The wonderful journey from custom development to own SaaS product
Many IT firms wish to go from custom development to their own product, but only few of them make it come true, for example the legendary 37signals with their super-popular project management tool Basecamp. We at COEX have been trying to get our own startups going for as long as we have been around, with even more intensity and tenacity in the last few years. Since last spring, it has been our main priority.
We narrowed our list of the services we offer, declined many projects and leads, revised our strategy and team structure because of it. And what can we say after almost a year of intensive development of our own product? It is all about changing the way you think, staying focused, saying “no” to interesting inquiries, and last but not least - choosing the right goal.
A bit of history
What was always a close-to-heart topic for us were maps and apps, which made use of one fantastic thing - the fact that today, nearly everyone has a digital map of the world on their phone, which brings endless possibilities and incredible potential. We'll never know what Christopher Columbus would have said to that, but hopefully we'll have the chance to ask Mr. Zikmund, perhaps when we're making a map of his amazing travels. Back then, newly discovered places and journeys were written down in a paper map and later reported at the department of geography.
We have simply always enjoyed filling in blank spots and thinking of new options. Connecting modern technology with mapping passion to create something new is a tempting challenge. It first became evident in 2005, when we stood at the birth of one of the first digital Prague guides and a few years later when we created a platform for the geolocation game City Rally.
The year 2010 was especially fruitful for us, as we created a map crowdsourcing project called Swimplaces out of boredom and our love for swimming in the nature. It began with sharing the map with a several friends, but it started a chain reaction and within a few years, enthusiasts covered the whole Czech Republic and a few more distant destinations. The noncommercial project was also successful in competitions and later recommended on many portals and TV channels. Without attempting it, some people even plan their summer vacation with the help of our swimming application, which brings us more joy than advertisement monetization (which we have, fortunately, never put in our project).
The project gradually gained a good amount of users. Especially on hot summer days and nights, when stars are falling, our server falls and Google blocks us from its maps. Thanks to the popularity, several other projects have been created. They use the map to solve more substantial problems than where to take a swim. A few worth mentioning are mapping of eco growers Adresář Farmářů Farmer Directory or the largest map of wheelchair-accessible places Vozejkmap.
New ideas and inquiries regarding clones and variations of the project keep coming up. We were the inspiration for the birth of other map applications and we provide open map data for other projects. The variety of using the maps to solve problems, share information, play geolocation games or map common interests is limitless. We couldn't resist anymore and so we decided to try to create something bigger. And that's how Mapotic. came to life.
We do not copy any complex map-creating tools from renowned companies. We aren't building a GIS system or creating another app like Google maps, Mapy.cz, Open Street Maps or FourSquare. We are creating an online service that allows people and companies to start their own independent crowd sourced maps as simply as possible. The more a map is specialized the better - if you have an interest and start mapping together with others, it is fairly probable that your map will have more quality information than the general (before mentioned) mapping portals. A map with an easy-to-remember web address, can be shared with other enthusiasts, communities, within firms or with clients, used to study, play outdoor games and…. you can fill the rest in. Of course, it gets the right dimension when others take part in adding places, photos, reviews, comments etc. And if you want, you can have your own mobile application exclusive to your project.
We got down to it last autumn and gathered feedback to our idea from users and investors at the Dublin Web Summit. In winter, we processed the feedback and perfected the concept of our new mapping platform. We did some background research of similar project already in existence, and explored the amazing tools of companies like Mapbox and Esri. However, we didn't identify anything with similar concept or profiling. Apart from one Israeli startup, which went in a different direction in the past year. The biggest competition are still conventional mapping tools like Google My Maps. Nonetheless, they do not allow custom information structure, different map tiles providers, own branding etc. And they close you in their ecosystem, where you can not simply invite other people without i.e. a Google account to take part in the creation of the map and so on. Mostly, we want to have a whole new take on it and add a few secret ingredients in the mix. Some have proven successful on our previous mapping projects (e.g. letting people add data without the need for registration), other new ones (like re-pinning points from somebody else's map into your own) we came up with during long nights while plucking feathers and we are curious to see how they will do when put into use.
The ambition to create a similar global mapping platform meets several challenges. And the technical ones seem to be the easiest to resolve. A large-scale multilingual content will be created by very diverse users. From individuals mapping for example local beehives to big companies who can rent it all and customize to Mars colonization. Finding an intersection point as far as communication and functions go wasn't easy and we are still working on improving it. Marketing and project promotion will begin at the beginning of 2017 and we will see whether we hit the jackpot or whether we'll be the only users along with a few mapping maniacs.
“We took an old trick out of the book and tried to introduce why and for whom we're doing it regardless of money. Who would be our main product user if we lived in a world where we don't need to deal with business plans, monetization, taxes, cheques, or an upcoming singularity?”
Most people in our team have a cheeky effort in them to contribute to make the world a better place (or more bearable:), improve something or at least try. We will try through this map platform now - whether you will have a great time at you vacation, discover new places, map who likes what with your group of friends or use the map to categorize information, find a place or solve a problem. It passes our criteria of contributing to making the world better. You yourself are our goal. We are finishing a beta version at the moment and we are looking for more mapping enthusiasts, sportsmen, hobbies, communities, institutions and individuals, who could make the “social mapping network” happen.
EDIT 2nd of February 2017: launched!