Mapkin, Founded by Nuance Alums, Helps You Create Personalized Mobile Maps

Monday Apr 1, 2013 by Dennis Keohane - Contributor, VentureFizz

Do you know the best way to get from the Microsoft NERD to Meadhall?  Let me tell you.

Walk out the front doors and head around the building towards Main Street/Broadway. Head towards Cambridge and away from the Longfellow Bridge. Stay on the left side of Microsoft’s other building in Kendall Square, and don’t get distracted by the fancy video display. You’re heading towards Ames Street, which is about a block away on the right. If it’s cold, walk through the lobby of the Marriott (sometimes you’ll find an odd assemblage of people randomly sitting around this space.) If you cut through the lobby, take a left once you get to the other side, if you’re on Ames Street, walk to the corner of Ames and Broadway.

Look for the revolving door, order a Port Wipeout IPA.

What if there was a way to create customizable (as well as informative, personal, and humorous) maps that included all of the serendipitous details like I detailed above right on your phone?

Mapkin, a locally developed app created by the same crew behind Nuance’s Dragon Dictation, is just the product. The app allows users to create interactive, GPS enabled maps that feature recorded voice directions as well as personalized embedded tips, trivia, and any other helpful travel info.

Getting into the map game with heavyweights like Google and Apple is a daring task. But, as founder and CEO Marc Regan puts it, “Google Maps is great - I love Google Maps - but it’s just one map for everybody. We think that for every trip, there is a better map.”

The idea for Mapkin came out of frustrations that arose during a month-long couch-surfing odyssey that followed the end of Regan’s days at Nuance. While visiting friends in cities throughout the country, Regan would find himself alone while his buddies went to work. They would try to tell him which sites to check out, where to eat, where to park, etc., but there was no viable way to do that without printing out pages of map directions and hacking them up with highlighters and notes.

Returning to Boston, Regan began working on Mapkin and convinced John Watson, a longtime friend who had also left Nuance, to join him. The two had a proven track record of innovation. They both played key roles in developing the App Store Hall of Fame inductee, Dragon Dictation.

As Regan tells the story, he and Watson fell in love with the iPhone early on, waiting in line for Apple’s new mobile offering the day it came out. They began hacking voice recognizers onto their phones in the days before the App Store even existed. The demo product they developed drew some attention. However, in the days following the opening of the App Store, they began to build what would eventually become Dragon Dictation, Nuance’s first mobile app, using the company’s dictation capabilities.  Dragon Dictation has been downloaded over 15 million times and nearly melted Nuance’s servers when it was first pushed to the App Store.  “We did some very cool stuff that I am pretty proud of,” says Regan, who left Nuance after the release of DragonGo!

It was at Nuance where Regan and Watson also met and worked with another Mapkin developer, Alex Kinney.  Then, the initial team was finalized with the addition of Regan’s longtime friend, Jake Wasserman.

The app has been in beta testing and it even went through a trial run for Regan’s recent wedding in New Hampshire to the delight of all of the guests. “It was great validation,” Regan told me. The way in which the couple’s story was told through the directions created a buzz and it was the topic of conversation for all the guests.

The Mapkin team is looking to launch the app later in the spring, and is working tirelessly to create a product that has capabilities that are not available on the maps of the big tech giants, including other voice features and the ability to add pictures to landmark-based maps.  As Regan puts it, “Mapkin just wants [your] journey to be fun.”

Dennis Keohane is a teacher, journalist and contributor to VentureFizz.  You can follow Dennis on Twitter (@DBKeohane) by clicking here.

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