For this week we’re taking an inspirational journey with Jonny Miller and his startup, Maptia. His team and co-founders are currently based in sunny Switzerland after a long stint coding on the beaches of Morocco, lucky for some! You might remember we recently shared an article on Maptia’s enviable startup culture hacks where Jonny shared how the team keep their energy and motivation levels high. Well, we’re back for an even deeper look into the makings of Maptia, to learn about the pivotal moments they’ve experienced starting up and hear the advice Jonny and the team have for wannabe founders. Suitcases at the ready!
I’m Jonny and my two co-founders here at Maptia are Dean and Dorothy. Over the past 2 years we have been on a cross-continental adventure from Santiago, Chile to Seattle in the USA, to Morocco and most recently to Locarno, Switzerland—on our quest to build Maptia, a beautiful way to tell stories about places.
What’s your big dream of what Maptia will one day become?
We believe that if people from every country, every culture, and every background came together to share the stories of their lives and their travels, then the world would be a more understanding and empathetic place. We also believe that these stories will inspire people to get out there, to explore the places around them, to appreciate and care for the world, and to make the most of their short time on this planet. No place has a single story. The interplay of our lives with the landscapes and cityscapes around us is entirely unique. No one can see through your eyes, or experience the world as you do. We each have our own lens on the places we move through. That is why each story you tell on Maptia becomes part of a meta story for the place where it is set. Whether it is a continent, a country, a small village, or a mountain top, stories from that place are tagged and organised together. Though Maptia is designed for an individual to share their stories, through the very act of telling a story on Maptia you are also contributing to something much bigger than yourself.
The Maptia that exists today is just a taster, an embryonic version of what we hope to build one day but we’ve written about our long term vision for Maptia in this illustrated post “Places Are Made of a Thousand Stories”. By the end of this year we’re aiming to have collected one beautiful story from every country in the world!
What or who inspired you to get where you are today?
After graduating from university in England, corporate grad schemes held no allure and we set out in search of adventure. Our minds were still curious and we were had an itch to explore. Dean and Dorothy went off climbing mountains in South America whilst I bummed around with a job as a surf instructor in Morocco. We bonded over our shared obsession with travel and fear of finding ourselves stuck working 9-5 on an uninspiring career path. Instead, we wanted to pursue our passion for travel and to capitalize on our eagerness for a real challenge, on our own terms. So, together we hit upon the crazy idea for Maptia and this decision set in motion the two year long startup adventure which we are still on to this day…
Any lessons learned or pivotal moments along the way?
We have learnt many—mostly that you never stop learning important lessons, it is a never-ending journey of ‘unstupidification’! But specifically, one thing we came up against initially was learning to filter through advice we were getting, whether it was feedback on the interface, ideas for growing our community, or input on our approach toward funding. During TechStars back in 2012, we experienced “mentor-whiplash” and began questioning everything we did. We spent all of our time attempting to act on every piece of advice. Needless to say, this only caused confusion. During those intense weeks, we learned the valuable lesson of sifting through other people’s input and ultimately finished the program with a deep conviction in what we were building.
What one piece of advice do you have for budding entrepreneurs and changemakers?
I have six!
1. There’s nothing you can’t learn and no new problem you can have.
Our collective start up experience was limited to a small student travel magazine, which Dorothy and I ran whilst at university. But through seeking advice both on and offline we have picked up the necessary design, marketing and coding skills to build the foundations for Maptia. Chances are that you’re only a couple of Google searches away from finding an answer to 99% of the hurdles in your way!
2. The world is a book and those who don’t travel read only one page
It’s a cheesy cliché but it’s so true. Travel has the potential to change your life in ways that you could not have previously imagined. Travel keeps you young. It does this by simply putting you in situations that make you feel like a child again. It opens your mind to new experiences, different cultures and teaches you things that you never would have learned inside a classroom and it’s almost always possible to travel for less than you imagined.
3. Be Tenacious and Oblivious
Author Neil Gaiman said in his inspiring graduation speech:
“When you start out on a career…you have no idea what you are doing. This is great. People who know what they are doing know the rules, and know what is possible and impossible. You do not. And you should not. The rules on what is possible and impossible in the arts were made by people who had not tested the bounds of the possible by going beyond them. And you can. If you don’t know it’s impossible it’s easier to do. And because nobody’s done it before, they haven’t made up rules to stop anyone doing that again, yet.”
This most definitely rings true for us. Looking back we were hopelessly naïve at the time, we barely knew what the term start up meant. But in light of Neil Gaiman’s advice perhaps this was a good thing, if we’d known how tough the journey was going to be we might not have thought ourselves capable in the first place.
4. Set yourself a challenge you are likely to fail.
I borrowed this one from keen micro-adventurer Al Humphreys – who reasoned that he would never know what he was capable of unless he attempted something he was almost certain of failing. He ended up cycling around the world, 60 countries, 46,000 miles over a period of 4 years. During a mentor meeting at TechStars, one of our favourite mentors Rand Fishkin said to us: “Even if you fail, it’ll still make for one hell of a story, and what is life if not shooting for one hell of a story.” I’ve been thinking recently about this idea that your life is like a book—with its covers being your birth and death, and that you can only know the moments in-between. There’s no use in worrying about how long the book is… the only thing that matters is that you make it a damn good story.
5. Don’t be afraid to relentlessly do what you love
Philosopher Alan Watts famously asked his students ‘what would you do if money was no object?’ In his words: ‘If you say that getting the money is the most important thing you’ll spend your life completely wasting your time, doing things you don’t like doing in order to go on living that is to go on doing things you don’t like doing and that is stupid!’.
6. Finally…begin it now
As W. H. Murray famously said, “Whatever you can do, or dream you can do, begin it. Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it. Begin it now.”
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