Companies to Watch: Mapbox

Key points

  • Mapbox enables real-time updating of mapping and live location data, allowing developers to add maps, search and navigation into their apps.
  • Mapbox partners range across a number of industries, including social media, weather and travel.
  • There are over 1.1 million registered developers on Mapbox’s platform, and the company is able to collect over 250 million miles of anonymized road data per day, enabling their live maps to update constantly.
  • Mapbox is taking advantage of the shift toward map-first activity, where location drives transactions such as hailing a ride-share or sharing content.
  • Mapbox’s most recent funding round was a $164mn Series C led by Softbank’s Vision Fund.

Introduction

Mapbox Locate logo
Source: Mapbox Locate, 30-31 May 2018

Mapbox offers a live location data platform for mobile and web applications, allowing developers to add location features like maps, search and navigation into their products, and making it the only agnostic vendor of a live location data platform. The company was founded in 2010 by Eric Gunderson, to offer map customization for non-profit customers, after having formed groups to monitor the 2009 elections in Afghanistan and to create and share data for disaster response.

Since its founding, Mapbox has raised over $200mn in funding, including most recently a $164mn Series C round led by the Softbank Vision Fund. Previous rounds were led by the Foundry Group and impact investor DFJ Growth, both of whom have seats on Mapbox’s board and contributed to the latest round.

Innovation spotlight

In contrast to other mapping and location companies, Mapbox doesn’t offer a customer-facing app of its own, along the lines of Google Maps, with its focus on advertising, or Apple Maps. Instead it powers map and live location functions for developer partners across a number of industries, ranging from logistics to travel to social media (see Table 1). For instance, Snap Inc uses Mapbox technology to help users visualize events in their area – during the 2017 solar eclipse in North America, users could follow the path of totality on Snapchat by clicking on heatmaps showing video and photos taken by users from South Carolina to Oregon.

Table 1. Selected Mapbox users by industry sector
Industry sector User
Telecoms AT&T, Cisco, T-Mobile
Social media Snap Inc, Twitter, Tinder
Travel AirBnB, Lonely Planet, Hotels.com
Media The Weather Channel, Vice, New York Times

Source: Mapbox

Google’s model is to bring users onto its own maps, which allows customers less leeway in adapting the information in the maps to their own business models. By contrast, Mapbox aims to provide tools that users can customize to create their own maps, data visualizations and location-based services, as well as integrate their own data into their maps. This difference, and the number of layers that Mapbox provides beyond just places and terrain – over 130 layers, such as borders, streets and satellite imagery – plays into the shift in apps toward businesses using location data to drive activity.

As an example, when online maps first emerged a user searching for a restaurant saw the map last, when they had already chosen the restaurant and needed to see how to get there. This sequence has shifted to apps where the map is the first thing the user sees, and decides where to go, or which ride-share is most convenient, based on a visual overlay of data on a depiction of their current location.

Mapbox’s other advantage is in speed of updating. Where legacy mapping providers, such as TomTom and Here, require drivers to physically map features and push those updates to closed systems like connected car units, meaning a potential lag of 18 months, Mapbox updates in real-time by having users on the spot note features around them, and the vendor allows for live updates. The company collects over 250 million miles’ worth of telemetry each day.

Mapbox will be hosting its first developer event, Mapbox Locate, on 30-31 May in San Francisco. It features talks from Mapbox executives as well as Mapbox partners, on topics ranging from mapping to AR to autonomous driving.

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