“I’ve never worked at a large company. I never had a badge,” said Waze CEO Noam Bardin, who led the navigation company to acquisition by Google last year, addressing the Social Traffic panel at the DLD (Digital-Life-Design) conference in Munich. DLD is a joint venture of Dr. Hubert Burda and Dr. Yossi Vardi, who together chair the event. “I would say that if anyone is out to be acquired by anyone, Google is definitely the company to acquire you. These guys know what they’re doing,” said Bardin.
Bardin discussed the partnership with Google since the deal, and explained that Waze functions as a completely independent company, in terms of the application, marketing, PR, and other departments, but that the two companies do collaborate in some specific ways. “Our search is now Google search, and we send our incidents to Google Maps,” he said.
Asked about the differences between Waze and other navigation apps, Bardin explained, “We’re at an interesting stage in the mobile ecosystem, where every phone comes with a map app, and this map app has to deliver a very horizontal experience. You need to know your transit — your driving, your walking directions, your bicycle directions — all these different things. Apple has theirs, Nokia has theirs, Google has theirs, and at Waze we’ve taken one use-case, and we’ve gone very deep on that use-case. Our use-case is commuting, and when you leave your home every day, you should be turning on Waze, and we’re going to try and save you five to ten minutes a day. We’re going to look at alternate routes, and we’re going to try and figure out what has changed since the last time you drove. For this we’ve built a map of our own, and a real-time traffic service. It’s about being the first ones to know what’s going on, and to be actionable about it. To try and find a better route, or a better way to do things.”
We are very, very different from Google, in everything we do — how we build our data, how we deal with our community, and how much we trust users. If you compare feature by feature, many things about [Waze and Google Maps] may seem very similar, but when you actually try [Waze] out, it’s a very different, emotional experience,” explains Bardin.
Bardin was asked whether in a world where Google has two navigation apps, Apple has one, and Nokia as well, Facebook and Twitter should have navigational apps as well. “What really makes mobile different from traditional Internet is location. User location is a huge component of many different interesting services we’ve come out of mobile that could not have happened on the web. I think whether or not you need to own your own maps really depends on how you view yourself,” he said, and hurried to explain, “Do you need to own your own operating system? Google bought Android and it was considered a joke, and today it’s the most powerful operating system around, and they needed to own it, and they can do things because they own it that others can’t. Microsoft ended up buying Nokia’s mobile business because they realized they need to own this. You look at Facebook and Twitter, they still have not come out and said ‘we want to be your utility app for everything.'”
Regarding the question of how Waze makes money, Bardin responded, laughing, “Now we’re part of Google, so it doesn’t matter anymore.” He continued, saying “From the Google perspective, you’ve got to understand how to make billions of dollars. That’s the question we’ve been tasked with: is this a Google-scale business, or is this a nice business for a start-up. That’s really what 2014 is about for us.”
Regarding the business model, Bardin said, “We tried to ask ourselves, ‘what can we do with our product that would actually provide value to the user?’ We’ve built these ad units that are relevant to location, they actually bid on the back end between proximity and price, we limit the number of ads that you see, and they show up as icons of locations with brands. And from the advertiser’s perspective, we are trying to teach people about locations and brands and branches that are near them. They’re on their commute, but they never knew about them. It is different from a search query, because you just didn’t know that there was a [store] two blocks off your route, and you tend to go somewhere else,” explained Bardin. “I think what’s been most amazing is really the demand from advertisers. They’re trying to get in there, and they’re surprised by the performance — the performance has been really, really great.”
Regarding privacy, Bardin said, “I think that the most important thing is transparency. A user needs to understand why you’re collecting data and for what purpose. If he doesn’t think the purpose is good enough, he shouldn’t give it to you. The quid pro quo on our app is you share information, and we’re going to give you the information from all the other users around you, and, together, we’re going to create a better experience for everyone. And, if you don’t like that, you don’t have to use Waze. If you use Waze, you can decide what information you want to share and what you don’t, and I think that that transparency is the problem on some platforms, where it’s not clear — where users don’t know what information is being collected, they don’t know why it’s being collected, and they don’t know for what purpose.”
Regarding the question of privacy on Google, Bardin hurried to defend the boss: “I know from the outside everyone loves to attack Google, but, overall, at Google, people really want to do good. There’s this challenge of building a better product or collecting more data, which could build a better product. So, at Waze, we’re trying to be very transparent about it, make the quid pro quo very clear to users, and let the users decide.”