Groupon Founder Andrew Mason’s High-Tech Walking Tours Are Going Global

The app-based Detour city walks deliver new perspectives on San Francisco and beyond.

Groupon Founder Andrew Mason’s High-Tech Walking Tours Are Going Global
[Illustration: Jun Cen]

What’s a tech entrepreneur’s second act after leaving the company he started? If he’s former Groupon CEO Andrew Mason, he takes the hot media trend of the day (podcasting), pairs it with sophisticated location technology, and invites journalists and radio producers to create immersive walking tours that explore a city’s forgotten corners. Launched in the Bay Area earlier this year and now available for nine cities around the world, Mason’s Detour app offers a collection of well-produced audio tours with an intriguing set of narrators and guides (see the San Francisco tours, below). But what really sets Detour apart is the app’s inventive use of iBeacons and smartphone GPS to track its users and customize the tour to an individual’s pace and pauses. The results are rich, seamless soundscapes that subtly pull people out of their comfort zones. Tours, which start at $5, are being added to Detour each month. Next year, Mason will open up the platform to allow others to create walks, vastly expanding the app’s reach.


Tour: Architecture With Rick Evans

Stop: Crocker Galleria roof terrace

“The rule is that if you build in San Fran­cisco, you must give back open space to the public. But you don’t actually have to tell people about it …”
—Rick Evans, Architecture historian

Tour: The Castro With Cleve

Stop: AIDS Memorial Quilt former headquarters

“People would come in to make their own panels. They could barely walk, and they’d come in and sit down at a sewing machine and [say,] ‘It’s for me. I have to make my own, because there’s nobody left alive to make my quilt panel.’ ”
—Cleve Jones, Activist

Tour: Soundwalk Presents the Tenderloin

Stop: The Tenderloin

“I don’t know what happens to these folks as soon as they get gentrified out of here.”
—John Perry Barlow, Writer and activist


Tour: Beyond the Painted Ladies

Stop: The Fillmore

“Grateful Dead shows were not just about music. They were about drugs—acid tests.”
—Liz Gannes, Journalist

Tour: Beat Generation

Stop: City Lights bookstore

“Like them or don’t, but the Beats changed these streets and this country with what they wrote, how they wrote, and the no-holds-barred lifestyle they embraced.”
—Ninna Gaensler-Debs, Writer

Tour: The Fisherman’s Fisherman’s Wharf

Stop: The Fishermen’s and Seamen’s Memorial Chapel

“You can fool the ocean lots of times, but the ocean only has to fool you once.”
—Mike “Candy” Mitchell, Fisherman