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Sat, June 22, 2024

MAPPING THE PATH TO SUCCESS

Anurag Verma
Anurag Verma March 8, 2024, 10:34 am
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Raj Bikram Maharjan & Janam Maharjan
Co-founders, Galli Maps

Galli Maps, which recently bagged the NYEF Startup Awards, is the brainchild of three friends who realised the necessity of a digital map that would provide detailed information about the location of a place that a person is searching for. It was during the Covid 19 lockdown that Raj Bikram Maharjan, Ashon Shakya and Janam Maharjan decided to start Galli Maps because during the period there was a surge in online delivery services but due to the lack of accurate mapping, it was difficult for delivery people and customers alike.

“We noticed that people had to keep making calls to the delivery person and vice versa to receive their parcels and most of the time you would have to choose the nearest landmark to meet,” says Raj. “This is the major reason why we felt the need for a digital map which would incorporate even the smallest alleys and by-lanes of Kathmandu and thus our journey with Galli Maps began,” shares Janam. 

Since its inception, Galli Maps has garnered the trust of its users, thanks to its user-friendly interface and precise mapping capabilities. 

In this edition of Business 360, we sat down with Raj and Janam, the driving forces behind Galli Maps, to delve into their remarkable journey and gain insights into the startup culture. Excerpts:

What was the inspiration behind launching the Digital Maps startup?

Raj: In the early days of my involvement in drone mapping, I collaborated closely with local governments. Our focus was on providing them with high-resolution maps, an alternative to traditional satellite maps. These detailed maps proved particularly valuable for house numbering, a critical task for municipalities like Kathmandu, Lalitpur and Kirtipur. By accurately numbering houses, local authorities could efficiently track property taxes. Then when the Covid 19 lockdown period started, e-commerce experienced a sudden surge in demand for delivery services. Parcel delivery, online shopping and other services all pivoted toward home delivery. However, the major challenge was in delivering the packages to customers’ doorsteps. People delivering the packages had to spend a considerable amount of time and also money, making phone calls to the customers to get directions. And it was the same for customers too. At times, the situation was such that some customers would cancel the deliveries. E-commerce platforms also grappled with the inefficiencies. When you consider the cumulative hours spent waiting for customers across all deliveries, it amounted to over 100 hours per day. Clearly, there was room for improvement in the last-mile delivery process. By addressing these pain points, we can enhance the overall delivery experience and streamline operations for both customers and e-commerce providers.

At that time, Janam was in Korea and Ashon and I were in Nepal. We began holding talks with each other regarding the challenges faced in accurate mapping and navigation. Janam introduced us to Kakao Maps, a highly precise mapping application widely used in Korea. Unlike Google Maps, which sometimes falls short in Korean accuracy due to national security regulations, Kakao Maps provides exceptional reliability and functionality. Similarly, in China, Baidu Maps emerged as a local alternative. It offered detailed maps and accurate navigation, catering specifically to the Chinese market. My training experience in India revealed yet another homegrown solution called Move Maps, developed by a company called MapmyIndia. These localised map applications were tailored to the unique needs of each region.

Our research unveiled an interesting trend whereby many Asian countries actively create their own map applications, emphasising accuracy and localisation. Recognising this untapped potential in Nepal, we thought we could do something about it. While municipalities possessed house numbers, citizens lacked a platform to easily access this information. Thus, we embarked on a mission to build a comprehensive mapping platform, empowering both local authorities and residents to navigate seamlessly. We had a clear vision when we started out and it was to combine precision, accessibility and local context to create a mapping solution that served the market effectively. By doing so, we aimed to enhance the lives of countless individuals and streamline essential services. Thus, our journey began.

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Raj Bikram Maharjan & Janam Maharjan
Co-founders, Galli Maps

What are some key features and functionalities of Galli Maps which benefit users?

