Creating a business is harder than you think. Even if you’ve done it before, your recollections are likely whitewashed by a self-preserving subconscious — a salve to the many pains of creating something from nothing and trying to keep it upright.
When you own your own business, you worry about everything — from making payroll, covering inventory costs, drawing the necessary foot traffic. And all that may ladder up to a larger source of anxiety, one that’s not solved by an adjustment to an SEM strategy: “Did I choose the wrong location for my business?”
This question may haunt all local business owners at one time or another. Certainly neighborhood demographics or traffic patterns can change around you after launching a dream endeavor, but these dynamics are largely out of your control — unpredictable realities that seem to shift with the wind.
Or are they?
These days there are a lot of available data points for business owners who are both creating and expanding enterprises, allowing them to determine whether one street corner could likely prove more fruitful than another. While a cliche, “location, location, location” remains a constant truth in determining likely success or failure. But how to wrangle that information into a digestible and actionable format? Several have tried (in fact I worked briefly with a startup that was focused on aggregating reams of data around neighborhoods with a goal of creating a sort of “livability” index), including a newcomer that takes geo-spatial information and marries it to all kinds of demographics and competitive information resulting in what they call “the future of location intelligence.”
“Search is the dominant form for information retrieval, but location analytics is not being leveraged for search; over 50 percent of search is done on mobile with strong focus on local,” said Hillit Meidar-Alfi founder and CEO of Spatially. “Location analytics reveals critical behavioral insights and contextual intelligence that are otherwise unavailable – meaning that the influence of location is not being taken in account and it is difficult for businesses to incorporate location analytics into their decision making.”
As a product, Spatially is an elegantly designed patchwork, layering simple-to-traverse navigation layers that reveal useful data based on both “area” (neighborhood level) and bounding boxes that dig in to “business areas” — all overlain on maps. Users can select different areas to gather high-level information and then create reports delivered instantly and PDFs with visualizations and granular information to aid in decision making.
As Meidar-Alfi put it, the brand new service “is building the most powerful platform for location search and analytics with applications for small and medium businesses, marketing technologies, ecommerce, real estate, and more. Businesses using location analytics will have a significant competitive advantage over those that do not.” She calls it the “Google Analytics for bricks-and-mortar businesses.”
We asked Meidar-Alfi to break down the self-funded service — which is in two cities and plans to be in the top 50 by year’s end — and describe how things came about.
What was the origin of Spatially and why did you create it?
Spatially came about from a collision of two forces — one is a sense of frustration as an architect, and the other was simply my nature. I am a trained architect and worked in the field for several years. Early on I realized that by the time design is considered a lot of decisions have been made leading up to effecting design — setbacks, height limitations, FARs, zoning and land uses, et cetera. That set me off on an exploration and back to school. I completed my PhD in City and Regional Planning with a focus on non-transportation infrastructure systems. While not dealing with the same issues that got me into city planning, I developed a new approach to evaluating non-transportation infrastructure systems on the premise that those systems dictate much of our built environment and how we experience it living, working, and playing.
The second force is having entrepreneurial ambition and wanting to be create something big. I realized the opportunity six years ago and started Urban4M. In the beginning, the company was focused on creating a ranking system for cities depending on the user needs. But as I went through product and customer development the focus quickly changed to residential real estate — this was at the height of the Zillow and Trulia rivalry and a major disruption in the industry. The product we developed, aboutPLACE, was impressive and was getting noticed. However, the product was not stable and I was afraid of failing because of technical issues and not conceptual. Two weeks before launch, I pulled the product and we went back to the drawing board. But this time with a much bigger vision and product. As part of the redo, we decided to rebrand and build from scratch. On January 1, 2016, Spatially was official.
Where do you source the data?
Our platform is a “data pig” — so the more you throw at it the stronger it is. We have dozens of vendors for both public and private data as well as collect our own. We have the ability for our users to share their customer data for customized analytics.
Who are the target customers today and who do you think you’ll focus on in the future?
Currently we are focusing on brick-and-mortar businesses that are looking to grow — either by finding a new or better location or expanding into multiple locations. Real estate professionals are a natural extension, as well as ecommerce businesses.
What problems were you initially looking to solve?
Help SMBs better understand their customers, markets, and location(s) to grow their business, and find new locations for their business. Often, the location of the business is the largest investment but comprehensive analysis is difficult without hiring consultants. Even with consultants the information that is given does not allow business owners to better operate their business. We are looking to streamline the process and give confidence in their decision-making. Business owners should be able to own their destiny and not be an the mercy of the unknown.
What problems remain to be solved for customers?
A lot. Currently we are focused on the ana
lytics side of location and letting our users test several assumptions and options. In the comings months we will rolling out our search features and capabilities and we expect to make a big impact on search and the way people use location.
It seems the product could be useful embedded in other brands’ services, like online real estate sales
Absolutely and we will have APIs available by the end of this quarter.
Any interesting anecdotes yet from customers?
One of the first questions we often get from potential users is ‘Can you tell us more about our customers?’ This question never ceases to amaze me because you would think that businesses know who is walking through their door. But they are obviously looking for more than the obvious and we are able to expose more information and insights such as spending behavior, movement, and surrounding competition.
The use cases are plenty but here are a few highlights from our customers:
- using the insights gained from our product to negotiate the lease terms.
- using our product to approach investors
- expanding an existing business in an area that was not considered before (and being successful)
Finally: what’s the business model?
Currently the service is free and a significant portion will remain free. The product will be subscription based SaaS.