Depending on your age, getting from point A to point B might have involved paper maps — what we called an “atlas,” the giant book that lived in the pocket behind the passenger seat of the car.
As maps went digital, you might have relied on MapQuest to help plot the fastest route to your destination. Ironically, Homebrew’s Hunter Walker tweeted last week that there are some people who remember printing off pages from MapQuest and “those who have no idea what I’m talking about.”
Whichever one of those camps you fall into, Proxi wants to give you all the feels when it comes to map-making for 2022. The Seattle-based startup is developing geospatial software aimed at taking on the likes of Google Maps and Yelp by enabling users to create personal navigation maps.
the true battle of the generations is people who remember printing off Mapquest directions before driving somewhere & a backseat full of discarded pages
and those who have no idea what i’m talking about
— 👨🏻💻☕️ (@hunterwalk) February 10, 2022
The idea for the company stemmed from Proxi co-founder Melinda Haughey’s crowdsourced map for trick-or-treating that went viral in 2020. Amid the global pandemic, Haughey, an engineer with a background in intelligence, wanted to figure out where people had set up candy shoots so trick-or-treating could be done by her child safely in the neighborhood.
“I noticed on my local Facebook group for parents that people were just listing their addresses, and given my background, I thought, ‘this is so dumb, nobody’s gonna actually be able to use this,’” she said. “I thought about what I could do with these addresses, so I used a bunch of different tools to cobble them together and published a form for people to add their candy shoots.”
What started out in her small neighborhood ended up going viral with 2,300 homes in the Seattle area. It was even featured on the local news and “Good Morning America.”
However, by going through that process, Haughey realized that the map-building process “was a nightmare” and “not accessible to everyday people,” she said.
After people started asking her for help to make maps, she reached out to Chelsey Roney, a friend from college who was a multi-time entrepreneur with prior exits, to work toward a vision of making map-making super easy.
Proxi is a free, no-code tool for making custom, interactive maps that can be embedded into social media accounts, websites and apps. Some of the company’s early users — including Seattle news station King 5, production company Traveling While Black in Seattle, event coordinators, influencers and foodie bloggers — are replacing listicles with maps of favorite hangouts, restaurants and places to see and be seen.
And, unlike other map services, users can put their own branding on the maps and create custom icons, Haughey said.
“We’ve learned through experimentation that people are more likely to convert and actually go to those places when they can visually see where they are in relation,” she added. “Admins will shortly be able to receive an in-depth analytics dashboard where they can understand who’s visiting a map, how long they’re spending there, what points were clicked on and who’s clicking the directions and the custom URL.”
To get those new features going, Haughey and Roney raised $1.2 million in an oversubscribed pre-seed round, led by Graham & Walker (the firm told me this was their first time leading a round), with participation from Techstars, Madrona Pioneer Fund, Pack VC, Tacoma Venture Fund, FAM Fund, KIG and a group of angel investors.
Proxi launched in mid-2021, which is when it started picking up that hard traction mentioned earlier. After enrolling in Techstars, Haughey and Roney decided to seek additional capital to scale quickly and run marketing campaigns.
They plan to use it in four ways: make key hires, grow in density in both Seattle and in Austin, get more people making maps and explore the concept of a consumer app.
So far, around 500 maps have been created across the world. Interesting use cases have been creating wedding routes and maps of the best playgrounds in town. In the focus areas of Seattle and Austin, Haughey and Roney want to expand the 250 maps where people are actively sharing recommendations regularly with their local area or with travelers.
“One way that we’re going to be able to stand out and really build something that people care about is by staying really close with creators,” Haughey said. “We’re going to build the features really thoughtfully and ethically and make sure that we are creating a great user experience for people.”