Mapmyindia – A Tale of Dynamic Leadership and an Ode to Indian Innovation

“Beginning from an INR 1 lac seed capital in 1995 to a $ 255 million valuation enterprise in 2015 and increasing manifold, MapmyIndia’s journey is one of Conviction, Persistence, Passion, and an ‘Idea’ whose time has come.”

– Rakesh Verma, CMD, MapmyIndia

MapmyIndia was founded by two Indian visionaries who, after spending 12 years in the USA, left their settled careers and returned to the country of their birth to make a difference. Bucking the trend of brain drain in the early 90s – IIT Roorkee graduate Rashmi and her husband Rakesh ventured back to India to do something for the country of their birth. Thus began the unique journey of MapmyIndia, a journey of achievements and that of a team led by the visionary couple who continued a personal and professional partnership while succeeding to remain happy in both these worlds.

From 1995 to this day, in a new millennium, adoption of maps and mapping technology has witnessed an exponential rise. While one’s imagination could be the only limiting factor, the Rakesh and Rashmi managed to foresee the reality that someday almost 80% of everything we do will have a location component to it and continued to carve a niche for MapmyIndia through constant innovation, understanding the user needs, and proactively adapting to change.

Like most successful brands, under the wise leadership of Rakesh Verma, MapmyIndia has successfully navigated from a services company to a product company. And today, MapmyIndia is one of the very few if not the only Indian digital map product companies. Industry, media and governments among others have bestowed recognitions after recognitions upon the founders and MapmyIndia for their unique contributions towards the creation of the Geospatial sector in India. The magic words behind this success are, “Keep Innovating! Keep Disrupting!” emphasizes Rakesh. 

MapmyIndia is today at a stage where a new generation is poised to take over the reins of this innovation powerhouse, taking it to new heights. Succession planning and its execution are on top of Rakesh’s agenda these days. He is grooming his son, Rohan Verma, a graduate from Stanford University and an alumnus of the London Business School. In 2004, Rakesh & Rashmi brought the maps in the hands of consumers by launching Mapmyindia.com much before Google maps was anywhere in the world.

Exclusively conversing with The CEO Magazine’s editor Purnima Narang, the Co-Founder who successfully carved the future’s reality, Mr. Rakesh Verma, CMD, MapmyIndia, shared his unique journey of dynamic leadership and creation of a revolutionary business, MapmyIndia. Here are the edited excerpts:

The CEO: What was the journey to success like through the lens of dynamic leadership?

Rakesh: In our industry, people drive the ecosystem. Their successful work drives happy clientele and eventually creates the symphony of top and bottom lines. Dynamic leadership is all about instilling passion amongst the people working for you. Passion drives our success story.

Employee retention is one of the things that we at MapmyIndia are really proud of, we still have some of the lowest employee turnover rates in the technology industry. Some of our employees have been with us since inception i.e. 25 years. Many have been with us for 10-20 years. And that is a lot of commitment. Translating the theoretical buzzwords into reality, I personified ownership in his team. The most critical feeling to imbibe, the feeling of ownership doesn’t seem to naturally arise in the case of business. My mantra is trust. You trust people and they trust you back! Walking the talk is the mental compass I have chosen to navigate my path with. 

Product innovation, on an ongoing basis, is another important aspect that becomes the fabric of the team. This leads to a challenge-filled path and thereby the creation of a host of growth opportunities. In MapmyIndia’s success story intrapreneurship has been the key. Our focus has been on continuous innovation and people – motivating to achieve their true potential individually as well as a team. 

The CEO: After 25 years, today, how are you ensuring a smooth transition of power to Rohan?

Rakesh: In the IT industry or in any other industry, a successful leader must earn the trust of his employees – to begin with the core team and then it must percolate down to lower echelons. Rohan’s inception has been carefully planned and is being closely guided and monitored by me and the leadership team. I ensured that the process is gradual and steadily approached. This has been on for more than a decade, where in his first stint he wrote the first version offering for the first time in India navigable digital maps – MapmyIndia. That time he was an understudy at Stanford University. 

Over the years he has been exposed to the management and the core team in a calibrated manner, starting with on a project basis and transitioning into a full time member with individual charge of specific areas. This ensured that Rohan gets ample time to get well-versed with the operations and get ready to shoulder the weight of responsibilities that the top job entails.

However, being a people leader is an art. I have done this in a particular way. Rohan is charting his own path and of course under the watchful eyes of the founders and the company seniors. He has already imbibed a key lesson in his nearly a decade long journey with MapmyIndia which is ‘Each day comes with new challenges and new learnings. This approach kept me in good stead throughout my career, as a professional and as an entrepreneur. Going forward, I would ensure to imbibe this not only in the incoming CEO but each and every employee of the company. 

