464: How Waze Is Revolutionizing Digital Navigation
Waze is the social navigation pioneer, leveraging mobile technology and a passionate global community to redefine expectations of today’s maps. The platform is home to one of the world’s largest networks of drivers who work together daily to outsmart traffic and save time and money.
The app consistently recommends the fastest routes based on real-time driving and data from millions of users. From traffic reroutes to low gas price alerts and relevant offers from favorite brands, Waze is one of the most comprehensive driving companions in the marketplace. Google famously acquired Waze For $1.1B, to give a social data boost to its mapping business over 5 years ago. Is there more to Waze than most people realize?
I wanted to learn more about the other features that are probably under your radar. For example, The Connected Citizens Program connects Wazers, cities and its citizens to collaborate and improve their community. But also answer the question “What’s happening on our roads right now, and where?”
I also wanted to understand how their Beacons Program is improving tunnel navigation in cities around the world and became the first scalable, affordable solution to power seamless navigation underground. After noticing that there too many cars and so many empty seats. The company also launched Waze Carpool to offer a simple, quick, cheap and fun way to commute together. But, the app made a real impact last year in Texas and Louisiana after Hurricane Harvey wreaked havoc on locals.
The Waze Global Event Partners free program also enables event organizers to work with the company. The free traffic management program enables real-time road closures, full communication with local drivers and up-to-the-minute detours to get drivers to events more quickly, safely and happy. I invited Finlay Clark, UK country manager to talk about how the platform is evolving and have a look under the hood at the technology that makes digital navigation so seamless.
Finlay Clark runs Waze’s business in the UK, responsible for the revenue and usage of the Google-owned, crowd-sourced sat nav app. He joined Waze in 2016, having previously worked with Google’s top-tier retail and e-commerce clients for five years.
Finlay Clark: I am the UK country manager for Waze. So Waze is obviously the largest community of drivers in the world or helping one another to out smart traffic. We do loads of other things which I’m looking forward to telling you about today.
My role at Waze is I was the first employee in the UK for Waze and it’s a pretty cross-functional role. So what we’re doing is working with partners, with many partners, people like transport organizations like transport for London and broadcast partners. He used information on air. Part of my job would be advertising. So we are monetizing the app and kind of trying to prove to advertise, advertising on a map can be quite useful for their business.
Another part of my job is around awareness, so actually telling people about Waze marketing, PR, and then lastly is just to make sure that on the product side we’re building the app, which works really well for UK drivers. So there are many, many hyper local things which affect countries and regions all over the world and we go really deep on driving. So I’m the kind of person championing internally for things that are coming to UK roads, whether it be things like ultra-low emissions zone and things like that. So quite a wide varying job keeps me busy. I’m thoroughly enjoying it
Neil: Now most people listening out there, I think will know what Waze is and they will think of it as a SAT NAV app that sits on their smart phone but also provides that real-time traffic congestion information but what really interests me is that it’s actually much, much more than that and it’s also used to make much more informed planning decisions to improve city infrastructure. Can you expand a little on how you see Waze, the problem it solves and also what makes it unique from other apps and other solutions out there?
Finlay: Yeah, absolutely. So at a very high level, I think we’re changing from being a navigation app, an app that simply gets you from A to B in the most efficient route to actually being a transportation company. We have one of the richest datasets of real-time transportation information in the world. We give that to partners and to tell people to make informed decisions about the way cities run and we are experimenting on our own end to end transportation service, Waze carpool, which I can tell you a little bit about today. So I think the big change is how we moved from just navigation to a wider encompassing transportation company.
The second part of the answer is what makes us unique. So Waze was always built around this essence of community and this is still a lot, is the heart of what makes us different. So I’ll give you an example. If you just drive with Waze on today, you are still part of our community. You are sort of sharing anonymous GPS traces with us. We’re using the speed data to work where the traffic is and help me with optimal routes.
The Second layer is communities. People that make active reports. So these are people that actually either, you know, tell people, Hey, I’m stuck in traffic. There’s been an accident. This road has been closed. Whatever it might be, we get millions of these alerts a day and that gives us a very rich real-time picture of what’s happening on the road. You can do all this with voice now.
