Waze has been around since 2008, but it became a news head­line this week when rumours cir­cu­lat­ed that it may soon be acquired by Face­book for $1 bil­lion [here’s one news sto­ry; there are many]. In a hap­py coin­ci­dence, the founder of Waze, Uri Levine, hap­pened to be speak­ing at IE just yes­ter­day. It’s always a treat to see a suc­cess­ful entre­pre­neur live, but there was no men­tion of merg­ers or acqui­si­tions in his talk to IE’s stu­dents, fac­ul­ty and inter­est­ed oth­ers. Instead, Levine daz­zled the audi­ence with some great ideas about entre­pre­neur­ship, which was fit­ting as he was the keynot­er for the one-day pro­gramme at IE called “Ven­ture Days”.

What were Levine’s ideas? It might be help­ful to tell you a bit about Waze first. Here’s how its own web­site describes its work:

Waze is the world’s fastest-grow­ing com­mu­ni­ty-based traf­fic and nav­i­ga­tion app. Join oth­er dri­vers in your area who share real-time traf­fic and road info, sav­ing every­one time and gas mon­ey on their dai­ly com­mute. Imag­ine 30 mil­lion dri­vers out on the roads, work­ing togeth­er towards a com­mon goal: to out­smart traf­fic and get every­one the best route to work and back, every day.

Waze promo

In oth­er words, Waze is an app that — based on the reports of many oth­er Waze users — will help you find the best way to get to where you need to go, be it your work­place, an appoint­ment or a meet­ing with a friend or col­league. Waze, then, is a busi­ness built on crowd­sourc­ing. In his talk on “The Pow­er of the Crowd — Lessons Learned”, Levine stressed five key points, which I will sum­marise here:

  • Know who your users [cus­tomers] are. 
  • Make your mis­takes fast. 
  • It’s all about the journey. 
  • The biggest ene­my of good enough is … perfect. 
  • Focus — it is what we are not doing. 

While I can’t pro­vide you at this time a link to a video of his talk yes­ter­day, you can get a feel for Levine by watch­ing this short 2012 video in which he dis­cuss­es how Waze has been a major dis­rupter in the field of maps and map-making.

And that was my key take­away from his IE talk — that he and Waze had to find new, dis­rup­tive ways to become the next wave in the world of maps. Levine said that Waze moved toward a crowd­sourc­ing mod­el after it found out how expen­sive it was to pur­chase maps from the “big three” sup­pli­ers back then: Nokia, Tom­Tom and Google.

He recalled that the first con­trib­u­tors to Waze were dri­vers who enjoyed play­ing around with GPS and who were will­ing to become ear­ly adapters of Waze’s emerg­ing tech­nol­o­gy. In time, with more and more con­trib­u­tors, Waze found that it actu­al­ly had the best maps avail­able for those loca­tions where Waze users were detail­ing their dri­ving expe­ri­ence. This accu­ra­cy came along with real-time data on what was hap­pen­ing on major road­ways — a pow­er­ful combination!

He said that Waze found that its users were so insis­tent on mak­ing sure the Waze app report­ed every­thing exact­ly right, that any streets that were not labelled cor­rect­ly on Waze were called out quick­ly, allow­ing the com­pa­ny to main­tain qual­i­ty con­trol in a unique way: by rely­ing on its user base to keep Waze oper­at­ing at peak effi­cien­cy. This may be one rea­son why Waze was recent­ly award­ed the best over­all mobile app for 2013. In his IE talk, Levine not­ed that, just as Wikipedia has just about replaced the Bri­tan­ni­ca dynasty, Waze could increas­ing­ly be seen as a threat to the big three map firms. 

Thus the keen inter­est in Waze by Face­book and per­haps oth­ers. Take note: firms suc­cess­ful at nextsens­ing will quick­ly grab the spot­light away from even the biggest stars in the field.

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