Lars Rasmussen confesses that he doesn’t have much of a sense of direction. But that didn’t stop him creating Google Maps, one of the world’s leading tech success stories of the past decade.
In a recent trip back to Australia, where Google Maps was born, Rasmussen, now a top engineer at Facebook, chatted to StartupSmart about innovation, entrepreneurship and failure.
“Once you get a taste of entrepreneurship, it’s a bug that’s hard to get rid of,” he says. “Don’t tell Mark (Zuckerberg) this, but I almost had more fun when we were a struggling start-up.”
“What I like about Facebook is it is a young and fresh company that has an entrepreneurial attitude.”
Danish-born Rasmussen co-founded Where 2 Technologies with his brother Jens in 2003. It was subsequently bought by Google. The rest, as they say, is mapping history.
Here are some of his pearls of wisdom.
…Australia’s start-up scene
“I first met Rebekah [Campbell, founder of Posse, an online platform for bands to connect with their fans] at Tech23 last year and I thought it was a great idea for a business.
Rebekah is really onto something here. If she pulls it off, it will be a worldwide big deal. I thought I could add value so I was offered a seat on the board. Facebook allows you to have one board position elsewhere and I thought I’d choose Posse as I’ve never done anything like it before.
Google and other companies are looking for talented start-ups and they don’t care where they are. What’s great about Australia is that there’s now a critical mass of people who want to do something new. It’s not just one crazy person who wants to do things differently.”
“I got laid off from a start-up in Silicon Valley in the tech wreck days. Luckily my brother Jens was laid off three months before me, so he had time to polish the idea.
When I got the predictable redundancy pink slip he called me to talk about an idea in mapping. Maps were ugly back then and no one was doing anything with them.
Everyone said there was no money in maps, that people wouldn’t use it. But we realise if we were innovative, made them look good and let people interact with the maps, it would be interesting.
While people in California said that there was nothing in this, we had some friends in Australia who said ‘that’s cool’. So we decided to start a new life in Sydney and work on the idea.”
“There were a number of times that I thought the idea would die, but we kept going. There were two or three times when I was almost certain it was all over.
We couldn’t get people interested in the prototype, but then we nearly got capital from Sequoia, one of the biggest VC firms in the US. That was a big deal because if you backing from them, you were pretty much guaranteed to make it.
The trouble was that they were very skittish in the days following the tech wreck and they pulled out on the day we were meant to sign the deal.
On the day, Yahoo brought out a new mapping application and I thought ‘shit’. There was nothing wrong with us, it was just over.
I got a phone call from the VC that started, ‘Lars, we need to talk’. I never want to have one of those conversations again.”