Simply turn it on in the settings and you can say, okay Waze, report the traffic jam and I would say to people, you know, that sort of nice feeling you get when you let a car at a junction. This is like the digital equivalent of doing that, right? If you’re in traffic, you’re helping the person behind you.
The third layer that makes us unique is we have roughly half a million, map editors around the world to take it upon themselves to edit the Waze map in their own free time telling us, oh actually this is now a one way in my area and you know, this is a new route that’s got in.
So we have these sort of super users who are, we can publish changes to the map in real time and this is a key reason why we really try and get an app that doesn’t see that the bridge is closed and then the last area that makes us unique is we do have partnerships with over 600 cities, transport authorities around the world who are getting direct API access and anonymous data that they’re using to kind of make cities run quicker and more efficiently and in return they’re helping us with things like, well where’s all the construction in London? That changes on a daily basis, road works information, all these things. So this is what makes us unique.
We go really, really deep on driving. We don’t use public transport, we don’t do, you know, hill walking these types of things. We are only doing driving, you know, and I think if you use weight is in, you begin to, you drive a lot. Hopefully you will see features in there which really kind of helps you. I mean, driving is tough, right? It’s one of the biggest drags and quality of life and it’s bad for the environment, it’s about your sanity. So we’re like this crystal ball for driving and you just trust us to get them the right way at any given time of day.
So, you know, a lot of the features that you’ll see in Waze, things like speed limits, speed cameras, planned dried telling people, hey, I’m going there soon, what’s the best time I need to leave? These are all features that we’ve put in recently to go really deep on driving and really hard problems such as HOV, High Occupancy, Vehicle routing. We launched it last year. So obviously a lot of places around the world have certain restrictions on lanes which you can use if you, for instance, you have two people or three people or do you got an electric view. All of these things are quite tough, but we are supporting these in many big cities around the world. So you know, what we’re trying to do is make driving easier and get people the quickest route.
Neil: Now listening to you talk there, it really seems that you guys are using technology to provide a more proactive approach to road travel where you avoid congestion rather than the traditional approach of just reacting to everything. I mean it was that always your aim with Waze?
Finlay: So the aim was really to build maps by people in the community and have people have a way of telling their neighbor, Hey, I’m stuck in traffic. You should take the other way to work today. I mean that was the very simple idea that came from, you know, the founders who started this project in Israel about 10 years ago and of course it grew organically and that was, you know, the most amazing thing that actually people wanted to build these maps and wanted to crowdsource information.
They kind of same way as the world’s biggest encyclopedia. Wikipedia has built by lots and lots of people, you know, and exactly the same thing is what Waze did with maps. I think, you know, in terms of that proactive piece, I think, I speak to a lot of people and some of them say to me things like I just put Waze on just in case, just in case there’s something on of the head.
I know the route and actually, that’s a checking it, just to see that there’s been no accidents or major things and fundamentally that is the emotional response we want. We want people to, every time they get in the car to be thinking Waze can be that utility, that will tell me, here is something that you need to know and sometimes it might say, hey, the normal route is probably the best route but there will be other times we will make serious changes to the routes.
To save you time and actually you know, that’s the magic moments that you will get, you know, sometimes we’ll save you five, 10 minutes. Other times it will save you significant amount of time by keeping you out a big traffic jams and things and I think that’s the thing like our ambition is, I mean it’s interesting, I live in London and you know, roughly half UK drivers use SAT NAV, most people call it the GPS but I think a lot of people don’t use them all the time on their way to work and yet, you know, that’s an average, the UK commute that we see in this country is about 45 minutes.
We know that we can say 5, 10 minutes, which if you add that time off over the course of a month in a year, it’s an awful lot of the time. So I think in many ways our competition is actually the person that just drives the same route every day and say we could be helping them to optimize that and you know, over time that makes a big difference to the environment and people’s sanity.
Neil: So from a technology standpoint, can you tell me more about what goes on under the hood or behind the scenes at Waze and also that dynamic lean structure within Google?
Finlay: So Waze is quite interesting in the sense that it was acquired over was five years ago and largely Google, Google’s responses, you guys are doing something really, really interesting. You’re solving a big, big problem which is congestion in urban areas. So we’re obviously going to kind of fund you and we integrate in some ways, but largely we’ve benefited from that actually, we still have a lot of independence, within Google, which is great.
