The Present and Future of CartoDB
Earlier this year Miguel Arias joined CartoDB as its new COO. The experienced serial entrepreneur and tech startup investor oversees the sales, legal and financial operations and will take on the growth and the partner search in the U.S. Directions Magazine quizzed him about the company and its plans for growth.
Directions Magazine (DM): CartoDB is one of many companies offering tools to “analyze, visualize, develop” data via maps. Who do you consider your competitors? Please explain what distinguishes CartoDB in its space.
Miguel Arias (MA):This is quite a crowded space, with many different competitors, and we are happy about that. It shows that there is a lot of value to be created and that one of the key disruptions on Web/mobile over the next years is going to happen in the geospatial applications space.
I would say that our natural competitors are Esri’s ArcGIS online and Google Maps engine, both with very different approaches to the market. But we are also touching adjacent markets with our CartoDB Editor, where we are competing with Tableau, Spotfire and the like, and with our CartoDB Platform, where we are competing with location-based services vendors, for specific geospatial apps.
Regarding the CartoDB Editor, we believe we have the best storytelling software for maps on the market, with a user-friendly and yet powerful tool to bring maps online using common languages (SQL and CSS) already known by data scientists/developers. And our geo-temporal visualizations for big datasets are not available on any other product.
The key differential advantages of the CartoDB Platform are:
- ability to visualize large amounts of data in a map in real time.
- use of the simplest APIs, closer to developers with no previous GIS expertise
- access to beautiful map data visualizations and templates not available out-of-the-box in other platforms with flexibility to deploy on-premise or mix the solutions with existing stacks
World cup final activity on Twitter. Map created by Twitter (Simon Rogers) and powered by CartoDB using the Torque dynamic mapping library (click for interactive map).
DM: Right now we count 15 partners that resell and implement CartoDB solutions. The one most familiar to our readers is probably Azavea. What makes a good partner? How many do you hope to have? Are you looking to cover specific geographies or industries?
MA: We've just updated our website to include over 30 partners! And we are indeed looking for more. A good CartoDB partner has a great knowledge of our technologies and is able to create awesome solutions for our customers, which solve their needs in an elegant and cost-effective way. They also support our efforts to engage with the community of users and developers in their local environments.
We are looking to cover as many locations and verticals as possible, since the need for geospatial apps is really horizontal among all industries and roles, but our current focus areas include financial services, media, public sector, real estate and technology, worldwide.
DM: On July 16, CartoDB increased the space for data for those using the free option from 5MBs to 50MBs. How do you balance the value of the freemium accounts as marketing tools with the potential of leaving money on the table?
MA: We want to be very supportive with our community of amazing users, who are publishing great stories every day. We want to empower them as much as possible, so that they can get real value out of CartoDB, learn, experiment and then show this value to others. Our primary goal is to enable anyone in the world to harness the power of maps and harness the value of their own data. The only way to do that is to get the tool into their hands.
DM: Two big trends in online mapping right now involve mapping tweets and creating story maps. CartoDB has solutions for both: a Twitter Map solution and Odyssey.js (All Points Blog coverage). What role do these play in driving users and partners? While these maps (built on a variety of vendor platforms) are often popular (read: click bait), are they anything more than that? Or, are we still using them at their most basic level? If so, how do we move to the next level?
MA: I believe this is just the tip of the iceberg. You are right, the dynamic representation of social media activity is a mesmerizing visualization, but there is much more that can be done there. We are already seeing use cases of customers mapping their brand campaigns, doing local segmentation, mapping their influencers and using social media as a sensor of human activity to map telco coverage or map streets.
And regarding the storytelling tools, we think that Odyssey is a first step into a broader strategy toward enabling people to tell their own stories, including what they want to see about the world, what they see about themselves, or what they want to develop as side projects and experiments on maps. More innovation will come in this space in the next months, stay tuned!
Watch the Israeli-Palestinian conflict unfold online by clicking on map above. Map created by Al Jazeera English: The Stream uses Odyssey.js and is powered by CartoDB.
DM: You’ve done a lot of work with startups. What makes CartoDB like all other startups? What makes it different?
MA: Well, I had promised my wife a one-year sabbatical after my previous startup experience, and it ended up being shortened to a two-week sabbatical :). When you are offered a seat in a rocket ship, you do not ask what seat, you just get on (Sheryl Sandberg, former Facebook COO, allegedly said that). CartoDB is a very special startup since it has the vision of becoming a game changer, democratizing access to online mapping for everybody and disrupting an entire industry. I love the commitment of the founders and the team to deliver great user experiences to tell stories that matter.
If I think about what makes CartoDB like all other startups, it is that you can feel the same level of excitement, fear and hope while facing the uncertainties of the future, and this is the drug that any entrepreneur needs.