Janam : In Nepal, the absence of standardised house numbers poses a challenge for both residents and businesses. However, our map platform has revolutionised the way people navigate and interact with their surroundings. Previously, locating specific addresses was a daunting task due to the lack of house numbers. Now, thanks to the efforts of local municipalities, house numbers are being officially assigned. Our platform serves as a comprehensive repository, allowing users to access all declared house numbers. Whether you are a resident, a visitor or a delivery person, finding your destination becomes easier. But there are places where houses do not have any numbers. We, thus, developed the ‘Galli Code’. When you long-press on a building a unique seven-digit code will appear which is the Galli Code and this acts like a precise location marker. In this way, even if there are no house numbers it becomes easy to send the code and get your deliveries.

The streets in our country are very narrow, in fact in some places there are only alleys, and this creates a lot of problems for deliveries. Previously, if you wanted something delivered then you had to call the delivery person and decide to meet at the nearest landmark which everybody knew about. To solve this issue, we implemented the 360-degree feature. With this feature you can pinpoint the exact house location. You just need to ping your address to the courier person and they will be able to locate your house.

Another area that we have worked on is collaborating with local municipalities. The accuracy of Galli Maps, I am confident is more accurate than other map applications due to this collaboration. We have made a lot of effort to map even the narrowest alleys so that navigating becomes easier for all those who are using our app. Once you start using Galli Maps you will soon realise that we are a trustworthy app.

Nepal has a unique geographical landscape and you must be planning to expand to other cities. How is your platform going to address those specific needs and challenges of navigation?

Janam : Our first target is Kathmandu Valley. If we can prove ourselves in Kathmandu, then only will we be going outside. One basic reason why we chose Kathmandu is because it is a densely populated city with numerous alleys and lanes and bylanes. And, we have been quite successful here. Our next step will be to go to other major cities. Once we cover major cities and they are linked up, we will move on to working with other urban and rural municipalities. We need to take things one step at a time otherwise we will not be able to deliver what we want to.

There is a lot of infrastructure development going on, a lot of changes taking place. How do you ensure accuracy and up-to-date information?

Raj: We have different ways of collecting data. The first is that we map the places ourselves; we do street mapping. Right now, for street mapping we maintain a target of conducting it once a year but once we have a big enough team, we aim to do it every six months. But actually, even once a year is enough. For the 360 mapping, we have used a bit of artificial intelligence as well through which we update the 360 maps. Another way is we have a direct connection with the municipalities, and the changes, for example if a new house is being built, that house will be added through their system as well. So, through that the house number and the footprint is also added. We have been updating our maps using data we collect ourselves and data given to us by the government organisations.

How exactly is the mapping done?

Janam : One mapping that we have started is called drone mapping. In the beginning we did the mapping by using aerial drones. We had to take video footage from areas which we then had to sync with the GPS location, from which we could get a lot of information. So, for the first step that is what we did. Especially for Kathmandu we had to use drone footage to get information for the maps. Secondly, for the 360 maps, we have 360 cameras which we attach to cars or bikes and drive around the roads. While doing this we have to continuously take photos and videos. Photos especially are taken at continuous intervals and then we have to process those photos to create a map.

Any success stories or testimonials from users who have utilised your digital platform?

Raj: Definitely, there has been appreciation on many occasions from our users. The Indra Jatra that we recently celebrated was a proud moment for Galli Maps. We already had our map. So, what we did was to get in touch with the people who would be travelling with the chariot (rath) or participating with the Lakhey and collaborated with them. We requested them to give us access to their GPS coordinates which were continuously updated on our maps. A lot of people, especially foreigners, downloaded our app then and they could find out the exact location of the chariot and the Lakhey and witness the procession. Literally, there were people waiting at home and updating themselves through our app so they knew exactly at what time the procession would pass by through their area. Earlier you had to incessantly call someone who was with the procession or just randomly wait for it to pass by. So, the added feature made it much easier for people and we received a lot of traffic as people were posting about it on TikTok and other social media. They made videos about chasing the Lakhey using our maps to navigate. It was a moral booster for us.

