Starting, Building and Selling a Business – The Multimap Story
Audrey Mandela is an entrepreneur, consultant and angel investor. She co-founded Multimap with Sean Phelan in 1995, where she was Marketing Director, Board Director, Company Secretary and General Counsel. Before that, she had been Senior Vice President, International for the Yankee Group, where she worked from 1980 to 1998. She is currently Board Chair and Acting COO at Informilo, a news site and print publisher for global tech sector developments. On Thursday 10th July, Audrey came to speak at SyncDevelopHER, hosted at the Virgin Money Lounge in Norwich.
Rewind to 1995. The internet was just starting to take off, Netscape had just gone public and Microsoft had just launched Internet Explorer. The key players in a growing mobile phone market were Motorola and Nokia. Sean Phelan, a software engineer and sailing enthusiast, had just bought a GPS system before they had become consumer products. The initial idea that Sean had was to put maps on phones. Sean took the idea to Nokia, but they dismissed it – this was not what a phone was for! So Sean and Audrey decided to put the maps on the internet instead. They took the idea to Ordnance Survey and offered to buy their maps to put on the internet, but Ordnance Survey were worried that people might steal them. They did come around eventually! Multimap was founded in 1995 and began filing patents and in 1996 began software development. 1997 saw the launch of the public site and their first fee-paying customers. By 1998, Multimap needed some funding. They went to 3i, but 3i didn’t want to support Multimap’s mixed business model. How could they be serving both business (B2B) and consumer (B2C) markets? They said that Multimap needed to do one or the other, but not both. Multimap argued that it was the same platform that could serve two different customers, but unfortunately could not convince 3i. Eventually they were able to secure funding from Flextech and Audrey put some funding in as well, raising nearly £2m.
By 1999, they rented some office space and had hired some employees. The first hire worked on a Customer Relationship Management (CRM) database. There was nothing available in the market that could do everything they envisioned and so they had decided to build one themselves so that they would be ready to serve customers. In 2000, they went from 5 people to 23 people, including SyncNorwich’s co-founder and organiser – John Fagan. They also began their first advertising campaign, with the clever idea of finding shapes within maps, like a crab near Brighton, a guitar near Abbey Road, a cocktail glass in the West End of London, a dinosaur near the Natural History Museum and a sheep in Wales. By this time, the dot.com boom was in full force and Multimap were competing for advertising space and attention. But the campaign, although expensive for Multimap, worked – it increased traffic to their site by nearly 50% and more importantly, traffic stayed high after the campaign. Awareness of the brand had been raised and the sheep advert won ad of the week with Campaign magazine.
In 2001, Multimap moved to their own offices and launched in the US. The dot.com bubble had burst and Multimap needed to raise more money to survive at a time when investors’ enthusiasm for tech start-ups had all but disappeared. They considered VC funding, strategic investors and follow on funding from existing investors – each option came with different pros and cons, and Multimap did not want to lose control of their company. Flextech were not keen to invest, as only 2 of the 8 dot.coms that they had invested in had survived. In the end, Audrey, Flextech and a key supplier did provide investment. This enabled Multimap to expand beyond the UK and Europe and to grow the number of B2B customers from 400 to 800. By 2003, they had served one billion maps, they had added Australian and New Zealand maps, had secured some big customers, including Argos and Ford US, and had made it into the Sunday Times Tech Track 100. In 2004, they partnered with Microsoft and began to expand in the US market. They had their first £1m month and celebrated their 10th anniversary in the Natural History Museum.
2005 also saw the rise of Google Maps. Google Maps, previously focused on the US only, had started to penetrate the UK. Google had draggable maps, whereas Multimap used the tab system. So in 2006, Multimap developed their own draggable maps API and implemented a new site design in response. They also won a Queen’s Award for Innovation. In 2007, Multimap launched a new public site with draggable maps and added more Asian country coverage and started to look for new investors. But, competition was starting to heat up, with more new entrants, big competitors like Google and Microsoft with very deep pockets, and the rise of satellites. 2007 also saw TomTom buy TeleAtlas and Nokia pay $8.1 billion for Navteq. Multimap agreed to entertain the idea of selling the business, as there were signs that the industry was about to change significantly. They then sold to Microsoft in December. Microsoft incorporated Multimap into Bing about a year later.
At the time of sale, Multimap had close to 200 million page views per month, was the number 1 business mapping service provider in Europe and number 2 or 3 in the world and one of the top 10 most visited websites in the UK. They were delivering maps to more than 1200 business customers and they had over 120 employees in London, Boston, Sydney and Istanbul. They had been consistently profitable since 2002 and were only one of three companies to appear in 4 consecutive years (2003 to 2006) in Tech Track’s Top 100 fastest-growing technology companies.
After this interesting and informative overview of Multimap’s birth and growth, Audrey then offered advice on what they had learned by starting, building and selling a business. Some of these included:
- Be clear about why you want to start a business – it’s not for everyone and it’s hard work!
- Know your strengths/core competencies and weaknesses
- People – find the right people, motivate these people, keep them and if they leave – get them back!
- Be clear on and nurture your company values
- Understand how you will make money and sales
- Let the market drive development and operations….but balance and allocate resources based on market potential for tomorrow as well – Be ready to scale!
- Go for as many awards as you can – they boost employee morale and make good PR
- Watch the cash – but do pay for the right external advisors
- Speed is important, but big decisions shouldn’t be made too hastily
- It is not about raising investment money, but about growing your business – make the right kind of money at the right time
- And finally – don’t believe your own predictions!
After a short break for beer and wine, sponsored by Tipsy & Tumbler , Audrey went on to talk about Women In Tech. She started by telling us about a survey by the British Computer Society. They asked whether there would be a benefit to having more women working in IT – 9% of men responded NO! A 2013 European Commission report states that of the 7 million people working in the ICT sector, only 30% are women. Women also drop out of the sector early, from 20% at aged 30 to less than 9% over the age of 45. They estimate that if women held digital jobs as frequently as men, Europe’s GDP would be boosted by approximately 9 million Euros per annum.
Audrey also champions more women getting onto Boards. She is on the Steering Committee for Global Board Ready Women – supporting gender diversity on corporate boards – and is the Chair and Company Secretary for Women in Telecoms and Technology (WiTT) – an informal networking group on education and enhancing women’s careers. She presented studies to show that companies that are more inclusive of women in management achieve a 35% higher return on equity and a 34% better return to shareholders than other organisations. Women who do choose to work in the ICT sector earn approximately 9% more than women in other sectors and are less likely to become unemployed. Women make up approximately 31% of self-employed Europeans, but only 19% are ICT entrepreneurs.
The Female FTSE Index for 2014 shows that there has been some improvement in the number of females on Boards, but most progress has been made for Non-Executive Directors (NEDs), with very little progress in increasing the number of executive directorships.
Audrey offered some advice for improving this situation:
- Introduce more diversity programmes and remove genders from CVs to reduce unconscious bias in recruitment decisions.
- Use quotas to get more women onto Boards – this may be controversial, but so little progress has been made – we’re all getting tired of waiting for this to change! Public companies must reflect their users and women are still very under-represented.
- Introduce more coding into schools – get kids developing apps and doing more fun stuff in ICT – current teaching is generally outdated.
There were lot of questions for Audrey and the comments on the SyncNorwich meetup site reflect how much her talk inspired the audience and how much they enjoyed it!