So, you know, we are independent in the sense that, you know, Waze, we have our own brand. We have many of our internally, a lot of our own departments are separate from Google, our sales teams, marketing or PR and actually that’s worked very well in the sense that Google’s obviously got Google maps and there is some crossover there and the apps do talk in the back end.
We do share some information with them and vice versa but fundamentally there are differences and we have the different use cases, but I would say Google maps is your map for everything. No strict view, walking directions for the transport, all the rest of it. We go really deep on driving. We only do driving.
So that’s a kind of difference, so I think, you know, other things are worth mentioning is just that I still say to people, who we are, you know, several hundred people now, Waze still feels like a startup and we do kind of make decisions very rapidly and I think that’s something which, you know, the Founders, the senior management are very keen to try and rotate and as we get bigger and there’s no doubt, we are getting bigger but fundamentally we still react very quickly and in a good example of that would be, when we did have those hurricanes last year and you know, in America we made a pretty significant decision to launch our carpool product in areas affected in Texas and Louisiana because that was a real opportunity to try.
People needed transportation in this in this area because of an event and I think that’s the thing that, you know, we made that decision in you know, just over 40 hours with you know, it was all hands on deck and I think those are the kinds of things that even though we are obviously not a small band in a garage anymore, we’re in part Google, but we get the benefits of being a Google company, but we have actually retained lots of their kind of benefits of actually still being independent and being able to make decisions at speed for our users.
Neil: I do love how you are exploring other technology solutions as well at Waze. I mean, can you tell me more about, for example, the Waze beacons program because I think that is something that many people listening will not have visibility of or even know that you’re working with beacon technology at the moment.
Finlay: Yeah. So one of our distinguished engineer, Gale who’s in Tel Aviv, Tel Aviv is, are in still the heart of our operation, you know, Waze had her difficulties routing people when they’re undergrads in tunnels and, you know, he had this experience but he was driving and Waze couldn’t work, couldn’t tell him to get off the road at the right time. So he set upon himself on a personal mission to try and look at how we could get Waze working underground.
There’s a certain number of tunnels in cities across the world where you have to make a turn off and if Waze is telling you something or not telling you something and all of a sudden you’re trying to change lanes at high speed, you know, accidents do occur. So we’re really trying to ensure that, you know, when we work with city partners around the world that we can provide solutions to this because, you know, we’re working with indirectly to try and minimize accidents and something like having a simple beacon on the side of tunnels is a pretty inexpensive way of holding these accidents that arise from issues of just simply not having GPS signal.
So its early days, but it’s a classic example of whereby because now we work with like 600 partners, cities around the world doing the pilot. This is quite easy to roll out and then scale. So, yeah, we’re pleased that the Waze beacons in tunnels across the world right now and helping people to make sure they hit the right exit underground.
Neil: Now you guys are also leading the way with Waze carpool. Now you did mention a few moments ago that the app was a big hit in Texas and Louisiana after Hurricane Harvey wreaked havoc on vocals but can you tell me more about how it helped users join that period of devastation? It’s fantastic what you guys did there.
Finlay: It’s probably worth mentioning that, Waze has been doing crisis response for many, many years. So we’ve been asked in the past by the likes of a FEMA, the sort of organization in America, the federal government to help with crisis response and things like hurricanes and in bad weather and this is actually now we’re in this place where, you know, the Waze community, all elements of our community, from our users, our map editors, the relationships we have with the cities themselves, allow us to play quite significant roles with, you know, when there are these major traffic events or major crisis is.
So we, what we decided to do with Waze carpool in Texas and Louisiana was, you know, this is a product that we’re rolling out. It is a separate app to Waze and it is a clearly carpool app. So we’re trying to connect drivers to riders, getting one of them to leave the car at home and what we found was that in the aftermath of these, you know, these hurricanes, there was a roughly a million cars that were sort of un-drivable.
