Waze Will Always Be Free, Says Founder After $1 Billion Sale to Google

Uri Levine says navigation app gets 150,000 new users a day, but stillplenty of room for expansion.

Inbal Orpaz
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Inbal Orpaz

Waze will always be free, its founder Uri Levine said Thursday, in a first public statement since Google bought the Israeli navigation app startup last week for over a billion dollars.

"Waze is free and will always be free, because that's our concept," Levine said at the Israel entrepreneurship conference sponsored by the Technion's Bronica Entrepreneurship Center and the Biztec Entrepreneurship Challenge.

"On the one hand, the sale feels great. On the other hand they've taken away my baby," said Levine, who founded Waze in 2008 with software engineer Ehud Shabtai and Amir Shinar.

"What drives a real entrepreneur isn't the desire to make an exit, but a powerful urge to make a difference. If you go to sleep with an idea and it still bothers you in the morning go for it," he said.

Talking about the added value Waze brings to Google and the company's growth potential after the sale, Levine said "a Google user travels an hour and ten minutes from Los Angeles Airport to the city. With the new Google it will take him 23 minutes. There are more than a billion cars in the world. We have 150,000 people joining us every day. We still have a lot of room for expansion."

"The first thing an investor says to himself is: If I wouldn't use it, then it's not a good idea," Levine said, talking about his first meeting with investors.

'Saw $$$ in their eyes'

So we put their homes on the map. We found out where they lived and before meeting them we put all their homes on Waze's map. Right at the beginning of the conversation one of the investors asked, 'Do you want to tell me I can find my own house on your map?' 'Of course,' I said. 'Where do you live?' And his house came up on the map right away. His eyes widened and I saw dollar signs in them," Levine said.

"The police told us we were hindering their work, because we warn drivers of a traffic cop on the way ahead, and of the location of speed cameras. We asked them what police work was. They said 'making drivers adhere to the law.' Wesaid, 'That's exactly what we're doing. Making drivers adhere to the law,'" he said.

"But that didn't satisfy them," Levine continued. "Since we depend on drivers' reports, Waze started getting reports from police officers every few minutes of police on the road. But to the police officers' amazement, drivers immediately reported to us 'not true, not true.' We have a lot of faith in our users. ABC-TV in Los Angeles sent out a helicopter to see if our users make accurate reports about road accidents. Four days later they told us 'Yes, drivers do report accurately,'" said Levine.

He also spoke about founding the company and selling it.

"It's a roller coaster and if you don't like roller coasters don't get on the entrepreneurship train. Anyone who doesn't have a dream in the first year and doesn't raise money in the first year won't make it. The investors make up their mind in five minutes. So start with your strongest point. Focus on one goal, make your mistakes quickly and that way you'll learn to correct them while driving."

Google co-founder Sergey Brin, left, paid good money for the Israeli navigation app Waze. But does this trickle down to the common Israeli-in-the-street?Credit: Bloomberg

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