- Mapistry, a small, Berkeley-based startup raised $US2.5 million from investors despite working in an obscure, niche industry that was poorly understood.
- CEO Allie Janoch told Business Insider her secret was to simplify things as much as possible and only get into the details when probed.
- She also learned that while it’s great to talk broadly about the industry, people really want to hear specifics about what the product can do for them.
Mapistry is a “weird” startup, as readily admitted by Allie Janoch, its CEO and founder. It works in a not-well-understood industry, had to lay off workers as it figured out a business model, and ended up going from a software company to a tech-powered environmental consulting business.
The Berkeley, CA-based software company seeks to solve an obscure, niche problem: helping companies comply with stormwater regulations. Its customers are mostly waste management or constructional materials companies. Even people who work in environmental compliance sometimes have tro ube wrapping their heads about what exactly Mapistry is, Janoch said.
When it came time to raise money, Janoch had an even more difficult time explaining what Mapistry is in a way that investors could understand. After several iterations of the same pitch, and five years after Mapistry was originally founded, the company raised $US2.5 million in December.
Mapistry’s software tracks the minutiae of sometimes hard-to-follow stormwater regulations, like the necessity of regular inspections and tracking the results of water samples. Those regulations are put in place to protect against rain or snow collecting pollutants from surfaces, like rooftops, and spilling into bodies of water.
Janoch found that explaining the details of stormwater regulations was too confusing for investors. They couldn’t connect with the problem. She also learned that talking broadly about the industry didn’t necessarily translate into talking about her product. She needed to talk about her customers.
“I tried to simplify things and I really honed in on talking a lot about our customers,” Janoch said. “I tried to simplify the problem on a very high level and only get into the details if I was probed.”
A complete package
Janoch founded Mapistry with her husband, Ryan Janoch, in 2013. Her husband, a civil engineer at the time, was frustrated with the mapping software available on the market. Janoch, a software engineer who had just completed a stint at a company acquired by Yahoo, thought she could build something that was as simple as Google Maps, but with the power demanded by engineers.
The pair soon found they couldn’t sell the software at a price point that made sense. After noticing several customers were using the mapping software for stormwater compliance, though, they decided to pivot towards that specific usage. But even then, the couple had a difficult time finding a business model that worked, and was forced to lay off some of its staff while it revamped its approach.
Inspiration struck when AC Transit, a Bay Area public transit agency, asked if Mapistry was equipped to go beyond software and start taking water samples themselves.
This gave Janoch an idea: What if Mapistry started selling more than just software that identifies problems? Now, Mapistry also has a variety of consulting services that help clients figure out how, exactly to start complying with regulations before getting fined by the EPA. At its start, Mapistry employed five people; now 17 people work there.
“In order to be really valuable for customers, we needed to do more than just software; there’s so much going on in the physical world that’s necessary to monitor and fix that’s it’s almost impossible for everything to be in software,” Janoch said.
Once Mapistry started expanding into consulting, the startup started to land more customers. The company’s clients now include the city of Fresno, California and some of the largest recycling and construction materials companies in the world.
“We’ve been through a lot of ups and downs, but it’s important to be persistent,” Janoch said.
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