Maptia is the most delightful way to discover, share and collect the places that you love. This team of four co-founders is on a mission to build the world’s first discovery engine for places – on a map. They are currently in the Techstars program in Seattle and I hopped on a phone call with Dorothy Sanders, their CEO and designer.
Q: Your path to Techstars was a bit non-traditional and you were in Startup Chile first. How did their program set you up for success?
A: I was actually traveling in South America last year, backpacking and CouchSurfing in Buenos Aires with someone who turned out to be a Haitian Prince! Emmanuel told us about the opportunity with Startup Chile and when I returned to England, Dean, Jonny and I decided to apply.
The program in Santiago turned out to be the perfect launching pad for us. The peer-to-peer mentoring was fantastic and the program really is changing the Chilean entrepreneurial culture. The Chilean government has bet money on passionate early-stage entrepreneurs as opposed to pumping it into infrastructure. We had a really great experience. The directors treat the program itself like a startup and it just gets better with every new batch of teams. We were usually with around 100 teams at any one time from all over the world. The diversity is amazing. In their recent application round they had almost one and a half thousand teams apply from over 60 countries. Everyone shared a mindset of being ready to uproot and move anywhere in the world in order to pursue something they are passionate about. It was pretty inspiring.
Q: I saw the video outtakes from your application to Techstars and it’s evident your team has some serious chemistry. How did you find one another?
A: Jonny, Dean, and I went to school together. We designed and edited a student travel magazine called Roam and that was when I discovered how much I loved graphic design. Maptia had been brewing as an idea we were all passionate about for almost four years. When we were accepted into Startup Chile after graduating, we realized that to build our vision we needed some serious technical firepower. We had an insatiable desire to learn but lacked the true technical expertise needed. So I created a quirky poster with which we hoped to find someone talented and passionate to join us in Chile and become a technical co-founder. Jianshi Huang (now our CTO) was living in Japan last year and had strong professional software engineering experience. He had been working as a software engineer in a large company for a few years and told us that he was feeling too comfortable. He wanted to challenge himself! Then when we turned up with this outrageous offer to fly halfway around the world to join us, he couldn’t resist the adventure and the opportunity. From the moment he arrived, he fit right into our team. Just two days after he arrived, we were already building stuff. The four of us even lived together in Chile. Here in Seattle, we still really enjoy living together.
Q: Rand Fishkin of SEOMoz tweeted that if he had a few million to invest, he would be begging you to let him in on your round. On the other side, you have faced skepticism from those that struggle with consumer-based startups that have a less-defined business model. What’s that been like?
A: The first five weeks were spent challenging our own assumptions. We had two main camps of advice. Mentors like David Cohen and Rand were saying, “You guys are a passionate team with an exciting vision – you should really swing for the fences.” On the other hand, some people were saying, “Find a small customer problem that you can solve and start there…” It was tough. We definitely had to wrestle with some mentor whiplash in the early weeks of the program. Being really young and comparatively inexperienced, it’s hard not to try to please everyone, especially since I am a consensus seeker by nature. Not to mention that all the Techstars mentors are exceptionally knowledgeable and talented in their fields. We have a lot of respect for them and for their advice. However, one of the most crucial lessons learned during Techstars is that you can’t please everyone. Now we do our best to back up our decisions with strong reasoning and move forward confidently with our plans. We are always very willing to accept that we will make mistakes. We do our best to learn along the way and are humbled by just how far we have come with all the awesome advice and support from the mentors.
Q: Where will you live next?
A: We will be toughing it up through the Seattle winter until at least the end of January. We feel very at home here after the English weather. We were promised rain and gloom but Seattle was uncharacteristically gorgeous for the first month or so after we arrived. We love it here and the Techstars program really has been a fantastic experience for us all, both as individuals and also as a company.