iPhone app helps users talk Tico

November 11, 2011

At 28, Alejandro Azuola decided that it was time to go big. 

Having studied computer engineering, Azuola knew that smartphone technology is a rapidly growing industry. Why not create an iPhone application as a first career move? 

But which one? 

Azuola’s girlfriend, Montserrat Trigueros, had an idea. The 27 year-old graduate in hotel management was in the car with Azuola after a night at the movies when it came to her: Create an app that explains and translates Costa Rican slang. 

For Azuola, designing and programming an iPhone app was a completely new domain. Trigueros had her work cut out too – she needed to compile and translate all the Costa Rican slang she could find.

“Once we had the idea, we started planning and working hard. We got organized and basically gave up our social lives to dedicate ourselves entirely to the new project,” Azuola said. 

He bought a MacBook, boned up on computer programming, paid Apple for the rights to an app and hired a lawyer. His total investment was $7,000.

“In this field you need to take risks to go beyond what the university teaches you. I needed to learn how to program for the sake of my career, so I did it. I invested my time and money, but I was ready to take a chance,” Azuola said.

For three months, Azuola studied programming books while Trigueros read everything she could find about Costa Rican slang. On Sept. 28, they launched Costa Rica Idioms. 

For a penny less than a $1, users get a simple yet attractive application that lists 314 words in the Costa Rican lexicon. Some 200 words will be added by the end of the month. The app explains entries in Spanish and English, and offers an example sentence in both languages. 

Costa Rica Idioms is an easy-to-use guide that helps foreigners sound like Ticos. Why ask for a cerveza in a bar, when you can ask for a birra? A quick browse helps users understand conversations about Chepe (San José), or learn how to say “I bumped my head” in Tico-speak (“Me dí un guamazo en la jupa”). 

“People used to tell us that if we were lucky enough to sell 500 apps, [the project] would already be a success. But selling was not our main goal. This was our first project and [we were] learning how to create an app,” Trigueros said. 

For not focusing much on selling, Trigueros and Azuola seem to be doing fine. In its first month, Costa Rica Idioms sold 5,000 times. Most users live in the United States, Canada and Europe. But sales also happened in Japan, Russia and Oman. 

“Few Costa Ricans would pay for this app, so from a strictly business point of view it is important to target our app to people who would actually buy it,” Azuola said. 

So what’s next for the young engineer and his enterprising girlfriend? Designing applications for iPads and Android smartphones. Those will be ready by January. Meanwhile, the two are already brainstorming on their next app.

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