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How Placebase Survived Google Maps

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Three years ago, when Google launched Google Maps for free, the whole world was agog with what you could find. One man who wasn’t thrilled: Jaron Waldman, founder of Los Angeles-based startup Placebase. He was contemplating starting a white-label mapping business when Google went and made the value proposition of his idea disappear. After all, it’s hard to compete with free. Or so you would think.

Waldman thought differently. He decided to compete with Google and other free mapping services by doing two things: One, by offering customizations and tons of features that integrated private and public data sets in many diverse ways. (He knew it would be a while before Google would get around to offering customization). His other twist was to offer a way to layer commercial and other data sets (such as demographics and crime data) onto the maps using an easy-to-use application programming interface (API). The product is called PushPin.

Two years on, his strategy seems to be paying off — the company, which is completely bootstrapped (read again: no VC dollars), is doing a few million dollars in revenues and is profitable. In this age of perpetual hype, it’s refreshing to see a company building business the old-fashioned (read: hard) way. “Google Maps is great for consumer usage, but we are making it easy for large companies to take our Maps API, customize it and then use it,” Waldman said. Users of its Maps API include Cyberhomes and Dash. “We are being used for real estate, fleet tracking and traffic.”

I wish I had more time to chat with Waldman, but he wanted to pitch me a new product from one of his clients. It’s called PolicyMap, and is based on Placebase’s PushPin technology. It aggregates all sorts of interesting data from various commercial and public datasets — home sales, crime, current year and five-year projected demographics, school performance, mortgage lending, employment and more — and puts them at the disposal of researchers, policymakers, real estate developers, investors and just everyday users. You should check it out.

82 Responses to “How Placebase Survived Google Maps”

  1. It would be impressive

    If the world was confined to the United States of America
    however some of us live in little places like “London, United Kingdom” that don’t seem to be mapped.
    Google’s map covers the whole world

  2. This is the leading edge of what will soon be acknowledged by society as a huge war between Apple and Google. Its is a fact that when programming with MapKit, particularly for a private app, Google Maps policy is “hey, use it for free but if yu start making a load of money will be butt in for mmmm who knows how much!” This is not acceptable for Apple or the market.


    Dr. Lewis
    Computer Science Department
    University of Colorado Colorado Springs

  3. is forever grateful for the relationship with Placebase. Incredible team and great product that we have used from 2 years to aggregate cell phone coverage complaints from AT&T, Verizon, Sprint & T-Mobile. The crusade has just begun with a crack in what hopes to be open mobile net neutrality.

  4. As a sociology major I find this incredibly interesting, and may have to pay for the service just to play with it. We used data in a program that could map data by county, but including “regular” map functions is very intriguing. Is there more crime surrounding late-night pizza places? Do rich people choose to live further from the noise of the highway, or closer because they commute to work by car? This is really a pretty valuable and unique tool. Thanks for posting.

    • John Kestner

      Another way you can create your own maps is my buddy Jeff’s Cartagen. It’s open-source, draws client-side vector maps using HTML 5, and uses stylesheets to allow you to easily change appearance and behavior.

      • Professional webmapper

        Cartagen? Really? Does your buddy Jeff understand the concept of caching….and even blending cached tiles? How does he possibly hope to compete with other products when his maps are slow as molasses? I haven’t seen webmaps that slow since 1999. I love the simple interface and styles, but it’s ridiculously slow! He needs to do some more research into web mapping technology…. But I will say I like the HTML5 angle there….he’s definitely onto something going in that direction.

  5. It would be great to have Mr. Jaron Waldman sharing with the startup community his findings along the time he is competing with Google/free. For sure all of us got a lot to learn from his experience.
    Is that possible?

  6. Eddie

    @ Ericsson,

    > Personal/friend/family/credit-card investing.

    Paul Graham of Y Cominbator (is Y Combinator a “VC” firm?) says:

    > [3] Do not finance your startup with credit cards.
    > Financing a startup with debt is usually a stupid
    > move, and credit card debt stupidest of all. Credit
    > card debt is a bad idea, period. It is a trap set
    > by evil companies for the desperate and the
    > foolish.

  7. @ Ericsson,

    Actually not true. Sure we don’t have that many boot strapped companies getting coverage here, but we do make an effort to find non VC/boot strapped companies. Stay tuned as we beef up our start-up coverage.

  8. @om — “…the company, which is completely bootstrapped (read again: no VC dollars)…”

    Om, most small businesses are entirely bootstrapped. No VC. Personal/friend/family/credit-card investing.

    Its only recently (last few years) that the average college grad exited college with a plan to make a business that they could not monetize, hope for VC’s to pay for the bill, and a quick buyout from one of those other companies that were initially bootstrapped. Sigh.

    Its getting to the point where a company like (which i am a co-founder), which is bootstrapped, no funding, profitable and hires employees, will never get press from the a-list bloggers.

    After all, we’re too boring :-)