Executive Interview with Sean Phelan, Founder of Multimap

By Nora Parker

_When Sean Phelan started Multimap in 1995, he was interested in putting maps on mobile phones.He had been a consultant in the mobile telecom field, and an avid sailor familiar with GPS and mapping technology.He thought it would be interesting to bring the two together."That was the vision that made me start the company," he said during a recent interview during the Location Technology and Business Intelligence conference in Philadelphia.

While that may have been the vision, the reality that Phelan found is that web-based services have gained far more rapid adoption than have mobile phone-based services. That's had an effect on the company's revenue stream, which is primarily based on Web applications
- its mapping portal and store locator applications."Mobile is interesting and exciting, perhaps this will be the year," said Phelan., perhaps a little wistfully.

This has not held the company back - Multimap has become an important provider of mapping and location based services on the Web.Worldwide, the company's mapping portal is in third place, behind Yahoo! and MapQuest, Phelan stated.In Europe, it is the most popular mapping portal.In addition, the company was recently recognized as one of Red Herring's "Top 100 European Private Companies" based on criteria that they use to establish "promising private companies."

Directions Magazine receives several Multimap.com press releases a month at Directions Magazine with updates on new store locator applications that have been launched (a recent sample: Barratt's, Volkswagen and Robert Dyas).With offices in London and Sydney and a staff of more than 50, when the "mobile phone thing" does happen, the company could be well positioned to take advantage of it."Our real challenge is bringing on excellent people as quickly as we can," said Phelan.

Like other mapping portal companies, Multimap stays out of the data development business, maintaining partnerships with about 20 data partners around the world.As Tim O'Reilly pointed out during his keynote presentation at the conference, data is the "next Intel inside"
- a hard-to-reproduce piece of technology residing at the bottom of the Web-based application stack. Multimap's primary data partner is Tele Atlas, but it is also are partners with NAVTEQ.Multimap offers global coverage "on some level," said Phelan, as can be seen at the company's website.

Phelan said of store locator applications, "It isn't quite a must-have yet, but every year we check the top 200 retailers worldwide to see what they're doing." As locator apps become more de rigueur and less novel, Phelan views Multimap's primary short-term challenge as having the best suite of store locator tools available.A slightly longer term challenge for retailers, and thus for Multimap, is to connect stock control applications to store locators.Phelan mentioned a retailer in the UK, Argos, as being a leader in this area."The on-line store and the shop locator are the two most popular buttons," on the site he said, and Argos has actually combined the two of them by giving shoppers the option to order on-line and pick-up at the store, or alternatively to have the item(s) shipped., whichever is more convenient.

Published Tuesday, May 17th, 2005

Written by Nora Parker

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