The founders of MapmyIndia, Rakesh and Rashmi Verma, started the business of providing digital access to Indian maps in the mid-90s when they launched CE Info Systems (the parent company behind the MapmyIndia brand). They believed that this mapping data would be extremely useful to businesses and consumers alike. The company’s early consumers included the likes of Coke and HDFC Bank, which used maps to analyse its distribution network and pinpoint its location to customers. The company grew well, but it was self-funded and operated like a small business.
In the summer of 2004, Rohan Verma (the founders’ son) joined the business. Over the last seven years, he has taken the company through several transitions. These transitions were not done because the earlier model did not work; they were all focused on growth and establishing scale.
“The thinking was that going the consumer route can help us build scale. Additionally, it helps put the MapmyIndia brand out there, which in turn would help bring in enterprise customers.”
Plan A: Change in mindset
When Rohan joined the business, his first project was building MapmyIndia.com, a free portal that put out Indian mapping data. At a broad level, Rohan wanted to bring in end-consumers into the equation through a B2C (business to consumer) model. “The thinking was that going the consumer route can help us build scale. Additionally, it helps put the MapmyIndia brand out there, which in turn would help bring in enterprise customers,” says Rohan.
Along the same lines, he thought there was potential to partner with car companies, mobile phone brands and telecom operators who would be interested in offering mapping data (from MapmyIndia) to their customers. Rohan says, “That was the B2B2C (business to business to consumer) model where we could provide our data to enterprise customers. These enterprises would then offer this data as a value-added service to their consumers.”
But there was a problem. These OEMs (original equipment manufacturers) – car manufacturers, mobile phone companies, etc. – were not convinced their customers would want digital maps as a value-added service.
Rohan says, “By and large, we did not see the traction we envisioned.” So, in 2006, he took a strong call. He wanted to launch his own brand of GPS navigators, which consumers could buy and fit in their cars. “In some sense, we decided to control our own destiny,” adds Rohan.
Plan B: Keen focus on monetisation
In 2007, with the backup of venture capital financing, MapmyIndia’s GPS navigator was launched. Rohan focused on building a distribution network to supply to car product and electronic retail outlets. He also emphasised on building a brand, establishing channel partnerships and setting up a customer service centre. The response over the next two years was tremendous.
In 2009, the company raised an additional US $9 million from Qualcomm Ventures (it raised money from Kleiner Perkins Caufield Byers, Sherpalo Ventures and Nexus India Capital in earlier rounds) to further scale up. The original idea of selling to OEMs came back, but this time, it worked. Indian consumers were now looking for value-added services when they bought their cars or mobile phones and MapmyIndia capitalised on this trend.
Recently, the company launched the CarPad, a car navigation and entertainment device. “It is primarily targeted at consumers who are chauffeur-driven and it fits into the headrest of a front seat.” Rohan’s belief is, in addition to navigation, there is tremendous scope for in-car entertainment; consumers would like to connect to the Internet, check emails and watch YouTube and that is the gap he wants to bridge with CarPad.
He has also launched MapmyIndia Travel Guides, a print business that goes against the wave of digitisation that India is witnessing. Rohan says, “In India, print will work especially for map guides during travel.” He has launched map guides for Uttrakhand, Goa and NCR (National Capital Region) among others.
Rohan sums up his thought process behind these new businesses, “It is MapmyIndia’s data that is extremely valuable. My focus continues to be to monetise this data as much as possible.”
Key lesson learnt from the MapmyIndia journey:
When MapmyIndia first wanted to sell to OEMs who would in turn sell to consumers, the plan did not work. The OEMs were not convinced their customers would want digital maps as a value-added service. So, MapmyIndia decided to go directly to the consumer with its GPS Navigation device. Once it was established that consumers wanted it, Rohan revived the OEM model. If something did not work in the past, it does not mean it will not work in the future. When you think an idea will work, try it out; the market will give you an answer.