Last year, Matt Kuenzel designed a Palm Pilot software application that he thought was a perfect match for people on the go.
The program, called Mapopolis (after the company's name, Mapopolis Inc.), allows users to plug in an address and have the destination pinpointed on a PDA-sized map. The software even designates nearby landmarks, like shops and restaurants.
Kuenzel offered the program free as a download from the Cleveland Heights-based company's Web site, where visitors could download maps of not only Cuyahoga County but also hundreds of other regions.
When he designed the software in early 2000, Kuenzel and his business partner, Darren Powell, believed advertising would be the key to generating revenue. But, as many Web-based firms discovered, ad revenue is not the solid business model legions of would-be paper millionaires once thought it would become. Kuenzel, like his Internet brethren, found no one was interested in advertising on the Palm.
The duo quickly changed the strategy and approached major fast food restaurants, asking them to pay a fee for inclusion on Mapopolis' maps. While the idea was sound, they learned that type of sales campaign required more manpower than they had.
"The 1999 business model was crashing all around us, " Powell says. "We decided that it probably wasn't a feasible idea, or sellable to VCs to raise money, so we had to change. Right now, we're maintaining our nimbleness and flexibility by not saying exactly how we're going to (generate revenue streams). It remains to be seen what the market will bear."
No matter what primary revenue model Powell and Kuenzel decide upon, one thing's for certain -- the two have the right pieces in place to build around.
Establish a targeted user base
Kuenzel and Powell pack some muscle when they talk to investors, thanks to a large user base which has already downloaded and is using the software. The Mapopolis Web site logs about 30,000 hits a day, with about 5,000 coming from unique users. They estimate that about 7,500 maps are downloaded each day.
They've also received positive recognition and validation in the press, despite almost no marketing. Recently, the software reviewing agency Two Cows gave Mapopolis a five cow rating, its highest, and Smart Money magazine recommended it in a recent issue.
Link with strategic partners
The duo inked a licensing agreement with Pocket Real Estate, a software company that offers handheld applications for Realtors. The real estate software includes a button that allows the user to tap into Mapopolis and display a map and the surrounding area. One realty company is already using the software.
Kuenzel and Powell are also working on a partnership with local police and fire departments and other emergency medical service providers to use Mapopolis to find the scene of an accident or incident. With those users in mind, Kuenzel designed the last version of the software to coordinate with Global Positioning System units.
"I think a lot of these departments are small," Kuenzel says. "Even a city like Cleveland Heights might not be able to explore all the technology issues."
They also plan partnerships with delivery companies, site engineering and logistics companies, and trucking and shipping companies.
"We're going to do certain integrations with applications, logistics and EMS," Powell says. "There are going to be charges associated with those."
Keep improving the product
Despite the rapidly growing popularity of Mapopolis, Kuenzel continually works on upgrades. The next version will feature a mini-browser to interpret HTML to integrate with other programs, and point-to-point driving directions.
The duo may also start including a subscription fee for a more high quality map library while still maintaining the free map database.
"We've gathered a pretty large community of users already," Powell says. "It's a good idea to continue to develop and enlarge the community. It's like the Windows mentality.
"If you get a lot of people used to using your product, it is certainly easier to integrate a charge because the user base is already there."
How to reach: Mapopolis, (216) 397-0590 or www.mapopolis.com
Morgan Lewis Jr. (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a reporter at SBN Magazine.