All of a sudden you’ve got all these big populations and they need transport and you know, what we decided to do was launch the app and offering free rides to people that were affected and we launched it with the community, with all the traffic authorities in the area to really get the word out and we saw that our usage, you know, last August was phenomenally high. The engagement was great. People were saying thank you. You literally kind of helped me not just kind of get out of the affected areas because we had things like shelter, about 154 shelters in Waze that people are put in 2500 road closures.
When the hurricane was on Waze was doing great to tell, but two and a half million people, here’s what’s happening. If you need shelter, it is what you need to do and then afterwards when people realized that they didn’t have transport anymore, we were trying to provide an option there to tell people, hey, you know, please cooperate with one another until we get this situation fixed and of course it’s situations like that where I think we can be very quick. It actually getting product launched and a lot of people to make a real difference to people. So you know, that’s a good example of just, I guess the role that we play during a crisis.
Neil: So can you tell me more about how Waze carpool works? I mean what country is available and also tell me more about how riders who use the app can actually pay their driver for federal, I think its federal mileage rate in the US for the cost of that gas and also the wear and tear of their vehicle. It’s a fascinating concept, but how does it all work?
Finlay: Yeah, absolutely. So we’ve been, we launched Waze carpool two years ago in Israel. Israel [unclear 18:48] to market, we’re now rolled that out to the west coast of the US, so the bay area and L.A and we launched it in obviously Louisiana and Texas and now we’re looking at Brazil for the next countries. So we’re going to carefully here because you know fundamentally carpooling has been around for 50, 60 years and what we’re trying to do is make a very, very seamless opportunity for people to effectively leave the car, find someone else that they can get in the car with and so we’re all about fighting traffic at Waze and what we realized with Carpool is fundamentally, driving cars not enough roads, so we need to try and take cars off the road so we’re going to gently with this but what we’re trying to do is be an option for users to effectively leave the car at home and drive with somebody else.
It’s not a tax experience, it’s very important to say, and it’s a game of trying to match drivers. Sometimes we will game of… carpool will be an option for people that won’t be over with an option kind of late at night because we’re talking about committing hours. So these aren’t the taxi drivers. These are people that are actually just going that way anyway. So that’s the magic.
It’s a separate app to Waze and, you know, what we’re trying to do at the moment is, tell people, hey, this is a comparable to like a public transport option that you could actually get the benefit of sort of using HOV lanes, there will be less traffic on the road and obviously the real magic is if you were going that way anyway, that it’s kind of free money because obviously, you know, you’ve not really changed your behavior, you might be picking someone up or dropping them off, but we do that. So, you know, we set up so that you pick up people who are working quite near you.
So that’s the magic when we find that Waze is kind of want to do a bit of good for the world, they don’t want to do too much, right? So, you know, we’re asking them to, you know, to find this sort of way where you’re connecting people that live in work in similar areas and we know that if we can just remove certain number of drivers off the road, you know, 3% to 5% in urban areas at peak times, that would actually be enough to have free flowing traffic.
Our advantage is that we’ve already got 100 million people around the world in Waze every month. The trick is just to kind of get some of them Carpool, tell people about it and obviously this should be a way of being an option because I think young people today, you know, what they needed, transportation don’t necessarily need cars, you know young people are very accustomed to just pulling out a phone, pressing a button and the car turns up and I think what we’re trying to do is almost like the air b&b model, but for empty car seats because cars are still such an inefficient network and then we think we can optimize that and help make cities run a bit quicker.
Neil: Now a few years ago it was three hour journey to the Glastonbury music festival ended up taking me 15 hours due to organizers closing off all the roads due to flooding. I mean, are you teaming up with more and more organizers now around the world to make travel to those big global events that little bit easier and get the message out to people better?
Finlay: Yeah, absolutely. So we have a global events program where we actually work with many of the sort of big stadiums and events companies around the world where we know there’s going to be abnormal traffic for, you know, whether it be a big football match or whatever to actually tell people who are coming to that match, hey Waze is the app that will show you where you can best park, when’s the best time to arrive, these types of information because it can be very, you know, there are so many hyper-local changes to road layouts when they have these big events.
You need to have the information, the right information. It’s a lot of the time if you’re relying on GPS or sat NAVs, you know, they’re not going to have that. So like getting it directly from the organizers and events, Waze is up to date and in return we’re obviously telling the event organizers, right, we’re getting their messages out to drivers right when they need it.
