Top 5 Takeaways from Waze’s Story

Last Tuesday night, a teleconference with Dror Cohen from Waze was held and hosted by the Embassy of Israel and the Ateneo de Manila University – Graduate School of Business. Mr. Cohen has been part of the Waze team since its conception.

Why is it so important to listen to Waze? Because you now have an era known as “Before Waze”.

Before Waze, after seeing traffic, you would try a different route only to experience a bigger traffic jam. Before Waze, you would buy maps for tourists or check out Google Maps and hope you wouldn’t get lost.

Given Waze’s impact on our daily lives, we thought we would outline 5 of the top takeaways from Waze’s story.

  1. Think simple.

Traffic and navigation is such a big problem. Tackling one already seems so overwhelming. While Waze hopes to eliminate traffic completely, their mission is “Save 5 minutes/day every day for every driver”.

What’s nice about this mission statement is that (aside from being catchy and straight to the point) it’s a simple and quantified goal. By breaking down traffic elimination into a smaller goal, Waze can easily pinpoint obstacles that prevent them from achieving their goal. Making the problem of traffic “smaller” is so important for a startup like Waze, which has limited resources and manpower.

At the same time, it shows that your game-changing idea doesn’t have to be so complicated. Yes, Elon Musk wants to send man to Mars, and, maybe, you’re feeling pressured to reach the same level. But, don’t base your startup on how you’ll be seen as a visionary. Do what works for you and your startup. As you can see, you can achieve startup success even without the capital of SpaceX.

2. Collaboration is key.

Usually, when people think of ongoing collaboration, those involved in the collaboration are the people involved in the product (investors, team members, advisers etc.). One innovative practice of Waze is how they collaborate. Yes, startups do go to the market and test out their product, but Waze differs because it is highly dependent on their community of Wazers. Waze collaborates with you real-time when you access Waze and start driving. Your data powers Waze. What exactly do we mean?

According to Mr. Cohen, when Waze launched, one of their roadblocks was that only 2 companies sold maps globally. As a startup, they could not afford to purchase those maps. So, they used the data gathered from their users. Each user leaves a trail of anonymous GPS points while driving. An initial blank map gains roads with these GPS points. Collecting and analyzing everyone’s commute allows Waze to see the major roads (i.e., how many times does Waze receive data from those GPS points) and the traffic rules (i.e., if most commuters turn left, the Waze team can assume they can only turn left).

If you use Waze, you know that Waze informs you when to turn right at [Street Name]. These street names could not be collected through data. So, they relied on their Wazers. Wazers added the street names, and, within 24 hours, their contribution to the map would be visible to all other Wazers. Aside from earning points to use for road goodies, Wazers also get bragging rights.

Until this day, the collaboration continues. Every Wazer contributes their data, reports traffic incidents, new roads, and road closures. This enables Waze to advise you on the best route to take and your ETA.

3. We need stronger startup support.

Waze was launched in 2009 as part of a startup program in Israel. The Philippine startup community has growing support from private organizations (Ideaspace, Kickstart, Impact Hub etc.) and the government, but, while current support is better than none, the difference between Israel and the Philippines is stark. Waze only began monetizing their app in 2012 — three years after launching! For the first three years, they were depending on the money from the startup program and venture capitalists. Having that support did not make them complacent but allowed them to focus on product development rather than worrying about money. We don’t know when they broke even, but Google did buy Waze for USD 1 billion+.

FYI. If you’re curious about how Waze earns from a free app, it is through the advertisements on the app and not through selling traffic data.

4. An idea isn’t everything.

A lot of times people are scared that someone will steal their idea. But, you can’t make that idea come to life on your own. You need a team, and you might even discover that someone has a similar idea. For example, PayPal was the product of merging two different startups: Confinity and X.com. We can’t tell if both companies would be more successful if they hadn’t merged, BUT they still produced a successful company. The truth is you really can’t be solely in charge of product development, marketing, business development, and the thousand other things startups have to work on.

The success of your billion dollar idea also depends on other factors like timing. The idea behind Waze was conceived around 10-15 years ago when one of the founders received a phone with GPS from his girlfriend. He thought it would be nicer if everyone could use this device to share information about the traffic. During that time, smartphones and data were expensive so launching Waze then would have been even more difficult.

5. Iterate.

Iteration is a startup buzzword. It means creating your product and going to the user and/or customer for testing. What is important about iteration is that you immediately know if your product has value or not. It’s natural to want to release a finished product because you want all judgment and criticism to be based on that finished product. But, as a startup, you don’t have the capacity to wait until your product is finished before releasing it. By iterating, you release an unfinished product, figure out what does and doesn’t work, and redo the whole product or scrap it completely. You will have completed several cycles of iteration before launching your final product. It’s also something that your startup will have to do even after success.

What’s the new feature Waze is working on right now? Waze Carpool. It’s still in the pilot stage, but it is set to be launched worldwide. Waze Carpool is not a profit-making carpool app; instead, you will simply have to split the gas cost with your riders or driver.

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