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Janam Maharjan, Co-Founder/CPO Galli Maps

What were the initial challenges when setting up Galli Maps be it on the policy side or infrastructure?

Raj: Our first challenge was building a property database. Another was when we took our project to the municipalities it was quite difficult to convince them. What was happening was that the municipalities had mapped the houses in a particular way and were building their own maps. What happened with that system was that each municipality had their own convoluted way of accessing those maps. Kathmandu Municipality had their own site and Lalitpur municipality had their own as well, which was not viable for the users. In 2002 itself, Kathmandu already had a map. But the general public was unable to use it and it was not updated as well and ended up unused. Now they are starting again. So yes, the first challenge was that it was very difficult to convince government bodies. They did not understand why it was important and what utility it would provide. Later on, when they saw the number of users they started supporting us.

Janam : The first to support us were the people at the Kirtipur Municipality. They had also started mapping out their area but they had not proceeded past a small area, so they called us. We also received immense support from Lalitpur Metropolitan City, and now from Kathmandu Metropolitan City as well. Sunita Dangol, Deputy Mayor of Kathmandu Metropolitan City, herself called us to give us suggestions regarding our work.

In the beginning, it was quite difficult to convince the general public as well. Another challenge was one which all startups face in Nepal. Initially, we were very worried about being able to raise the necessary capital but we were lucky to meet a couple of investors who trusted us implicitly and invested in us. A lot of investors in Nepal are still quite old-fashioned. We had an idea but only after implementing it could we generate revenue, which was something difficult to explain to typical investors.

Has Galli Maps been generating enough revenue in recent times?

Raj: We had planned to start generating revenue by 2024 as we wanted to spend a year refining the product. However, we ended up finishing our work earlier than expected and started generating revenue since October 2023. For the moment, our main revenue source is B2B deals. For example, we work with WorldLink, Foodmandu, Nabil Bank and GoTaxi. Our enterprise customers are our main source of revenue. In the future we plan on using our app, which is free of cost and will remain so in the future too, by having some advertisements. But that again depends on if our user base grows. We are also working on integrating third-party services. If this works out it would be an additional revenue source for us.

How do you plan on reaching and engaging a wider range of users to promote the adoption and utilisation of your app?

Raj: The first advantage that users have with our app is they can use it to search for amenities, landmarks and hotels, which can cater to a lot of the user base ranging from tourists and travellers to city-dwellers. Besides, we are also working with others who have built applications specifically for tourists who want to travel and trek. They are using our map API (application programming interface) in their maps. So, our maps are being used by their user base as well.

Recently, the government banned TikTok in the country. As young people who are in the technological industry, do you think that was a good move?

Raj: As a budding business, TikTok was a very good marketing platform because of its algorithm. The kind of content we pushed on TikTok led to an organic growth; the kind of organic growth we have not seen on Instagram or Facebook or any other social media. So, it was worth spending time and money in making content, in making awareness videos, and educational videos for our users on TikTok. A lot of our users actually came from TikTok. Definitely, we have some users from Facebook and YouTube, but the majority was from TikTok. When you start a business, you usually start off small and you do not have much financial resources too. So, on TikTok we could have a wider reach despite a small budget. As soon as it was banned, we had quite a difficult time. The government said it had some concerns regarding national security so they had to shut it down. So, it depends on how you want to look at that step - whether as a nation or as an individual.

Janam: However, any technology that can be used can also be misused. Obviously, there were some who misused TikTok but the ban ended up negatively affecting those who were using it properly. I think that is something the government should pay attention to. Banning any social media platform is not the ultimate solution. If the reason was misuse, then even Facebook is being misused and Instagram even more so. Why specifically ban TikTok? The government has to think about monitoring more than banning. As users and as an organisation, the algorithm was benefiting us and our users tremendously. The videos we had made to raise awareness were actually reaching our users. We were never engaged in social issues or similar things that were cited as the reason the site had to be banned, because the algorithm showed you things you always engaged in. Instead of banning it the government could have monitored and penalised those who created indecent content or content that were a threat to national peace and security. Shutting down the site completely is not the best move in our opinion.

