With an Internet-enabled smartphone in hand and a map of the city down to street details on it, finding places is a click away. Increasingly, people are putting those two things together to find something else: a business.
From searching for real estate to calling a cab, from locating restaurants to finding billboards to advertise on, a growing number of Indian start-ups are building businesses that have maps as their underpinning. They are stoking what Lalitesh Katragadda, country head, products, Google India, describes as "a silent revolution".
This June, in a statement of belief, Google paid $1 billion to buy Waze, an Israeli app creator that gathers map data and other information from users to provide routing and real-time traffic updates. A billion-dollar valuation might be a stretch, but Indian startups like housing.co.in, adnear.com, zomato.com and taxiforsure.com are hoping to build a significant, differentiated business and value—by harnessing the power of maps.
Take adnear.com, which has mapped 800 cities and 4,000 towns in India for data on locations of advertising billboards and other spots. Users can see where these are, what's around them and what kind of traffic do they see, and plan a targeted outdoor ad campaign. The company also plugs into wi-fi and cell tower signals to send mobile ads to users based on their location — for example, a PizzaHut ad and address delivered when a user is around an outlet.
According to TomTom, a navigation solutions provider, the map market in India, comprising digital maps and navigation devices, is currently about $200 million, and will increase to up to $3 billion in five years. Some of this growth will be powered by map-based businesses. "We do see more map-integrated start-ups now compared to two to three years back," saysAlok Mittal, managing director of Canaan Partners, a venture capital firm that invested inadnear.com in October 2012, along with Sequoia Capital.
Why Maps Now
Three changes are feeding the growth of such businesses: faster broadband, more smartphones and more digital maps of India. "For start-ups, maps has been a missing layer, largely because devices (like smartphones) and broadband were not there," says Ritesh Bangalani, director, Helion Venture Partners. "Now, there's a push towards location-based services that make it convenient for users to reach out to a service."
Katragadda of Google sees a bigger role in using maps as Internet use itself is changing direction from 'list view' to 'map view'. So, for example, a search for an antique gift shop will not only throw up a list of shops, but also locate them on a map. "A few years back, digital maps were limited to 30-40 cities and with limited information. For example, in 2006, we didn't have road data on digital maps, even in cities like Delhi and Mumbai," he says. "In a decade, India would have covered every street, house, shop and building on a digital map. We do see start-ups and others use maps."
Direct data on map-based businesses is unavailable, but the revenue trajectory of mapmyindia.com, a supplier of digital maps, is a reasonable proxy. According to its managing director, Rakesh Verma, the company was posting annual revenues of about Rs 3 crore between 1995 and 2007. In 2012-13, it closed with Rs 100 crore. A lot of this, he adds, came from traditional companies (for example, the Ford Endeavour car comes with a navigation device loaded with digital maps), more start-ups bought its maps to build businesses on top of them.
"We are seeing green shoots emerging as maps become an intrinsic way to use gadgets and are marketing our products locally," says Rajendra Tamhane, a director at TomTomIndia, which supplies location and navigation products and services.
Business Of Maps
Venture capital funds are eyeing start-ups that use maps as a differentiator. "In India, most people will access Internet on their smartphones," says Mittal. "Once you are mobile, location is critical. Sites using maps will have an edge over those that don't. For example, a restaurant will use a combination of cuisine rating and map location to attract customers."
Real estate portal housing.co.in, launched in June 2012, has used maps to cut through the clutter in property search services, where there were 50-odd portals already present. It enables a user to see the exact location of a property advertised, as well as reference it for distances and 20 amenities (like petrol pumps, shopping malls and schools). "We entered an overcrowded market, but none of them took the pain out for users in finding a place," saysAdvitiya Sharma, chief marketing officer, housing.co.in. "While looking for property, people should know what's around it, with precise location. We use Google Maps to do that."
Two radio-taxi operators — Ola Cabs and Taxiforsure.com — are also using maps to set themselves apart. The conventional radio-taxi booking model is call centre-based: call a call centre, book a cab. The map-based model empowers the user fully. Using an app, a user logs on to their site and punches in ride details (pick up point, time and destination). The site gives a map-based view of the available taxis and the approximate time to reach the user. Further, a user can also track the progress of the taxi using the app.
"About half of our pick-up bookings are for 'right now' and we have seen people using maps extensively," says Aprameya Radhakrishnan, founder-director of taxiforsure. com.
Adds Bhavish Aggarwal, cofounder & CEO of Ola Cabs: "Over 25 per cent of our customers use the mobile app to book their cabs." Ola Cabs also mines user data to calibrate demand and supply. "This helps us identify lean and peak hours, event-based trends like rains, holidays, festivals, strikes, etc, to plan our inventory optimally," says Aggarwal.
"This also helps us create accurate forecasts on growth over time to plan our supply." AddsAnil Mathews, founder & CEO, adnear: "The use of maps will increase in India as it makes it easy to identify things."