Most likely many have not heard of Uri Shabtai. However, all of you have most likely heard of Waze, the company he founded and which assists many drivers the world via their cell phones. Waze is a navigation application that is user based and utilizes real time information. The company was purchased by Google in the beginning of 2013 for more than $1 billion USD and has became one of the biggest company acquisitions to take place at that time. Waze began as an independent nonprofit project lead by Shabtai in 2006. The purpose of the project was to allow users free access to maps without the cost a standard practice at the time. The biggest challenge the company faced was the mapping of Israeli roads, as no independent map source was available at the time and actually required the cooperation of users.
The story of Waze is a story of pure entrepreneurship. Shabtai recognized a problem, found a solution for it and turned it into a success story. “I have lousy orientation skills” He said, as he explains why, for his 29th birthday he received a GPS device. As a curious programmer and technology enthusiast he was excited in developing new capabilities to the device he received to create something bigger that lead Shabtai, a big supporter of open code to start the ‘FreeMap Israel’ project. This was later to become Waze and was originally meant to be a not-for profit project to map the roads of Israel rather than a high flying business that it later became.
In 2008 Shabtai together with his other partners Uri Levin and Amir Shen’ar decided to transform the endeavor into a business initiative that was to make its money from location based targeted advertising. After launching in Israel, Waze accrued in a few years over 50 million users across more than 120 countries including Israel, the US, Canada, France, United Kingdom, Netherlands, Belgium, and Argentina. The stories revolving the sale of the company began with rumors that Apple wanted to purchase Waze for $400 million USD. This was immediately followed by news that Facebook had entered the bidding war. However it was Google that realized the true potential of Waze and how it was a perfect fit for their strategic goals. Their message was clear and their bid reflected that with to their incredible $1 Billion USD for it. The quick negotiations took only two weeks and the deal was struck.
Waze has come a long way since then, how much of it was planned? It seems that in every success story a key part was planning and another part was luck. In the early stages of his work Shabtai said that “each project arises out of technological curiosity, I don’t know where we will be one year from now, the project will go wherever innovators will take it”. Reality has shown that the power of innovators and the internet to carry on is great, it has taken Waze to great heights. Following the sale to Google, Shabtai received more than $ 50 million USD and is currently serving as CTO of the company under Google’s leadership In 2015 Shabtai won a high honor, when together with thirteen others, he was chosen to light a beacon at the central Independence Day ceremony, a very important day for Israel. Shabtai was also chosen as one of the pioneers that have made an outstanding and inspiring contribution to innovation and Israeli excellence in many areas of life.