Indoor Location: Why We're Still Lost Inside

“Indoor location technology has been around for a while. What new problem are you solving?”

It seems like we've heard this a thousand times while we’ve been out and about trying to raise both money and awareness, so it's fitting to address the question here! The indoor location [aka indoor navigation] space is a hot market and the competitive landscape is certainly a busy one. Moreover, it has been for a couple of years now. As latecomers to the game, how can we expect to carve out a business?

When we started this journey back in early ’14, we were looking for a big, unsolved problem that we were knew our prior experiences in successful startups would uniquely equip us to solve. We found it while lost in a huge, complex building in NYC - we kept reaching instinctively for our phones to help find out where we were. We do it all the time outside, why can’t we do the same thing inside? 

It turned out, perhaps unsurprisingly, we weren’t the first people to identify this problem. There were (and still are) a variety of companies pushing technological solutions for locating someone indoors. Many use beacon technology, some trilateral wifi signals, others identify the unique attributes of a building's radio-magnetic fingerprints, and others use special lightbulbs to emit locating signals.

Back to square one, then? Not at all! If all of this technology exists to solve the technical challenge of locating someone indoors (and has for some time), then why is my smartphone still completely useless to me when I’m indoors and lost? We chewed on this for a little while before we identified the fundamental problem - indoor location companies are selling the technological solution without considering the end-to-end product experience. As veterans of the consumer product space, this was finally a problem we knew we could solve!

The first thing we looked at is how easy it was for a business or property owner to provide typical indoor location services to their customers. After all, the more time and money they need to invest in such a system, the lower the overall return on investment. If the RIO doesn't make sense, then why do it?  All typical indoor location systems require months of effort to deploy - site surveys, digitizing floor plans and custom application development, not to mention the high cost of maintaining a fleet of battery powered beacons. 

The next thing we looked at is what motivates an end user to engage with typical indoor location systems. If there is no value in for them, why would they bother? Typical indoor location systems have been focused on the value they can offer the business - locating a customer to infer their interest and incentivize with an ad or offer. Internally, we joke that when people realized that consumers don't engage with QR codes they invented iBeacons to eliminate the middle man and push ads directly to their phones.  But still no one choses to engage with a system like this; you need to provide fair exchange to motivate opt in. Because with no opt in, there is no business value to be had.

Lastly, we considered how easy is it for an end user engage with a typical indoor location system. If they have to jump through hoops, usage will never become a daily habit and we'll never create the feeling of dependency that people have now with Google Maps. No matter where you are - Toronto, London or San Francisco - you open Maps to find your way around outdoors. But each custom beacon deployment means a different custom app a consumer know about, download and sign into before they can engage. And then they must learn the nuances of that particular user experience.

So, rather than focusing on the technological solution to the obvious problem, we're designing a product that addresses the whole experience to drive deployment, adoption and engagement. We believe this will be the formula to achieve the scale needed to become the de facto solution for indoor location and way finding. Want to know what that looks like? Stay tuned.

James Wu