French mapping startup Mapstr is continuing its mission to help people organize all their favorite places with an update that alerts users whenever they pass one of their previously bookmarked locations.
Founded in 2014 by Sébastien Caron, Mapstr has raised around $1.4 million in investment since its inception, and today’s update comes two months after the company was selected to join Facebook’s inaugural cohort of startups at its new Startup Garage incubator in Paris.
Available on the web, iOS, and Android, Mapstr has built a small following of 60,000 monthly active users (MAUs) for an app that lets you bookmark any place around the world, including parks, streets, museums, and any other point of interest. You can add places manually, by allowing the app to detect your current location, or even through optical character recognition (OCR) by snapping a photo of an address.
So far, Caron has been careful not to bombard users with alerts and notifications, but users will receive more notifications going forward — a design consideration he didn’t take lightly. “We’ve always been against every kind of useless or spam notifications that bring no added value to users,” noted Caron, who also serves as the company’s CEO.
And he does have a point. Most smartphone users have dozens of apps installed, but only a handful receive any substantial usage. Sending an endless stream of “hey, look at me” push notifications to users as passive-aggressive reminders to use an app won’t really change anything — and it may even encourage someone to uninstall the app.
“Sending a notification just to remind your users that they should use your app, or just to tell them that the weather is beautiful out there, or that the weekend is coming is, in my opinion, absolutely absurd,” he continued. “And it just shows that the app is not useful enough in itself.”
With the introduction of push notifications, Mapstr is now doing something it has always vowed not to do, but the company insists it’s doing so based on feedback from its user base.
The idea is simple. A user builds an arsenal of favorite places in neighborhoods across their town and beyond. They do this in order to remember places they want to revisit — but for that to happen, they have to actively check their phones whenever they venture outside. With the new Nearby notifications, Mapstr is seeking to ensure that the app’s core raison d’être is realized.
“Among the feedback we received, a lot of our users explained that they realized afterwards that they forgot to visit some places on their Mapstr map located in the neighborhood they just spent the day in because they didn’t think about opening the app,” continued Caron. “The whole challenge of Mapstr is to enable its users to explore the world in the easiest way possible. So it was absolutely necessary to meet this expectation while staying faithful to our values: making every single notification useful to the user.”
Though the feature itself is hardly revolutionary, Mapstr says it spent the better part of a year honing it to ensure minimal battery drainage and to make sure users weren’t overwhelmed with alerts. As much of the processing as possible is carried out on the phone itself — using various geolocalization tools aside from GPS — so the phone isn’t constantly pinging location data between the device and Mapstr’s servers. “Privacy protection of our users remains priority number one for Mapstr,” added Caron.
Though Mapstr hasn’t gained a gargantuan following, it is one of those apps that has quietly amassed a small and loyal hardcore user base, thanks in part to its slick design. Mapstr isn’t the first company to create such an app — Pin Drop hit the U.S. in 2014 with a similar proposition but shuttered due to lack of funding (its U.K.-based team was eventually hired by Apple). Then there’s Citymaps, which is kind of similar but leans more toward the social travel guide end of the spectrum.
The basic premise of Mapstr is also possible to achieve within Google Maps, which also allows you to store your favorite places. But bookmarking isn’t Google Maps’ bread and butter, and it’s easy to become distracted due to other features. Mapstr works well as a niche standalone app, but although it does have some monetization plans in the pipeline — such as letting brands and media partners sponsor maps, or letting businesses embed maps in their own properties — it’s difficult to see how Mapstr will grow a big business off the back of it. That’s why being acquired or acqui-hired may be the best outcome here.
Meanwhile, as part of its involvement with Facebook’s new Paris-based incubator, the startup has been invited to meet with senior Facebook people in San Francisco next month, though Caron admits he has no idea what the meeting is about.