Last April, I traveled to Cabo San Lucas in Mexico with two of my friends. Once we landed and got into our rental car, my friend pulled out his iPhone, loaded up Google Maps and Spotify, then we drove towards the Villa we were staying at.

On the way over, we got lost for a few hours since the maps weren't up to date. Eventually, we found our home. The next morning, my friend found out he had reached his data limit.

My phone wouldn't load any data, even though T-Mobile serviced the area. There was a problem connecting to the Internet. Regardless, I figured that finding my way around another country would be quite difficult, no matter where I am at.

While I attended the GMIC conference in San Francisco, I had the opportunity to interview Yury Melnichek and Alex Zolotarev, founders of MAPS.ME. During our conversation, I discovered that Alex Zolotarev also had a similar problem to me, back in 2009 when he visited Cuba with a friend.

At the time, there was no cellular connections in the area aside from Havana and Santiago De Cuba. Because of that, Alex had to get creative in his way of navigation. He connected his windows laptop with an external GPS, scanned the most comprehensive map he could find, a military grade map made by the Soviet Union, then uploaded it to his laptop. This let him see a rough position of where he was on a map, alongside with some basic Spanish for directions, but he saw that there was a clear problem when it comes to traveling in uncharted territory, especially since the map only listed one road.

Half a decade ago, Yury was working with Google's map team. While employed, he had presented them with a problem. In Yury's home town of Minsk, Belarus, there were only two roads listed on the map; however OpenStreetMap had detailed data with streets and houses. He advised that Google should go open source with their maps. They declined.

Shortly after, Google sent Yury off to a training called Search Inside Yourself, by Daniel Goleman of Stanford University. When he got back, he remembered back on how his team at Google was unwilling to solve a problem, when a much better solution could have been implemented. He saw a market fit for a product he could create.

With the newfound inspiration from the training seminar and Yury's desire to do more with his life, Yury quit his job, sold his apartment along with another cofounder and started working on the prototype for MAPS.ME in 2010.

Yury had a desire to increase search quality within maps and create a product that would multiply itself. He knew he couldn't do it alone, so him and his cofounder Viktor Govakohad asked Alex, a coworker at Credo-Dialog back in Belarus at a job he had prior to Google, to join them. Alex remembered back on how difficulty it was for him to travel in Cuba, so he immediately agreed. Then they took the next year to turn their prototype into something usable. Now, over 25 million people across the world have downloaded MAPS.ME.

But how was Yury and his team over at MAPS.ME able to get to where they are today?

1. They identified a problem: People around the world were using data and getting overages when traveling to new countries. They also couldn't see a comprehensive map that would show an accurate depiction of what was around them.

2. They figured out a solution: They integrated an open source map where you could download the whole planet in 18 gigs, or just California in under 300mb. This allowed users to download their maps prior to traveling.

3. They tested their MVP: MAPS.ME originally launched as a free product. The product was broken and barely worked, yet 140,000 users downloaded the app within the first year. Once improved, they later released a paid option, but switched back to being free after European Internet giant Mail.ru acquired them in 2014.

4. They thrived on encouragement: Users reached out and told them how much they really loved the app. Those warm words of encouragement inspired the MAPS.ME team to put everything on the line.

5. They listened: Users requested additional features. MAPS.ME delivered.

6. The product was sticky. MAPS.ME was released right before travel season. Since this was the only fully comprehensive map on the market, friends told friends. This led to more users downloading the application, along with being in featured in many publications.

7. They turned to the people: Wikipedia took the market from Brittanica when they went open source. Google did the same to Internet Explorer with Chrome. Now MAPS.ME is open source and any user or developer can contribute to the platform.

8. Their mission is bigger: Humanitarian relief teams are sent out after disaster strikes. By having a map that's updated in real time, teams are able to get satellite updates to avoid roads that have been demolished.

MAPS.ME is changing the way we travel across the world and is making a real impact. Uncharted courses will be documented throughout the world, from the jungles of the Amazon to tiny little islands in the middle of nowhere.

What ways have you been able to impact the world with your technology? Comment below!

Published on: Oct 12, 2015
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