So, yeah, we’re working with many different partners around the world on this and what’s great is they can begin to leverage the data as well. They can begin to see where are people coming from and how far away, where are they in the parking and it just basically allow is these events organizers to know how do I make sure that when people are driving to events, they’re getting the most up to date information and it can go a long way to just making these things run a lot better when you’ve got tens of thousands of vehicles type stuff.
So Glastonbury is an interesting one. I remember the one we speak about 15 hours and there are things and things like floods and things. I mean there’s absolutely no way that you know those roads in Somerset, in England, made for the amount of traffic that they get during that week of the year and I think sometimes where Waze can be helpful instances is just telling people, hey, here’s how long are you going to be stuck in traffic? And when you have that information you can then begin to determine whether, well actually maybe I want to find accommodation or whatever it might be, but yeah, we want to be working with more organizations here an organization and you think, oh, I have lots of people driving, please get in touch and we can try and work with you to be part of that global events program.
Neil: So can I also ask, how do you fund innovation at Waze? Because you are doing a lot of things here with a lot of different technologies, I mean have you had to consider commercializing the app and it’s a very fine balance. How do you get that right if you do?
Finlay: Waze decided six, seven years ago, even before the Google acquisition that we would have an ad funded model in Waze. So we’ve been going, we’ve been doing this for many years now, proving that ads on maps done it safe times throughout the drive can help businesses show up and for the commuters and tell them interesting things, things that are going on around them.
It’s very early days, but you know, we’ve got this app of a 100 million people around the world. They’re commuters, so they’re going to and from jobs most of the time it’s just an audience that people would like to reach and we’re the only screen in the car that people can kind of get a message to someone. So we have in app advertising that served the people that save time. So our most popular ad unit is, it’s called the zero speeds takeover and it surf when someone’s completely stopped.
You can imagine, you know, we do a lot of work with people like fuel companies and fast food and retailers. I mean you can imagine if you’re driving along and you’re low on fuel, and you see an ad for Shell and they say, hey, we’re just two minutes away, it’s actually can be a service.
We work very hard at trying to bring advertisers and telling our users things that are going on around them and the good thing from the advertising point of view is that, you know, we aren’t talking about metrics such as if I added a CTR, Click Through Rate, what we’re actually talking about overtime, we’re proving to businesses that we can make people more people at their place of business because we’re a GPS, so anonymously we can show, hey, we’ve got more people into your business and that they love it for that reason.
I would say it’s early days, but you know, we’re finding ways of monetizing the app as a way which integrates into the experience and hopefully adds to the experience or possible and I think most people are aware that they’re getting one of the best GPS Sat NAV for free and in return they might see one or two ads, but the ads are helpful in telling them things, is a decent trade off.
So that’s how we think about it and we think very carefully but yeah, it’s been a phenomenal growth to kind of bring more advertisers to own into prove it as all maps work for many different types of advertising.
Neil: You did mention that in many situations yours is the only screen inside a car and driver distraction is also a growing problem on the roads now. So how do you deal with safety at Waze?
Finlay: Yes, safety is a really, really big area that we focused on with all of our features and product recently, but probably the main one that we launched last year is talked Waze, but this is a feature you can turn on in the setting and all of a sudden everything you do on Waze it can be voice activated. So, okay Waze, the hot word and all of a sudden you can say drive me home or report an accident.
Clearly, we’re a driving app. We need to make it as seamless as possible for people to not have to touch the screen and other safety features that we’ve launched, things like, you know, if you and I were friends on Facebook and we both connected on Facebook, we were driving to the same place, Waze would automatically tell me that Neil would arrive at 10 past 2. So that makes no need for me to text you to say, Hey, what time you getting there?
You know, and this is all happening in the background and we think about features that will help decrease the amount of time that you need to driver distraction and literally be telling you things that you need to know. So, you know, we think hard about this and we inputted speed limits a year and a half ago to all major roads in the world and we notice that, you know, just by having speed limits there, people slow down when they know because the icon goes red when you start going over the speed limit.