The CEO: Tell us about yourself and your journey to America and coming back.

Rakesh: I was born in Patna and brought up in Kolkata (now Kolkata) and after graduating from BITS Pilani in 1972, I spent four years of my life working in the banking sector. Soon I got married to Rashmi, a techie in her own right and a graduate from IIT Roorkee. We moved to the USA, did my MBA and for the next 12 years, we enjoyed a settled life and careers at General Motors and IBM respectively. 

My journey at General Motors, one of the largest companies in the world of that era, allowed me to grab a firsthand experience about the functioning of start-ups. The Saturn Car project was unique, we were completely reworking the manufacturing process of a motor car. I was probably the only Indian professional in a team of 100 members. One of my key learnings I imbibed was MBWA – Management By Walking Around, a well-known leadership approach. MBWA underscores that the leader should be able to touch the lives of the team members by being there for them physically. And there were many more things that Rashmi and I learnt during our life in the US. These sure came in handy when we moved to India to begin a new life and embark upon a new business venture. For this and more we would always owe a significant part of our success to our life in America. 

The CEO: How and when did the idea come to start MapmyIndia?

Rakesh: As I mentioned, we decided to leverage our technological abilities and soon we were working with Tata Steel. We took up some large projects with them and successfully executed the same. In the three years period between Tata steel and IBM USA, we generated highly profitable projects. One of the highest-rated magazines those days, mentioned us as the third fastest-growing software company in India. But, the turning point came when we took a break. Living our lives in suitcases was not what we had dreamed of. Although the money was good and what we did was highly sought after. But we were not enjoying it.

We came back to India to make a difference, to give back something to the country of our birth. Well as fate would have it, we chanced upon these beautiful digital maps of the US at an exposition in Atlanta. Voila! We were smitten. “Why can’t we do the same for india?” was the question that was ringing in our brains.  This had all the ingredients we were looking for in our venture – unique, powerful, visual, a product with a look & feel and had the potential to play a critical role in the country’s development.

The CEO: How was the journey like?

Rakesh: No product is successful until it is used and tested. When we started in 1995, acknowledging the geographical scale of India, we had a very specific objective of creating a comprehensive digital map product and thought that it would take a decade, given the available technology.

While Google was still a decade away, we were well on our way to develop India’s most comprehensive, localized and accurate digital map product from 1995 to 2004. My mantra of always having a positive cash flow and prudent deployment of funds saw us through this period. This, by the way, is the famed ‘ Customer Funded Model’, which has been endorsed by Harvard Business Review, which quotes MapmyIndia as a successful case study demonstrating its efficacy in a real business scenario. We worked with different levels of product during the testing phase, as the map is unique and is never accurate, as our landscape is constantly changing and evolving. Hence any map product too needs to be continuously evolving.  

So to answer the question of how accurate is MapmyIndia, I usually ask the question “What are you using it for? It may not be accurate for a property dispute, but it is very accurate for driving on the road or roof delivery through drones. 

Maps are “never one size fits all”, they are continuously changing based on the physical changes on the ground to stay relevant. 

The CEO: How did you build a dynamic team? 

Rakesh: I had to look at everyone’s potential and interest. I believed in moving people across different roles and functions. This allows them to learn new things and ensure personal growth. This also creates backups ensuring smooth functioning, in the absence of one person. Even if the rotation method is limited within one department, I see to it that each leader in the making is exposed to different departments and business units, giving them a holistic understanding of the operations. 

The world today is driven by new technologies, innovation and disruption and these are very ingredients for the continuing success of MapmyIndia. We proudly identify MapmyIndia as a Make in India, Deep-Tech Company specializing in Maps, Navigation, Tracking, Analytics, GIS, GPS, IoT & location technologies. 

The CEO: Tell us about the feathers in MaymyIndia’s cap?

Rakesh: There is no bigger recognition and a better reward than seeing your dream reach realization. MapmyIndia is today India’s only Digital Mapping Product Company. Putting India on the global map with a brand that has developed and deployed state-of-the-art location and digital mapping technology is an achievement.

In the adventurous and fulfilling journey of 25 years, MapmyIndia has been recognized with many awards. MapmyIndia Move app was awarded at the prestigious Atma Nirbhar Innovation Challenge, organized by the Government of India. I was amongst the select few tech entrepreneurs who interacted with the Honorable Prime Minister Sh. Narendra Modi. 

