In its early days, DoubleMap's three founders were scattered across 12 time zones. "I was sitting in Africa, calling Peter, who was an investment banker [in Minnesota]," says DoubleMap CEO Ilya Rekhter, speaking about his co-founder Peter SerVaas. "So he would sneak out of his office and go to the lobby to take calls."
At the time, Rekhter, a recent college graduate, was doing health care consulting in Ethiopia. Meanwhile, DoubleMap's technical co-founder, Eric Jiang, was in California for a summer internship with Google.
The idea for the company came out of an initiative to improve Indiana University's campus bus system while Rekhter and SerVaas served in student government. Rekhter initially pitched the Indiana University Campus Bus Service on a plan to establish a new route for serving IU football game attendees, but it was rejected.
However, talks with administrators eventually led to a new idea: tracking and displaying the location of buses. In 2009, the Indiana University Campus Bus Service gave the students the green light to create a system to do this, which they built with $15,000 of the student government's money.
Looking back, Rekhter says his initial plan was ambitious, and that he was naive to propose it. Perry Maull, operations manager of the Indiana University Campus Bus Service, to whom Rekhter pitched the idea, agrees that Rekhter was in a bit over his head. "But he's a very quick learner," Maull says. "It didn't take long."
Bootstrapping to blasting off
A year later, Rekhter, SerVaas, and Jiang launched the software, a legacy intended for IU students to enjoy long after the three of them graduated. Little did they know that even after they left school and got full-time jobs, they'd still be asked to maintain the system. When Rekhter started getting those calls, it occurred to him that this project could be his full-time job.
Before he quit his day job, however, he wanted to be sure he could sign on other paying customers. Those contracts--the first with Butler University in Indianapolis and the second with the State University of New York College at Cortland--eventually came. Soon after, SerVaas and Jiang agreed to join Rekhter full time at DoubleMap, back in Indianapolis.
Their decision was made easier by the nature of doing business in the transportation industry. "I realized transit deals paid multiyear contracts up front, which could be our seed [capital] as long as we outpaced expectations," Rekhter explains.
This allowed them grow without taking a dime of outside investment. The downside was that they were under constant pressure to deliver the services they had promised with a team of four people. Fortunately, everyone seemed to be up for the challenge.
"We were working DoubleMap but we could have probably built a spaceship if that was the goal because everybody was that driven and that motivated and willing to work long hours," Rekhter says.
Friends and competition
Since then, DoubleMap has signed up more than 90 clients, including Walt Disney Studios, the University of Michigan, and Stanford Hospitals. The company's customers include universities, municipalities, hospitals, airports, and corporations. SerVaas says that most of the contracts they compete on are worth between $500,000 and $1 million.
Today, in addition to analytics software for transit system administrators, the company also provides a mobile app, which lets riders view in real-time where transportation vehicles are located and when the next one will arrive at a certain stop.
DoubleMap is in direct competition with NextBus, which also provides transit management software. The incumbent has been in business since 1996, but SerVaas says DoubleMap's growth has outpaced that of NextBus, which has 135 customers.
Rekhter adds that his company competes by offering services that NextBus doesn't. For example, last year, the company acquired TapRide, an on-demand Uber-like transportation service. SerVaas says the main goal of the service is to keep college students safe on campuses, where it has been rolled out.
The startup story about college friends looking to improve transportation in and around their school might sound familiar. Logan Green initially started ride-sharing company Lyft to improve transportation around the University of California, Santa Barbara. Back in 2006, that service was called Zimride.
In fact, DoubleMap's and Zimride's stories are linked. After Rekhter worked with Zimride to implement the system at IU, Zimride co-founder John Zimmer offered to make Rekhter his company's fifth employee, according to SerVaas.
"Ilya naively thought, well, I'm starting this new business with Peter and Eric, and I'm really excited about doing this myself. Why would I ever jump on with their team?" he says laughing.
Today, Lyft is valued at $2.5 billion. SerVaas calls it the worst decision of Rekhter's life. But Rekhter insists that it wasn't.
"I have no regrets," he says.