Here's Waze to ease your journey

Move over Tom Tom, there's a news GPS navigation app that will take you to your destination turn-by-turn, quickly and traffic free

By Candice Krieger, November 10, 2011
Noam Bardin of driving app Waze

Noam Bardin of driving app Waze

Israeli start up Waze is revolutionising the way we drive.

The company, based in Silicon Valley, has created a mobile application that provides real-time driver-generated road maps and traffic information. Launched in 2009, the free app, available on all smartphones, has seven million registered users and, at the time of writing, is ranked higher than Facebook in Israel's app store.

It recently raised $30 million from Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers' Digital Growth Fund and Facebook investor Li Ka Shing's Horizons Ventures Hong Kong as it expands into Asia.

Unlike regular Sat Navs, Waze constantly updates its users with data to provide them with the fastest route to wherever they need to get to. It relies on its users, aka 'wazers', to share information with their fellow drivers - part of the reason, believes chief executive Noam Bardin, why it is proving so successful. "People become addicted to it," he says.

"The biggest challenge with a start up is creating an emotional link between the user and the service and we have achieved this. Seeing how attached people are to it is very special."

Waze provides real-time driver-generated road maps

Waze provides real-time driver-generated road maps

Although Waze collects most of its information passively by tracking the co-coordinates of the smartphones connected to its network, Wazers can log traffic problems by tapping on their smartphones as they sit in a jam. They can also report ones they have spotted from afar by speaking into a hands-free set. The message is captured using voice recognition. The company tracks driving speed of its users disabling their keypad if they are driving so they can not text.

The app has become a way of life for Israelis and is used daily in over 40 countries including the UK - a market Mr Bardin believes has huge potential.

"So far things are going very well. For people who drive everyday in London traffic is a major problem. Our users have a lightbulb moment when they realise that they are driving in a smarter way than everyone else."

It was this "lightbulb moment" that led Mr Bardin, the co-founder of Deltathree, a leading provider of internet telephone solutions, to get involved with Waze. "I knew the founders: Ehud Shabtai, Uri Levine and Amir Shinar, and had been tracking the company's progress. When I heard they were looking for a CEO I got in touch."

It was Ehud Shabtai who came up with the initial idea, which began as a social project from his balcony. Mr Shabtai's girlfriend bought him a car navigation device and as an engineer, he was "blown away by the concept." He wrote an application that enabled people to track speed cameras. He collected the information,put together a database of cameras and sent it back to drivers, creating a community.

His next project was Waze. Mr Bardin, a 40 year-old specialist in early-stage start ups, joined in 2009 to help develop the concept and expand it internationally. It has grown from two million users in December and is ranked in the top 25 free apps in the App Store. "Our focus has been on Europe but we are now figuring out how to deal with Asia." He adds: "People are social animals and like connecting with eachother. The car is one of the last frontiers for this social networking and there is a lot of value to be created there."

Mr Bardin studied at the Hebrew University and Harvard University's JFK School of Government before co-founding Deltathree and running technology start up Intercast Networks. Then came Waze.

Who are the company's rivals? "That small start up Google. They are building their own apps and have their own driving ones. But ours is different. We are very focused on the commute aspect and not search. Google believes algorithms can solve everything. We believe people and algorithms can."

Waze revenues are generated through selling its maps to companies and location-based advertising.

"We are concentrating first on user acquisition. Monetisation will come later on." Would they sell? "I'm supposed to say 'no' but we'll see what happens."

Last updated: 10:53am, November 10 2011