An app to navigate labyrinths called malls

Updated October 20, 2019

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Team MapIn bets on indoor navigation so you don’t get lost inside mega structures.
Team MapIn bets on indoor navigation so you don’t get lost inside mega structures.

HOW annoying is it that when you are about to pay for stuff at a store and the customer representative says, “Sir, no card. Only cash.” And then you are left on your own to roam around the mall and find that one ATM in a small, obscure corner?

Or when you have to find that shop you bought pants from last Eid but don’t remember where it is located and end up wandering around all the floors? There has got to be a better way, no? Well, there is.

MapIn is a Karachi-based startup that makes indoor navigation systems, so you don’t get lost in mega concrete structures again. Basically, like a Google map but for indoors.

The idea was conceived by Abdul Samad, the chief technology officer of MapIn, who got lost in a mall in Dubai while trying to look for a mosque. “I came back to Pakistan and started researching on indoor navigations and found nothing of the sort here,” he recalls. Later on in early 2018, he, along with three friends at the Ghulam Ishaq Khan Institute of Engineering Sciences and Technology, pitched this as their final year project and started working on the product.

After graduation, Amer Kumar Tanwani, MapIn’s chief executive officer, pursued it full-time with Samad involved on the side, until he too left his job two months ago while the remaining members parted ways post-university. Currently the startup is part of the National Incubation Centre Karachi’s acceleration programme.

So how does MapIn work? Download the app, register with mobile number or social media profile, look for the mapped listings and if you are in indoors, just start exploring. Enter that shop you want to go to and it will create a path for you to follow. In case you aren’t around, there are still all the deals and offers that can be checked out remotely.

They have started out with malls and have already onboarded Centaurus in Islamabad and are in talks with Lucky One in Karachi. Once they have major shopping centres covered, MapIn wants to bring on board other mega facilities such as hospitals and airports.

This idea of indoor navigation isn’t outlandish as it has been tried and tested before. Dubai Mall and Tesco, for example, have something very similar in place where you can navigate point-to-point or explore events and offers.

What about their revenue channels? MapIn charges money based on the area being mapped and has a subscription model, but they rolled out their first implementation for free to establish a clientele.

Other than that, they also expect to generate income through B2B services such as making bespoke indoor navigation applications for clients, as well as offering insights. “Our real-time traffic analysis can help brands optimise their strategy and increase sales, for example if the heat map shows that customers are going towards X store, we can inform a competitor brand who can make an offer there instantly and we send a push notification to users who can then respond,” explains Samad. Sounds like a perfectly competitive marketplace straight out of a textbook.

Another revenue stream the duo has in mind is through advertisements, but for that they have to gain traction themselves, which becomes tricky when the app is dependent on a third-party’s marketing (in this case they properties they map). “Ultimately it’s for them to push the product to their users but we have recently started a low-cost Facebook ad campaign to acquire more users,” Tanwani tells Dawn.

So far the venture is internally funded but the duo is now looking to raise investment. “Currently it’s just us, the two co-founders, working full-time so we’d like to add members to our staff so we can accelerate our business development and make our implementation faster as well,” the CEO added.

In order to list a property, the startup requires a 2D map of the facility and some on-site data collection after which they create an app-based indoor map that takes a maximum of one week (depending on the size of the premises). Beyond this core module, they plan to keep adding on extra features such as 3D, or expanding to parking.

While there might not be anyone operating in the indoor navigations space, there certainly are plenty of players working on deals and discounts. How does MapIn distinguish from the rest? “Most of these simply have a discount discovery portal or have exclusive discounts whereas we rely on have geofencing (use of GPS to create virtual boundaries and triggering an action based on that) to help brands adapt in real-time,” says the CTO.

He’s right about. The discount startups have a different business model altogether, except for Peekaboo Guru has a similar offering as to MapIn. So why not just collaborate with an already existing player rather than doing everything themselves? “Yes, they are the only ones making use of geofencing and we are not opposed to partnering with them, but would like to try this out ourselves first,” Samad elaborates.

The writer is member of staff:

m.mutaherkhan@gmail.com

Twitter: @MutaherKhan

Published in Dawn, October 20th, 2019