Geoloqi’s Amber Case on Esri Acquisition: ‘Just Made Sense’

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On Monday Esri announced its acquisition of Geoloqi, the makers of back-end location technology solutions for developers, bringing the startup’s real-time location and geocoding support to Esri’s sprawling online mapping product. Geoloqi will continue to serve its existing customer-base as a new Portland, Ore.-based research and development arm of Esri, tasked with integrating Geoloqi’s technology across the company’s mapping services over the next year.

Financial terms were not disclosed.

It’s a smart move for Esri, which over the past few years has pushed to remain competitive by bringing its ArcGIS software — a stalwart within the government services industry — to the cloud, and integrating more intelligent location technology into its existing suite through the acquisitions of a handful of companies (in particular, Colorado-based GeoIQ, which it bought in July). But in many ways, Geoloqi, and its CEO, the erstwhile “cyborg anthropologist” Amber Case, are the big winners — the acquisition provides the team with a platform to implement its technology at scale, in its hometown, without the pitfalls of venture capital.

Case, who founded the company with her partner Aaron Parecki in 2010, says the startup was receiving unsolicited acquisition and funding offers from day-one: “We looked at the difference between, on the one hand, raising [venture capital] and being forced to either rocketship or die, or, on the other, joining a company that already had all the customers, ” Case said to Street Fight of the acquisition. “We have the opportunity to actually create something of value over time, and bring to life all of things that we knew developers want. It just made sense.”

Talks began between the two firms nearly a year ago after Case keynoted a developers meetup sponsored by ESRI in Portland. After working through potential partnerships options for months, discussions between the two companies escalated in June as Geoloqi’s leadership team began to speak with higher-ups at Esri about an acquisition.

“I think of it as: Esri’s really good at supplying the nouns and adjectives — the people, places, and things and all the descriptions — and we’re supplying the verbs,” Case said about the synergy between the two companies.  Esri’s clients range from not-for-profits using the stock mapping software to large enterprises looking to build custom mapping services for internal logistics. The implementation of Geoloqi’s real-time location services could allow, say, a healthcare company to build an application that reminds customer to take their medication when they are away from home; or, a logistics company to track and manage shipments in real-time, and deliver customized instructions to drivers based on contextual data like traffic reports or up-to-the-minute delivery schedules.

Part of what makes the fit so tight for Case is the opportunity, which Esri provides, to implement geofencing technology in industries other than advertising, where she says the usecase is often overblown: “Location-based ads are really annoying — and people have been trying to do it forever,” said Case. “The industry itself suffers from a lack of realistic imagination and realistic use cases because we’re so focused on the shiny ads. Everyone is going to pay full price when they go to that Starbucks anyways, and they already know where it is – no one needs something like that.”

Case has a point: creating value for a relatively young technology like geofencing, which lacks the mature ecosystem to make implementation highly efficient, requires a vertically-agnostic model that allows for a company to build-once and apply similarly across a handful of industries. Siloing a technology to a single market essentially forces a company to over-innovate, developing the product well-beyond the needs of the consumer and strength of the surrounding technology stack.

Take Apple’s — and Amazon’s — investment in 3D mapping. While the technology may open doors for new innovation over the next 10-15 years, the investment potentially forced Apple’s geo team to neglect the  basic needs of today’s consumer: moving from point A to point B in the easiest manner possible. Sometimes it’s better to get to work, than to have your mind blown.

“The future is hardly ever in shiny products,” Case told me, pointing to the the early days of search when portals were emerging with obscure, and relatively useless 3D interfaces. “It’s always in the utilitarian solutions. People keep trying to have computers do the stuff that humans should be doing,  and they don’t have the computers take care of the stuff that computers should be doing, which is all of the stuff in the background – the filtering and presenting of useful information to the users.”

The companies also announced their first joint release Monday, a geo-trigger, powered by Esri, that allows developers to take a geographic location — say an address — and turn it into a real-time trigger that sends a customized notification to any device.

Steven Jacobs is deputy editor at Street Fight.

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