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MyCityWay, a local city guide app, may look like a roll-up of a lot of other services; there’s dining, nightlife, deals, movie showtime information and more. But what makes the New York startup interesting is that it’s managed to pair a lot of that familiar information with government data that creates a very sticky resource for users, who have downloaded the app and its local versions 1 million times after it launched almost one year ago. It’s a great example of the potential for big data companies to mine overlooked data sets and turn them into viable consumer businesses.
MyCityWay, which is available free on iOS, (s aapl) Android, (s goog) and the Blackberry Torch, (s rimm), turns to government data for only about 20 percent of the information in its different city apps, which are a collection of dozens of mini-apps. From that often unsexy data, the company is able to mine for important things like transit alerts, safety and recycling information, and traffic cameras feeds while also creating government resource mini-apps. One of the most popular features has been restaurant inspection reports. The municipal data is packaged with content filled out by partners such as Booking.com, Movietickets.com and OpenTable in some cities and firsthand work by MyCityWay, which has built its own databases of information about restaurants, bars, nightlife and other categories. The NYC Way app features street food carts and a listing for the changing color patterns on the Empire State Building. By marrying interesting data with government information, MyCityWay has built a guide for locals and visitors that tells people what they want and what they need.
The idea began with an idea by founders Sonpreet Bhatia, Archana Patchirajan and Puneet Mehta, all former Wall Street executives who grew frustrated at the inability to find a comprehensive local resource for information. So the three collaborated on MyCityWay and entered it a year ago in the NYC Big Apps Competition, where it won three awards. The trio received a $1 million round of funding from IA Ventures and FirstMark Capital in August after getting seed funding from New York’s Entrepreneurial Fund. A reason for the team’s success is in leveraging their Wall Street experience in wrestling financial data, and turning that knowledge into an engine that could ingest and organize all kinds of information.
MyCityWay, with less than 10 employees (plus an offshore team pitching in) is now on something of a tear, applying this model to other cities. It just added 17 new localized apps this week — including MyCityWay’s first international city, London — and it’s poised to release a MyCityWay USA app that lets users download multiple cities in one app. For each new app, MyCityWay approaches a government to see what kind of information they can use. It can be unrefined data spread out over various city departments, which can complicate the process, but more cities are learning the benefits of releasing data and being more transparent, something advocates of Government 2.0 have pushed for. Hawaii, for example, released a lot of tourism information that proved very helpful for the Hawaii Way app. But there’s still a lot of work to be done in many cities, even New York, one of the most open. Getting at helpful information like street cleaning days and local parking restriction information is tough to extract. And crime stats — at the top of many consumers’ wish list — are also hard to come by in most cities. The lesson from MyCityWay is that diving into data, especially government information, can pay dividends if packaged in the right way.
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