Again, there’s lots of things that we’re doing and clearly we, work with many different transport authorities around the world as well that help them get information, access and things. So if you are reporting something, a lot of the time that being helpful to issue could be getting responded quicker because you’ve done that. So in transportation cycles where we’re seen as part of the solution, a part of the problem that we have lots and lots of new features that are designed to just let people do it all in voice and it’s great to see that people love doing that and voice technology is good enough now that it really works.
Neil: It’s great to hear about how you’re using technology in so many different situations and improving Waze in helping it evolve and adapt but what’s your grand vision for Waze is that, and is there anything else that you can share with us today about that?
Finlay: I think that the grand mission of Waze is all about fighting traffic. You know, traditionally we help you out smart traffic maybe 5, 10 minutes a day, but the wider mission we’re trying to work is how do we actually end traffic? That’s a lofty goal, but you know, fundamentally at the moment, you know, we’ve got huge commute of people using our app every month to drive and we can load balance and we can optimize, but there is actually a barrier to how far you can go with that and I think, you know, what we’re really trying to do is, trying to think about how do we take cars off the road.
This is why we’re launching our transportation as a service on carpool app and also giving our dates to lots of different organizations because fundamentally we think that, you know, it’s very unlikely anyone’s born today, is going to need a driver’s license. This is going to change in the next 15, 20 years where cars will move from being kind of assisted driving to fully automated.
People debate how long it’s going to take regulation or the rest of it but you know, I think what you’re going to have in the future, you’re going to have many, many different transport options and whether it be someone driving, you driving, whether it’d be a robot driving and you know, things are going to change and I think the fundamental question is how do we… driving is a very inefficient to the network or you know, at the moment, 80% of the time people driving on the road, you’d never get on a flight where there was one seat for MTC and yet we do all the time in cars and think it’s very normal.
I think our vision is that in the future is going to be a ton of services and moving things around people or things is going to be so much more cheaper than the cost of moving things and people around the cities is going to reduce considerably and you know, the time spent in vehicles can be much more productive and even things like what cities can do with all this space. I mean, a great example is about 15% of L.A is reserved for car park. There’s 15 percent of Los Angeles. That’s huge, huge amounts of space. Where it gets really interesting is all of a sudden you don’t need car parks anymore. It’s cost efficient network. What do you do with that space?
So I think these are issues that are going to come to the fore in transportation is a trillion pound industry and it’s traditionally not been disrupted because it’s obviously roads and infrastructure but I think there’s a great sense that technology and the way that it’s progressing is going to allow lots of different regions and cities around the world to make small experiments about how people and things move around cities and you know, that’s a really interesting place to be with.
You know, I’m optimistic. I really think that, you know, in the future our kids will think it’s mad that we let humans drive. I mean, you know, humans get tired and you’re going to get drunk and all these things. So, you know, I think in the future that’s kind of where we’re headed and people will still drive in novelty, I think for some people, but people will still drive but obviously, you know, I think where it becomes really interesting is what does that mean while their services and things happen, how the city’s change.
So I think Waze is in an interesting position because we have a role in not at the moment and hopefully we will keep building that and keep working so that people can use our data to help make experiments and do things like that in the future. So yeah, interesting Times ahead.
Neil: Absolutely. I think you’ve left so many questions in our heads now, but before I do let you go, could you remind the listeners of where they can find out more information about anything that we’ve spoken about today or even reach out to your team if they’ve got any questions about Waze as a result of our conversation.
Finlay: All the information is on Waze.com and if you’re a city partner and you want data for your city and the program is called connected citizens program, so Waze CCP. If you are an event organizer, we have Waze global events program, so most of the stuff is on our website, there’s an inquiry form that goes to the right people in the company. Certainly, you know, we are quite responsive team. We want to have more partners in fairly, we’d love to hear from some of your listeners if they think I’ve got a good idea how I could partner with Waze.
Neil: I love how waste came on the scene and it began by empowering citizens without real time congestion, information and I think that’s the way a lot of people perceive Waze, but it’s much, much bigger than that. So a big thank you for coming on today and telling us all about how you’re working with big global events, carpool and also beacon technology and asking those big questions about the future of transportation. It’s really opened my eyes. I’m sure as to everyone listening. So a big thank you for coming on today.
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