Maply’s leap: Student entrepreneurs raise funding, pursue startup full-time

The entrepreneurs who founded Maply as undergrads at the University of Missouri will be plunging into the startup full-time in June. The creators of the location-based app for discovering and sharing events have raised $300,000 of seed funding and are relocating to Austin, Texas, in hopes of accelerating their company’s growth.

Maply CEO Jeff Orr and CMO Ryan Platt graduated from MU this month with degrees in journalism and communication, respectively. Dallas Hoelscher, Maply’s CTO, is dropping out of college after his sophomore year to pursue Maply full-time.

The move to Austin will be a big one for the team, which originally created the application for the Apple Watch as part of the the Reynolds Journalism Institute’s 2016 Student Competition.

“It definitely marks a stepping-up point for us,” Orr said of the move. “It’s been a long journey to get here from when he had only a prototype and a dream.”

Hoelscher acknowledged the risk involved in jumping into entrepreneurship full-time but said he could always go back to school if Maply didn’t work out, adding that both his parents were supportive of the decision.

Platt said that though his parents were initially hesitant about him choosing the path of entrepreneurship, they felt more confident about it after they saw people investing in Maply. His dad and uncle have since become investors in the company, Platt said.

“After coming so far, giving it anything less than 100 percent would be a disservice to ourselves,” Orr said.

Putting events and businesses on the map

The company is looking to target film festivals, music festivals, conferences and parades, among other events, Orr said. To date, the team has worked with Columbia’s True/False Film Fest, South by Southwest in Austin and the St. Patrick’s Day Shamrock Festival in Washington, D.C., to create maps for them.

Maply is currently free to download on the iTunes App store. Users are required to create an account and add a profile picture in order to access the app’s features. They can then add events with one click and can get notifications when other users like or route to their events. When adding events, users have 1,000 characters to provide event information and categories.

Maply lets users to scan a map for events, route to specific events, and post events for other users to find. | Screenshots from the App Store

“Google or Apple maps can show you what businesses are around, but we plan to update real-time with live events, specials and offers that are happening in local businesses,” Orr said. “Our app offers a way for businesses to say ‘this is what we’re doing right now.’”

Since the app is free to end users, Maply makes money by charging event organizers to create maps for them. It also generates revenue from businesses looking to advertise on maps. Orr declined to discuss pricing specifics but said price depends on the size and scale of an event and the complexity of the maps that are required.

Challenges, breakthroughs 

Orr said that at the outset the founders were uncertain where they’d be in a month or a year.

The whole team collaborated to create the idea for the app, Platt said. Coming up with a working prototype at the student competition was one of the most intense and memorable experiences, he said.

Getting the database for the app ready and designing the user side was the most challenging task at the outset, Hoelscher said. Even though he had been programming computers since the age of 14, Hoelscher said he did not have any app development experience prior to working on Maply.

“It was a lot of Googling and researching on Stack Overflow,” he said, referring to a popular online forum for programmers.

Acquiring clients and keeping them took a lot of effort, Platt said. “We learned how much effort goes into prepping and pleasing clients,” he said.

The team felt its efforts were rewarded in January, when Maply received investment from the Missouri Innovation Center, Orr said. Maply has raised a total of $300,000 from the innovation center and two Dallas-based angel investors, Orr said, and the startup is looking to raise more money.

Another big moment came when Maply participated as one of 20 “Startup Spotlights” this year at South By Southwest. There, the founders got to showcase their app to media and potential investors.

Being selected for the South By Southwest showcase lent them enough credibility to have conversations with venture capitalists and investors, Orr said. The trio also met the owners of Capital Factory, an Austin coworking space that Maply will call home starting in June.

Orr said the move to Austin is driven by a desire to be close to potential investors and to take advantage of the city’s startup ecosystem.

City-sized aspirations

While Maply is currently focused on expanding its business with large events, it also has its sights set on catering to cities around the U.S. by partnering with tourism departments to showcase local entertainment, dining and other attractions.

The team is first looking to expand into Austin and Columbia because of the local connections they have in both places, Orr said. But plans call for additional cities soon after. Orr said Maply aims to be in about 10 cities by this time next year.

Cities are eager to showcase what they have to offer, Orr said, and Maply’s hoping to help them. “We want to develop our service to the point where you can get off an airplane in New York City or Chicago or Los Angeles,” he said, “and you can find drink specials, lunch specials and live music immediately using our app.”

Getting their first few cities on board will be the biggest challenge in front of them, Orr said.

From a technical standpoint, creating an Android app and incorporating user feedback into the app will be the focus, Hoelscher said.

“We like the path we are on,” Orr said. “We are on a strong path going forward.”

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