Kopi Chat Da Bao: How to build a hyper local start-up in the mapping industry?

Featuring Kopi Chat Da Bao with Ajay Bulusu, cofounder of NextBillion.AI

Contributed by Chen Yi Ting

Google Maps revolutionised the mapping landscape with the iPhone and became the gold standard for digital mapping more than a decade ago. Having been part of the Google Maps team and subsequently leading the intrapreneurship team at Grab across 9 different countries, Ajay was well-equipped with the relevant skill set when he made a mid-career venture into entrepreneurship and built NextBillion.AI, a B2B startup, which creates customised mapping ecosystems for companies.

On November 4, we invited Ajay Bulusu, cofounder of NextBillion.AI, whose role is in managing operations, sales and human resource, to give us insight into how AI can be applied in the mobility sector, and sharing on his wealth of experience as a seasoned intrapreneur and mid-career entrepreneur at the same time.

Ajay Bulusu, NextBillion.AI (left) with Soh Hui Min, NUS Enterprise (right)

Here are 5 key takeaways from Ajay.

Mapping is not as easy as it seems.

“The map gets stained the minute you make it.” Mapping is highly complex as maps change dynamically right after they are made due to planned and unplanned events like road repairs and accidents. In particular, hyper local mapping, which refers to the way in which a business is run in its locality, is even more specialised as it focuses on a particular location and vehicle type. For instance, food delivery services in the CBD (Central Business District) area in Singapore only travel on footpaths or sidewalks. Thus, an unique model with accurate estimated time of arrival predictions has to be created for these delivery services.

To do geospatial AI, all you require is data from phones.

To work on the AI for geospatial purposes, all that is required is anonymised data from our phones. A model is then built and data is placed on an open source API (Application Programming Interface) to provide a customised browsing or navigation system. While the use of API is commonplace, NextBillion.AI is the first to put out a large mapping ecosystem for large enterprises on their cloud.

Entrepreneurship requires good timing, balance and a healthy dose of humility.

Timing is important as an industry needs to reach a certain level of maturity for a good product-market fit. Loved ones and key stakeholders in your life also need to understand that a significant amount of your time would be devoted to the startup. Moreover, a good balance of skill sets has to be present in the cofounding team as well. A startup founder is the same as anyone else, without the prestige of working in large corporations, and is required to learn a lot about how the whole ecosystem works and various facets like law and banking.

Scaling across countries requires sufficient understanding of the selling process.

It is crucial to understand cultural nuances and requirements of the selling process. For instance, how to approach a company and the way advertisements should be published are different depending on the cultural norms of the country. Quoting an example — in India, SAAS is not adopted on a large scale and there are significantly lower numbers of searches for the term “software” than in US. Thus, placing ads on Google and LinkedIn in India would not give leads.

Sharing your geo-information is not all bad.

Geo-privacy is one of the biggest concerns of using AI in the geospatial industry. While Ajay understands concerns regarding location tracking and ethical uses of data, he highlights that a lot of contextual advertisements and offers for nearby events are curated based on where the device is located, providing more relevance for users.

Ajay’s next priority for NextBillion.AI include facial recognition as well as generic AI data labelling and tagging. According to Ajay, these automated content moderation tactics would be beneficial for content generation companies.

If you are keen to learn more about entrepreneurship and technology, check out similar events on NUS Enterprise website.

NUS Enterprise nurtures entrepreneurial talents with global mindsets, while advancing innovation and entrepreneurship at Asia’s leading university.

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