Waze's Epic Journey: How Community Power Outpaced Giants Like Apple

Trusted By 12k+ Aspirant
Price 2500 Free
CAT Exam Mega Combo Free
  • exam
    CAT Exam Option Elimination Technique Score 99% Percentile
  • morning-routine
    Daily Routine of Toppers For CAT Preparation
  • tips-tricks
    Tricks that Boost your VARC Score Booster Dose for CAT exam
We are rated~
Registered Aspirants
B-Schools Partners
Entrance Exams
MBA Rendezvous Free CAT Study Material
Download CAT Mega Combo with RC Course
We don’t spam
Please wait. We Are Processing..
Your personal information is secure with us
By clicking on "Get Now" you agree to our Privacy Policy and Terms of use
We are rated~
Registered Aspirants
B-Schools Partners
Entrance Exams
Waze's Epic Journey

Going up against Apple is incredibly difficult, especially when you're a small team with limited funds. It becomes even more challenging when you fight for a unique user experience.

You can achieve all of this with the power of community.

This is the story of Waze versus Apple.

The success of this company can be credited to the community it has built. Like Wikipedia's contributors, you will be amazed by its volunteers' dedication.

This is a real story about the company Waze. 

Waze started in 2006; mobile navigation apps were effectively non-existent, at least not on smartphones. The first iPhone wouldn't launch for another year, and Blackberry, Nokia and Motorola dominated the smartphone market.

So when Ehud Shabtai, Amir Shinar, and Uri Levine set out to create a mobile navigation app in Israel, it appeared to be a Kid's intention. 

It was a Kid's intention because creating maps is expensive. 

Let's understand what goes into creating maps. 

Mapping a Street is a time-intensive endeavour. 

To create an accurate street map, you must drive along it with GPS tracking to record the precise coordinates. Then, the laborious process of labelling begins, including adding details like:

  • Street name

  • City, state, and country information

  • Intersections with other streets

  • Lane count and merges

  • Stop signs and traffic lights

  • Speed limits

But that's just the foundational map. We haven't even touched upon adding addresses, parking lots, bridges, toll booths, and other points of interest that drivers rely on. Now, imagine doing this on a national or even global scale. It would entail hiring thousands of drivers, acquiring numerous vehicles, investing thousands of person-hours, and covering countless gas tanks, all before offering any real value to your users.

What strategy did Waze have in mind?

Crowdsourced maps.

Their thesis was that they could get enough people to volunteer to "pave" the roads of their map by driving around throughout their normal days and letting Waze track them via the GPS chip in their smartphone.

What crucial intrinsic motivation did the Waze team find that they assumed would be great to create a community? 

Super short answer: Epic Meaning in Life. 

Let's have a long explanation. 

One of the fundamental principles of building a community is that the member should feel they are doing something greater than themselves. They should experience an epic, meaningful life. 

We are familiar with the fact that people don't contribute to Wikipedia to make money. They don't even do it to pad their resumes. People contribute to Wikipedia because they believe they protect humanity's knowledge- something bigger than themselves. 

The team at Waze believed that mapping the country would give people a sense of purpose and a feeling of contributing to something greater than themselves.

They assumed that contributors would feel like they were part of a secret, elite team fighting against the evils of traffic.

What kind of effort was expected from Volunteers?

Let us rather quote what Noam Bardin, former CEO of Waze, said:

"If you were the first user in a country and you installed Waze, the map would be empty. A blank canvas. You'd start driving and your icon would turn into this road roller and you'd start paving a road that you'd see being created behind you. And that was the first road in that country. As you drove, more and more of these roads began connecting.

Then you'd need to go online to our editor - a web-based application - from your desktop or laptop, not from your phone. And you'd need to begin giving a name to the road and you'd need to play with the geometries a bit because the GPS reading wasn't accurate. 

And you'd connect two roads together as an intersection. 

Do you have a right turn or not? Was it one way or two-way? What city was this road part of etc? So there was a lot of meta-data you'd have to add in. To do this, we needed a relatively small number of highly engaged users that would do it with us and then they'd build out this grid."

This was just the base map? If you think about a navigation app, you'll realize that more data needs to be gathered once the roads are marked. 

Data such as traffic patterns, how long it takes to drive a particular segment of road and speed fluctuations due to terrain. That data could only be accumulated over time with hundreds, if not thousands, of people, driving the same routes every day, building up layer upon layer of historical data and insights.

How to build a community? Generally, what percentage of people are motivated to contribute to the community without external incentives? How can we attract more active and engaged members to the community?

Active contributors are those who are intrinsically motivated towards the community's cause. Then we have members who are less active but not disengaged. These members are those who can be motivated extrinsically. 

In communities, there is a concept called " Participation Inequality". 

It can be understood as :




1% of the users are active contributors. They produce the lion's share of the content and drive the community's life and engagement. 

Then another 9% of users occasionally contribute, posting, commenting, and liking. These people at Waze drove with an incomplete map but were so enthusiastic about the mission that they didn't mind using a buggy map that might occasionally lead them down a dead end.

90% of the users are only there for the memes and don't actively contribute to anything.

What strategy did Waze take to create the maps? 

The intrinsic motivation will drive the 1% of users to "pave" a blank map and then inspire the 9% to contribute further. 

The amount of work needed from the 9% the company needed to inspire them emerged. These users want to give feedback but don't want to work without acknowledgement. A badge next to the name that denotes them as an OG user could go a long way.

How did Waze handle the conflict between the 1% and the 9% group? 

In the need to appreciate 9%, Waze couldn't lose the dedication of 1%. 

Waze thoughtfully created a reward and ranking system in the community. Intrinsically motivated people don't want rewards. They want ranks. Ranks give them a sense of ownership. When people feel ownership over something, they innately want to increase and improve what they own. They decided on roles like country manager, Area manager, and State manager. 

They created a community structure. 

It is very detailed. Let me share their original slide deck, which explains things in detail. 

What happened in 2012? 

When Apple launched their Maps app, it replaced Google as the default navigation option on the iPhone. At that moment, Waze faced competing against two of the world's largest tech giants.

However, Apple made a major mistake.

They released an incomplete version of Maps, which resulted in widespread criticism. The situation became so severe that Tim Cook took an action that surprised everyone.

He apologized and recommended that users temporarily download another navigation app until Apple could improve their mapping service.

Let us quote what Tim Cook said: 

"You can try alternatives by downloading map apps from the App Store like Bing, MapQuest and Waze, or use Google or Nokia maps by going to their websites and creating an icon on your home screen to their web app."

As a result of this unexpected turn of events, Waze experienced a phenomenal 40% surge in user count, reaching a staggering 50 million users.

In the year 2013, Google acquired Waze for $1.3B. But the Waze community is still active, and their map is still alive. You can access it here.

Closing Thoughts. 

Communities are great marketing tools. They can foster and amplify growth. 

Thankfully, creating communities that contribute and grow doesn't need to be complicated. 

Simply follow the best practices & insights outlined in this article, then use the "participation inequality" principle to create a vibrant community. (Don't forget to incorporate a stellar community structure shared in the above link.)