Marco Polo launched in 2016 and was dubbed the “video walkie talkie app” by many. It’s becoming a way for military families to have meaningful connections – without the distractions social media can bring.
Founded by Michal and Vlada Bortnik, the app has come a long way since its foundation and its roots lie in helping people feel close.
“Just over 10 years ago, my husband Michał and I started researching happiness. We learned that meaningful connection and close relationships are the key to happiness. At the same time, we were a young family trying to find a way to connect our daughters with relatives in Poland,” she explained. “Texts and emails didn’t help our girls or our family feel very close and I’m sure you understand just how hard video-calling can be across multiple time zones. So we launched Marco Polo.”
Both have backgrounds in engineering and began to get creative on how they could build an app which fostered connections and improved communication, leading people to feel closer to their loved ones. “Our purpose focuses on the emotional well-being of our community. It’s why we promise to be built to be good for you,” Vlada added.
As users began to grow – both began to notice the way the military community was gravitating towards their products. The high optempo of the War on Terror lead to multiple and long deployments, causing difficult separations. Marco Polo began to emerge as a leading way to stay connected.
“As we spoke to more people in the military community, it became apparent just how much of a lifeline Marco Polo had become for so many families facing long deployments. As someone with family around the world, I understand how important it is to be able to connect easily and authentically across time zones,” she shared. “The many stories of how Marco Polo helps these families connect across time zones to share special moments like holidays, kids’ milestones, or life events drove us to create a community specifically for the military. We want those in the military to have a premium experience that makes connecting with their loved ones easier than ever.”
With this in mind, they committed to offering Marco Polo Plus completely free to those in the military and their family members for two months. The subscription version of the app is normally $5 a month. This version of the app comes with speed control, Photo Polo capability, animated emojis, Voice Polos and more.
“We recently launched a military community hub on our website,” Vlada said. “There, you can claim your free access to Marco Polo Plus, watch real stories of connection from military families, and even share your own story. And believe me, we watch every video!”
During the COVID-19 pandemic the company saw extraordinary growth in usership as participants looked for better and more wholesome ways to connect with their circles. “My vision is that Marco Polo will help a billion people feel a sense of belonging. At a time when more and more people are reporting feelings of isolation and loneliness, Marco Polo is critical to helping people feel close,” she explained. “At that scale, we could do more than slow the loneliness epidemic. We could end it.”
A multitude of studies have led researchers to conclude that loneliness has been on the rise since the 1970s. The quarantines of the pandemic added fuel to it – causing a wave of increased rates of suicide, mental health concerns and disconnection. The military community was already experiencing struggles in all areas with the constant moves and frequent deployments.
“I want to send a heartfelt thank-you to all the military families who are doing important good in the world. These families sacrifice so much for our sake, and we want to help ease their burden – even in a small way – by helping them stay close,” Vlada said.
Marco Polo hopes to stand in the gap as a resource to change loneliness and the way tech approaches social media as a whole.
“I see a future that’s much bigger than us. We hold ourselves accountable to the millions in our community by prioritizing their emotional well-being and happiness. We recently conducted a study in which we asked 100 people to trade texts for Polos for 14 days with one friend,” Vlada said. “The end result was that people felt closer and happier when using Marco Polo. I hope that Marco Polo helps inspire other tech leaders and companies to put well-being first and hold themselves accountable for the impact their products have on the people who use them.”
To check out Marco Polo, click here and then go to the dropdown for communities and chose ”military”.