Taking Maps in a Different Direction

A Kansas City startup hit the market this month with a product that is likely to change your way of thinking about maps.

Think of it as personal geography. Mapper—founded by Brian Welde—gives users an inexpensive and simple way to personalize maps to suit their needs.

Want to tell a pal about a remote hiking trail you found over the weekend? Pull up Mapper and show it. Then add a few details of your own. Mark favorite trails, bathrooms along the route and access points.

“There’s only so much information you can get off a Google map,” Welde said.

Mapper maps come loaded with preset material publicly available, but users can easily add their own information to make the map more meaningful.

The business has gained strong traction since it was accepted as one of the original members of the Digital Sandbox KC, a program designed to provide proof-of-concept resources and coaching to startups.

The Sandbox believes the simplicity and affordability of Mapper will give it a competitive edge above other mapping programs. Others are either too expensive or too complicated for average users.

The price also sets Mapper apart. One personalized map with a single log-in is about $2.99 a month or $20 for a year. The price scales up depending on the number of maps a customer needs.

Fishing for an Idea

The idea sprung from Welde’s other startup, Angling Technologies, which he launched in 2004 when he wanted better fishing maps than the market offered.

Welde had created interactive maps for the Department of Defense, and federal, state and local governments. So, he figured, why not put that experience to work to help his fishing hobby and sell it?

He created interactive fishing maps that included layers of preset data that went beyond the typical GPS coordinates available at the time. He melded GPS information with the cartography that a traditional mapmaker would use. But the real crown jewel of Angling Technologies is that the maps allow users to add to it with personal information, including their favorite fishing spot or snags in the water.

Fishermen could share the data or keep it on their personal map for only them.

As Welde looked to update Angling Technologies, he knew the concept could easily translate to other areas. Realtors, hikers, hunters, neighborhood groups and many others could use a similar product.

Welde took the lessons learned from his first company, and Mapper was born.

The startup launched this winter and will immediately include four active types of maps: fishing, recreation, community and real estate. All of the maps will come with a base level of information users can add to.

A real estate agent can include features that might sell a home, including the proximity of a park, lake or elementary school. A recreation map might include a list of trails, parks and much more. If your Girl Scout troop is selling cookies door-to-door, one of Mapper’s community maps makes it easier to divvy up the work. The possibilities seem to be nearly limitless. Welde and his team think of new uses almost daily.

Context Is Everything

Most existing map companies either don’t provide the level of detail that Mapper allows or are so expensive and complicated that it doesn’t make sense for an average computer user.

That was the problem Habitat for Humanity of Kansas City had faced. The nonprofit used Google Maps for years to check on new sites and possible projects. Now it has a specialized private map from Mapper that allows it to spatially track every past, present and future project.

“We prefer building close to projects that we’ve done in the past,” said Morgan Gardner, neighborhood development coordinator for Habitat for Humanity of Kansas City.

Before Mapper, Gardner would scroll through a spreadsheet of 300-plus locations—from a 35-year time span—hoping not to miss a site. Then she would plug the address into Google Maps to double-check locations.

But a private Mapper map has changed everything. The startup took decades’ worth of data from spreadsheets and created a personalized map for Habitat.

“So I can click on a point and I can see what families have lived there,” she said. “When it was built. If it’s a two-story or a one-story. All that information is in there.”

Welde envisions many other uses as well. An interactive wedding map could show—not just tell—guests where the rehearsal dinner is located, transportation, the bride’s favorite coffee shop and much more.

The Digital Sandbox has played a pivotal role in Mapper, he said, because it offered resources to speed up the launch.

The Digital Sandbox also provided experts who shared ideas and guidance.

“They just shortened the timeline considerably,” Welde said. “If we wouldn’t have had the help from Digital Sandbox, gosh, we’d be way far out. I don’t even know if I would have gotten it across the finish line.”