Does every startup dream of being bought out by Google? When the price tag is $1 billion, it probably doesn't matter and crowdsourcing map company Waze is one one of the latest darlings of the startup world because of its rise to the top of the technology world.
50 Million Users in Four Years
Is it luck? Is it karma or good looks? The key to the success of Waze is the strength of its executive team, Di-Ann Eisnor, a Waze co-founder said today at the DEMO 2013 conference in Silicon Valley. There are seven members of this team, large for a startup, and all but one had been a CEO at another startup before Waze, Eisnor said.
This team was fanatic about its vision of creating a traffic app that could help people save time during their commutes, she said. That's why it was able to block out distractions and focus on execution on the way to raising US$ 67 million in funding before Google came along to buy the company.
"We had a complete vision even back then," Eisnor said. "We wanted to tap into mobile devices and sharing. It's one thing to help each other find a restaurant. It's another to actually change traffic patterns."
Waze anonymously collects users' time stamps and location data to help figure out the best routes around construction, traffic jams or anything else that might impede drivers' progress on the road. When the company first started, the only people doing map apps were large companies who were actually building maps.
Eisnor and her team didn't set out to build maps, she said. Instead, the goal was to find the best routes to use for getting around, and early on, the app made it a bit of a game to get people to drive to areas no one had covered yet. They were the pioneers who built roads that would then show up on Waze maps for others to use.
"People really do want to help each other and if they feel like they are part of something that is helping make a difference, they become passionate about it," Eisnor said.
Early adopters still drive the Waze community, she said, even if they aren't the most prolific drivers anymore. That passion alone wasn't enough on its own, of course, and it turned out a large construction project in Los Angeles was eventually to be one of the Waze catalysts.
A section of the notorious Interstate 405 in California was to be shut down in an already traffic heavy area and a local television station actually called the Waze team into its studios to help guide viewers on ways to get around. It generated at least $3 million in free advertising, Eisnor said.
Waze helps drivers avoid traffic and gives people real time updates
Build, Play, Monetize
Waze grew in three phases: build, play phase and monetize. The first was making it fun for people to create roads and get points and those early adopters were really into helping people, Eisnor said. During the play phase, the routes still weren't really helpful for saving time, but if someone was the first one on a road, they'd get to be a Pac Man and eat dots on that route, for example, she said.
To make money, the team looked at licensing its data and, of course, advertisements. However, it decided against doing the licensing because the team felt it would take away from its time on executing, Eisnor said. Waze left money on the table, so to speak, simply to keep working toward its shared vision.
Now that it is part of Google, it can start developing advertisements and location based ads look like they will make the best fit, Eisnor said. Ads that will show someone a coffee shop or grocery store depending on location and time of day, for example, could be one way the ads work, she said. No matter what the final design of the apps ends up looking like, the company continues with its same vision to focus on helping people spend less time driving, Eisnor said.
"We focus on what is happening during the next five months," she said. "If you don't do that, you may not be here in five months."