We can give you a very good example of an in-depth report prepared by a journalist about why India’s social media are dying. After TikTok was banned in India many replacement apps sprung up. Their local start-up ecosystem ended up growing. But by 2023, around 90% of them were all dead, and the 10% that survived ended up changing their business model. This happened because when TikTok was banned it created a market gap and to fill that they came up with their own applications, but the question of build quality also mattered. Is the algorithm good? As they were not able to give users what they wanted in terms of build quality and content, especially compared to TikTok and Facebook and other major brands they ended up not living up to the expectations they had created. So, most of these replacement social media sites ended up dying. This shows that banning is not the ultimate solution            

Besides the map feature are there any other features you plan on incorporating in your app? 

Raj: For now, we are trying to build the foundation from the ground up. So, our main focus is creating maps because we have to make very accurate maps. On top of the accurate maps, as you said we want to build services or integrate third-party services. We have already come up with a ‘Report’ feature. For example, if there are potholes, or someone has parked in a location where they are not supposed to, or if there is garbage that has been disposed of in an inappropriate location, as a citizen that at times makes us angry. And oftentimes, we do not know where to lodge a complaint. May be, we have to speak to the municipality people but we do not have the time to visit the office. So, with the ‘Report’ feature, one can simply take a picture through the Galli Maps application and that photo goes to the concerned municipality. For instance, if you were to take a picture in Lalitpur Municipality, it will get automatically geo-tagged so that they know what ward and location the report is from. So, depending on whether it is a pothole or an accident, or unsanitary, or a public hazard you can select a category of all the hazards which is sent to the concerned ward. This informs the ward as well about the problems in their area, which they can go and solve immediately. So that is one feature we have already implemented.

Another feature we are coming up with is the ‘Event’ feature. Our app was heavily used and a lot of people loved it during the Indra Jatra festival. Similarly, there are many events happening on a regular basis, almost every weekend if not every day. A lot of people have approached us to include their events as well. Since there are many who want their events to be promoted and also people who are looking for events to go to but do not know where the events are taking place this feature will be helpful. If you are an event organiser, you can create an event in our application. Once you have done that our users are informed through a notification about when, where and what the event is about; whether it is a concert, art exhibition, procession, or a workshop and if you are interested you can attend it. At present, we only have a special events section, but we are coming up with a smaller events section, so that smaller businesses like restaurants can also list their events so that when people look up for events, they can see what is going on in their area.

How do you ensure the security and privacy of user data?

Janam: You must have noticed that when you download applications, they start asking for your phone number and email addresses. We don’t do that. The main demographic who use our maps are foreigners who want to get to a location, so we try to keep it hassle free for them. But if you want to add data, for example a missing place, or a business wants to add their details, if they want to report something, if they want to create events, for that we ask them to log in as we need to verify if that user is genuine or not. They might report some nonsense or they might create an event that is not real; wrong information should not reach our users. Besides that, we do not ask our users for any information. Regarding privacy issue concerns, we have also tasked our team to blur out any faces and registration number plates of vehicles from the 360-degree images we capture. We will be implementing that soon.

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Raj Bikram Maharjan  
CEO/Co-founders, Galli Maps

As a startup, how do you define a startup?

