I had my first Waze experience the other day leaving Los Angeles. It totally blew my mind.
Waze is a crowd-sourced route planning and traffic information app that collects data from nearby users about congestion, travel times and road conditions in real-time. Known as “Wazers,” app users earn points for adding data to the app, such as the location of speed traps, collision sites and other slowdowns.
At one point there were 9,000 Wazers nearby using the app, because we chose to depart Los Angeles at the peak of rush hour traffic. But as the eternal optimist, I was thrilled to get to watch Waze perform under a maximum stress test. While the app itself is cute, and it makes data collection into a game, Waze is no laughing matter.
Google, Apple and Facebook recently jockeyed for the right to buy Waze. Google dished out $1.5 billion to acquire the Israeli startup and it’s 150-strong team in the town of Raanana.
Urban mobility is one of the great business challenges of the 21st century. This is a problem Los Angeles knows well.
The world’s fast-growing megacities will wrestle with unique urban mobility challenges as they assume new prominence in global affairs. Lagos, Jakarta, Mexico City, São Paulo and Mumbai (not to mention Cairo, Shanghai, and Karachi) have significantly larger populations than Los Angeles, and continue to push against their physical boundaries. The demand placed upon all forms of urban transport in these cities will be severely tested by new inhabitants, and the arrival of new businesses to serve their needs. But this is an opportunity as well. Entrepreneurs don’t let problems go to waste.
Los Angeles entrepreneurs have the opportunity to exploit their knowledge of daily commuting hell to craft the urban mobility solutions of the future. Call it an unfair advantage that has the potential to benefit hundreds of millions of commuters on a daily basis.
Peer-to-peer ridesharing service Lyft recently arrived in Los Angeles. The company has an app lets you operate your personal vehicle as a taxi cab, and earn some extra money. Riders can hail you to their location with the press of a button, and pay a suggested donation for transport by credit card. The Lyft app relies on Waze to help its drivers navigate more efficiently.
Could peer-to-peer carsharing services bring on-demand mobility to millions of young urbanites in Nigeria, Indonesia, Brazil? It’s possible, but one thing that will slow them down is the need for credit card billing. While disposable income is on the rise in many developing economies, credit card ownership is still quite low. Even this can be overcome, however, if an on-demand ridesharing service figures out a way to collect mobile payments, such as m-Pesa, which is the norm in Kenya, and across much of Africa.
Waze made my driving experience in Los Angeles unforgettable, and they have a huge head start in developing markets with high cell phone penetration. Urban mobility is such a huge challenge, and will continue to be, that Google/Waze alone will not be enough to remedy it. Los Angeles commuters and entrepreneurs know the pain of urban sprawl as few Americans do, and you have a massive opportunity ahead. So if you’re looking for a business idea, Los Angeles startups, I challenge you to lead the way in mobility solutions for the next billion.
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