Some of the other notable recognitions and awards include: Chair, FICCI Committee on Geospatial Technologies – 2020, Distinguished BITS Alumni – 2020, Founder & President (2016-2019) and Vice President (2019- till date), Survey and Mapping Association, Leader, FICCI Business Delegation to Croatia accompanying Hon’ble President of India from March 26-27, 2019, Jagran Media Award for Connected Mobility Solution of the Year Award- 2019, and Member Think Tank, Framework for a National Policy on E-commerce, Ministry of Commerce and Industry, GoI-2018               

The CEO: What’s your next milestone? How are you planning to reach the same?

Rakesh: With a new era dawning upon the Indian Geospatial sector, we expect the proliferation of new and innovative technologies that will be completely ‘Make in India’. MapmyIndia Move app is MapmyIndia’s flagship app platform which we aim to popularize to offer the most comprehensive and best navigation, tracking, and telematics. A free navigation platform available across India, featuring live traffic, points of Interest search, report an issue, etc. Since the announcement of the new Geospatial Guidelines, the Move app has witnessed a 30% rise in downloads. Taking various apps that run on MapmyIndia tech and MapmyIndia Move app into account, we have added more than 1 million downloads since.

MapmyIndia eLoc is a revolutionary product, built on more than 25 years of our work. This is one of the first, if not the first, and the most comprehensive digital addressing systems in India. The technology crashes an individual address to a six-character code and is equipped with a geo marker, allowing the code to become a way to route you to the said address from wherever you are. You can also add any number of attributes to this address, as per your individual use case. 

We are also upping the ante on our engagement with the automotive sector, with technologies like NCASE (Navigation, Connected, Autonomous, Shared, and Electric to sync traditional automotive manufacturers with the new-age tech companies that have become their unlikely competitors, these equip the carmakers with comprehensive technology to build a differentiated product to serve a very evolved and demanding customer. 

Our recent endeavors have been towards integration with EVs to offer accurate reach based on the charge and current road and route conditions. These ‘Spider Maps’ take care of the range anxiety of EV owners, allow locating charging stations, prompt about the kind of station it is, fast or slow charging slots, compatible slots available, and can also help you book one, thus minimizing the waiting anxiety!

And with the national push, we endeavor to make our presence felt in the international markets too. Although we have the technology and capability, we first want to reach a bigger scale here in India. And then, of course, the world is our playground!

The CEO: What advice can you give entrepreneurs who want to venture into the same domain in the future?

Rakesh: Friends, this is an exciting time to be in the Indian Geospatial sector. While supportive government policies have pulled down the entry barriers, you are only limited by your creativity and innovation. With a healthy risk appetite and confidence in your abilities, you can realize the high revenue generation. MapmyIndia is a living, breathing testament to such entrepreneurship. 

But don’t mistake me for taking all the credit, I am not, as MapmyIndia was built by those who had confidence in the founders’ vision. They owned the brand like entrepreneurs and boarded a ship destined for unknown and uncharted waters and navigated through the good and bad to come out after each encounter, stronger and smarter. 

They ensured that MapmyIndia stays on course and reaches its rightful destination. My best advice to all of you aspiring entrepreneurs is to never be afraid of the uncertainty and your vision or dreams. Just find the right co-passengers. Who knows, you may surpass your wildest dreams!

The CEO: Do you believe in giving back to society, if yes, how?

Rakesh: In our initiatives to fulfill the social responsibility towards society, we are educating underprivileged children, working towards the social causes, and sustainable development among other steps. The ‘India first’ approach made me step up during the different national emergencies and guided the development of technology-based solutions for the mitigation/prevention of any evolving national crises. Some of the charities and causes that I support include Goonj, Make a Difference (MAD), The Green Peace Foundation, ILMM, initiatives by the Rotary Club, India Vision Foundation – Weaving Behind Bars and Attero and CANKids among others.  

Apart from cash contributions, MapmyIndia has been proactively developing enabling tools and solutions to help combat the Coronavirus menace. Move App and MapmyIndia COVID-19 India Public Guide are equipping citizens, governments, NGOs, media houses, companies, etc. with hyperlocal & updated corona-related information like food and hunger relief centers, night shelters, corona testing, treatment & isolation centers (Public & Private). They can also report local on-ground lockdown related issues citizens are facing on the accurate interactive map.

As a token of my gratitude towards a life-altering institution, my esteemed alma mater, BIT Pilani, I have, through MapmyIndia, set up a Technology Innovation Centre at the institute with initial funding of INR 1 crore to support the innovation and development of indigenous technologies. These attributes are at the very core of what we do at MapmyIndia. 

“If you have an idea and the conviction, then pursue it endlessly, persistently, and give it all that you have got. Excellence is only followed up after passion. For passion is the catalyst that makes the other ingredients like hard work, persistence, ideas, innovation, etc. work towards transforming your dreams into reality,” Rakesh summed up the interview with a closing quote.

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