Sometimes you have to look to the origins of a company to understand just how far they have come, and to appreciate the traction when it happens. One particular company grabbed my attention.
PIE Mapping are the UK’s leading experts in digital mapping, data and routing services. It has its roots back in 2002. That’s more than half a lifetime ago for some company founders. The CEO was a motorbike rider, frustrated at lack of information on parking spaces. So he did his own survey on his bike, got the data together, did a deal with Piagio, the scooter company, and published 10,000 printed copies of a map book, and sold them at £2.50 each. The Evening Standard then copied it, used it for a congestion charge map, and had to pay £20K for in an out of court settlement.
So what was the essence of these experiences? It could be boiled down to this. Start small. Address a real need. Get personally involved in creating the product. Build protection into the IP. Commercialise the product. Generate sales. Make money. If someone steals the product, claim against them and win.
And through experience, come to understand the essence of the business and the sector. The core principle. Which in this case, can be summarised as User Specific Mapping. Creating and visualising content for specific user groups, so they see only what is relevant. Next stage, become a Master in your sector. The Master.
In 2005, a contract with Direct Gov. was awarded, for nationwide Blue Badge Mapping, continuing the trajectory. Next, skip to 2009, and PIE was working with earls Court, Olympia, and Lords, on geospatial mapping projects.
Next, 2012, PIE won the contract for the Olympics, and produced the software for the freight journey planner.
At the same time, PIE had been successfully commercialising a London lorry route approver – enabling compliance to the London lorry control scheme.
These products are logistical infrastructure. They’re not sexy, not press worthy, not glamorous. Most of the time they’re not even visible. They are however vital, real, and extremely valuable to the commercial customers.
2015, last year, things got really interesting. PIE made an application to Last Mile Labs, an incubator program created by innovation partner and startup investor L Marks, with DPD, the UKs biggest delivery company.
Word is DPD were ferocious at the selection process, and all the way through, they had a very clear vision of what they were looking for and what they were missing. Last Mile Labs was a speculative, testing the water, first incubator for DPD. A rigorous process of incubation ensued, 12 companies were shortlisted, 6 started, 3 finished, 1 won. No prizes for anything except winning. One gets the feeling DPD were giving this idea of an incubator one shot to prove itself. This wasn’t a PR exercise, this was a genuine experiment to determine if there was true value that could come from innovation outside of their own operations, and it was made as rigorous and difficult as the real world.
Anyway, so PIE won, £100k, and a multi-million-pound commercial subscription for their Pie for Enterprise service.
This lead immediately on to another sign up with Canary Wharf Group, making PIE Mapping compulsory for every freight and delivery company involved in the £1.2Billion Southbank Place project, increasing efficiencies and also safety for the 300+ companies involved in the process.
Coupled with DPD as both customer and investor as part of a £1.5M series A funding round, PIE Mapping are positioning to become a major component of the UK logistics tech infrastructure. And all logistics go Global ultimately.
In December last year they picked up 3 top execs. Eddie Forson, Julien Campen and John Dobronszki, all ex Hailo guys, and now part of the killer team about to take PIE into their series B raise, and continued expansive growth.
Reasonable then, that PIE Mapping should also be one of the backers of a new project, co-designed by NatWest, BT, UCL, Loughborough University, UKTI, the UK Business Angels Association, and Fast Growth Forum, bringing together public and private partners to offer a fully adaptive educational programme for British businesses that want to take on the next stage of growth.
It’s always the quiet ones you have to watch.