Raj: To be honest, we also did a bit of research on what actually is a startup. There are so many startup schemes, startup awards and programmes and incubation centres. Hence, it was natural for us to wonder what a startup actually is. Many people said that when you start a business, it is a startup but if I started a hotel would that be a startup? I think there is a difference between a regular business and a startup. We attended a startup training in India conducted by the University of Texas and when we asked this very question their definition of a startup was an organisation which has a repeatable and scalable business. Let’s take an example of Facebook, Uber or TikTok which are all tech businesses. Uber is already established in the USA but if Uber wanted to enter the Nepali market, there would be no need for them to start from scratch. Just a few changes would be necessary. So, it is repeatable and scalable worldwide. It is about making a foundation somewhere which you can use wherever you want. Now if you talk about a hotel business like Marriott, they cannot use the building that they constructed in the US in Nepal; they have to build a separate hotel here. That is a regular business. A startup has to be repeatable and scalable. The same business model has to repeat. inDrive’s business model is the same in Nepal, India and the US. Uber’s business model is the same in the US, Africa and India and it has scaled accordingly. That is the definition we believe of a startup and it also makes sense. What we also have to keep in mind is initially a company may be a startup but once they reach a breakeven point and start generating extra revenue then it turns into a proper running company or enterprise.

Janam: There is also a thing about how long you should call a company a startup. There are some who still refer to eSewa and Pathao as startups but they are full-fledged businesses now. How can you still compare them to other startups? In Nepal, what kind of businesses can be called startups is something that is still unclear. The government has schemes to help startups but it has not clearly defined what a startup is. There is still confusion regarding this. So, we could have a definition based on certain parameters like startups have to be repeatable and scalable, they cannot be older than three years and cannot have more than a certain number of employees.

Why do you think startups fail most of the time?

Raj: There are various reasons why startups fail but we wouldn’t be able to tell you what is the major reason as we have not faced that situation. The basic thing is we have to learn from others’ failures as well. However, having said that, our own research shows that 90% of startup businesses fail. Why most of them fail? Firstly, there is something called product market fit. We have seen people building a product but the market does not need it. The product could be amazing but the market does not need it. So, if the product does not fit the market the startup fails in that case. That is one of the major reasons why products fail. Another reason is the team. A team can also dissolve due to disputes and many startups fail due to disputes. In the beginning there is a lot of energy and later the energy goes down. Because of the disputes, it results in startups failing.

Janam: Another reason would be funding. Actually, funding is the major reason, especially in Nepal. In the beginning everybody has an idea, they build a prototype, they raise the seed fund and then they start building products, then they run out of funding. So, they have to go look for another source of funding. As soon as they run out of funds what happens is that their operation ends and if they are unable to acquire funds their startup ends up dying. These are the basic reasons as per our research and experience on why startups fail. We were fortunate to have received seed funding. Currently, we are in the stage to raise a series fund. We have built and refined our product and businesses are using our product now. But we need to scale our mapping job into other cities and for that we need funds. At the moment, we are looking for Rs 3 to 4 crores, which will help us to scale up our mapping task and also increase our user base for 2024 and beyond.

What do you think about the government talking about promoting startups and having also separated a fund to promote startups?

Raj: There are news articles regarding that time and again and we get all excited. And we personally have applied for the fund on three occasions but to no avail. Nothing progresses after we have filed our application. The startup fund is not being executed properly. People who are eligible are not receiving it. The government had also detailed that a certain amount is to be set aside by banks to be disbursed as loans without collateral and asked the banks to implement it and maybe the banks tried as well. We spoke to a bank and they mentioned they actually did not want to discourage people from starting a startup. Many people say that banks never want to give money to businesses. But banks have bad experiences giving money to startups because there have been so many bad loans, where the money is never returned, or the money that a person availed for a certain reason is misused by the spouse, or some run away to foreign countries if they are unable to pay back the loan, especially since there was no collateral. The percentage of bad loans is very high. So, the banks find it difficult to give out such loans despite the government mandating it. It is a good initiative by the government but it seems like they have not done their due diligence in researching the issue beforehand or there is just a lack of understanding about the consequences.

Who do you consider your major competitor right now?

Janam: Overall, our major competition is Google Maps. Every time we introduce ourselves as Galli Maps, we are asked if we are similar to Google Maps. So, Google Maps is a big competition. Obviously, they have such a solid user base. Our aim is to fill the gaps left by Google Maps, not only in Nepal, but in the entirety of South-Asia, and also to introduce additional features compared to Google.

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