“I didn’t focus so much on marketing,” he said. “It was really all about making sure the product was right.”

“We knew it could be so much bigger and have such a larger reach,” Megan added.

Megan, who said she admires her dad’s work ethic, helped her dad get his first big breakthrough at a Jan. 14 boat show at a Chicago convention center. She uploaded a 12-second video to her roughly 200 followers, accompanied by a piano arrangement of Wiz Khalifa’s “See You Again.”

When Megan noticed a few hours later that the TikTok had received 1,000 likes, Jeff wasn’t impressed. But that changed as downloads accelerated.

Within 24 hours, about 93,000 people had downloaded Argo. Over three days, that grew to nearly 152,000 downloads. Its approximately 1,200 reviews on the Apple app store exploded to 18,000.

At one point, online traffic was so intense that it caused the app to crash.

The next morning, Jeff said he awoke to around 4,000 emails, all of which he has attempted to respond to. It was the final day of the Chicago boat show, and Jeff said several people who had stopped by Argo’s booth mentioned seeing his app on TikTok.

Argo remains one of the seven most downloaded navigation apps on Apple, where it’s competing with popular apps such as Google Maps, Waze and ParkMobile. The company’s TikTok page exceeded 210,000 followers this past weekend, and Jeff is brainstorming features for his app’s new users.

With another boat show in Fort Myers, Fla., this week, Jeff and Megan are excited to meet more TikTok fans.

“Nobody expects anything to go viral,” Jeff said. “I guess it happens when you’re not trying too hard.”

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