The Birth of an Industry

MapInfo Corp., formed 10 years ago by a group of entrepreneurial college students, is described by many professionals as having been a catalyst for the commercial GIS industry.

"We didn't know how to spell GIS when we first started," said Sean O'Sullivan, one of the founders of MapInfo. "We have taken an industry that had been high-end and made it more populous. We made it mapping for the masses."

The company, which started out in 1986 as Navigational Technology, was formed by five students attending Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, N.Y.

The publicly held company, which changed its name to MapInfo in 1987, posted $45 million in revenues in 1995. Today, it has more than 200 employees worldwide and provides multiplatform desktop mapping software to telecom companies, cellular companies and retail and franchise companies.

O'Sullivan met another founder, John Haller, through earlier work on dash navigational systems for cars. Andy Dressel, another founder, met Haller in Florida working in software development and knew O'Sullivan from IBM. Lazslo Bardos, who had a background in hardware before turning to marketing, was the fourth member of the founding team.

With a small amount of seed funding, the group's original plan was to put street mapping on personal computers and Macs. The group set up shop in one room without a door and worked 12-hour shifts. "We did whatever we could to make it successful," said Mike Marvin, the fifth founder and the company's current chairman. "No one cared about titles."

The company has telecom, cellular and retail clients and has won large government contracts from the Federal Emergency Management Authority, the Department of Housing and Urban Development and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Christopher Sampson, MapInfo's product marketing manager, attributes the company's success to taking a different approach to GIS. "GIS has always focused on 'mapcentric' applications," said Sampson. "Through a migration away from 'mapcentric' views, people can now rapidly solve problems on easy-to-use software."

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