Waze, The Story

Why new Waze feature will keep Google Maps miles ahead of rivals - Los  Angeles Times

Former Waze CEO Noam Bardin recently joined the NFX podcast for an hour to discuss the history of the company, from a tiny, scrappy startup in Israel, to a global service used by millions.

Although of course I’d tried Waze (although my preferred navigation is Google Maps), I’d not heard of Bardin until he made pretty big waves early this with, “Why did I leave Google or, why did I stay so long?”

Interestingly, the NFX episode didn’t really touch on the Google acquisition. They referenced Bardin’s existing write-up and basically referred people to that if they were interested in the details.

Instead, the podcast focused on the early days and hypergrowth phases of Waze.

  • Waze bootstrapped their own maps, instead of licensing maps providers. When a user in a new area downloaded Waze, they would get a blank canvas, and they would essentially draw the map themselves, by driving. Then they could log onto the website later to polish the map they’d drawn.
  • Waze’s version of the 1/9/90 rule was that 1% of users would build the map, 9% would report traffic, and 90% would consume.
  • Waze churned a lot of users for a long time because the product wasn’t good enough. People loved the promise of the product, but Waze couldn’t deliver fast enough. Figuring this out gave them confidence that if they just executed fast enough, users would come.
  • The biggest competitor for many years wasn’t Google Maps or Apple Maps, but rather FourSquare. However, FourSquare never broke out of the “cool kids” customer segment, whereas Waze started outside of the “cool kids” segment by default, because their users were boring suburbanites driving to work.
  • Global companies need to succeed in the US. This means that companies based in the US are more likely to succeed globally, but also companies in tiny countries (e.g. Israel, but also Nordic or Baltic countries). Companies in tiny countries have no home market, so they have to go global from Day 1. The toughest spot is middle-sized countries (e.g. Germany). They can grow initially in their home market, but eventually they are likely to be consumed by local (i.e. not US) product priorities, and never make the leap to become global winners.
  • Waze’s best information is that the maps market is now 40% Google Maps, 35% Waze, and 25% Apple Maps.

It’s really a phenomenal episode.

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