Automotive Blogs

Waze CEO Skewers Silicon Valley

by Roger Lanctot | Mar 17, 2021

In his parting screed describing his seven years under the wing of Google, post its $966M acquisition of Waze, former CEO Noam Bardin takes the company and his former colleagues to task for their entitlement and lack of focus on the product and the “customer.” Noam may have suffered from his own lack of focus.

"Why Did I Leave Google, or Why Did I Stay so Long?" -

"Waze CEO Noam Bardin Explains Why He Left Google 2 Weeks Ago" -

“What? Sushi again?” 

In his commentary, Noam tells us that when the Waze team members heard those words on the cafeteria line at Google for the first time it became an inside joke. In time, though, they, too, were voicing similar laments – perfectly capturing the impact of their onboarding as “nooglers” (new Googlers).

Bardin paints a picture of a scrappy startup team (each member of which pocketed $1.2M from the Google acquisition, according to Wikipedia) transformed by Google’s corporate culture where compensation, perks, political correctness, and work/life balance are out of balance for him (work) and them (life). Unfortunately, Bardin makes it seem as if he, alone, retains a product-obsessed commitment in Mountain View.

In the process of exploring his passion for product at Waze, Bardin embodies the very myopia that defines Google’s greater weakness and vulnerability in today’s marketplace. Google, Waze, and Bardin lack an appropriate degree of self-awareness and a sense of responsibility.

Bardin was working so close to the coal face he was unable to perceive the impact Waze was having on the environment or the climate or himself. Waze has had and continues to have an immense societal and industry impact, in no small way reflected in Bardin’s contribution in taking Waze from 10M monthly average users to 140M and from 2.5B monthly driven Km’s to more than 36B.

Guiding citizens in their travels across that many kilometers is a responsibility – don’t you think, Noam?

Waze had little or no revenue on its books upon its acquisition. Google sought out Waze to capture the value of map-centric search to add to its dominant position in Internet search. Google was also seeking to remedy its own weakness in traffic modeling for navigation routing.

Two years before acquiring Waze, Google inked a deal with Inrix. Inrix bragged about the tie up with Google to Geekwire which led to a tempered comment from Google: “Google is committed to providing our users with the richest, most up-to-date maps possible, including live traffic updates. The traffic data on Google Maps comes from a variety of sources, including government departments of transportation, private data providers, and users of Google Maps for mobile who contribute anonymous speed information through our traffic crowdsourcing feature.” Inrix, who?

That editorial comment from Google marked an industry turning point. From that point on, Google saw that it needed its own in-house traffic solution – no matter the cost. Traffic data was the key to unlocking navigation, routing, and all map-centric search.

Waze was building a navigation/routing engine based on real time traffic data while laying the groundwork for predictive traffic information so essential to accurate arrival time calculations. Waze was already becoming so popular, at the time, that “wazers” following Waze guidance were altering traffic patterns.

Formerly quiet Los Angeles neighborhoods began complaining about wazers “discovering” previously unknown shortcuts and clogging their streets during rush hour. A couple of tourists visiting Rio de Janeiro were fatally routed through a favela shortcut. Israeli Defense Force soldiers were mistakenly routed into Palestinian territory. Waze was implicated as being a potential police tracking tool for criminals. Privacy vulnerabilities were identified by researchers.

The stories only added to Waze’s fame while the company built out its Connected Citizens Program for sharing data with and collecting data from municipalities and transportation authorities. Waze also expanded its data crowdsourcing beyond road hazards, crashes, and speed traps, and added speech inputs and content integraton with streaming apps.

As drivers began favoring Waze on their smartphones over built-in navigation systems in their cars the app’s influence on the industry became more severe. The market for portable navigation devices from Garmin, TomTom, and others was wiped out. In-dash systems in cars were suddenly unnecessary.

With Google’s support Waze was undermining the value of built-in navigation systems from Pioneer, Alpine, Continental, Harman, Bosch, LG and their map suppliers HERE and TomTom. The company also raised the bar for traffic-enhanced navigation routing – setting off a renewed battle between HERE and TomTom over traffic data accuracy – while devastating and consolidating the market for traffic information services.

Most recently, Waze added lane guidance and railroad crossings to its navigation along with parking and destination information, alternate routes, and, soon, tolls. Waze also added annoying pop-ups ads and entered the Carpool business suggesting a more ambitious – and new – objective of aggregating all forms of transportation.

Waze has tried to be a better corporate citizen with its Connected Citizen Program and has sought to work with municipalities and law enforcement to overcome objections to some of the app’s negative collateral impacts. The overall objective and vision, though, is unclear.

What emerges from Bardin’s commentary is a CEO singularly focused on dominating navigation and, more recently, transportation with a single app. That ambition is shared by Google and a growing batch of Mobility-as-a-Service operators. Waze is not alone.

What is missing from Bardin – lost in his Google corporate culture rant – is a statement of vision for Waze. Just as Waze tells so many of us how to get where we want to go every day, where is it that Waze wants to go? Where is Waze taking us? Will Waze fetch us coffee and provide an all-purpose payment platform?

It is a worthy achievement for Bardin to have led his team while preserving their independence within the suffocating and distracting environment of Google ownership. It was more than a decade ago that mobile navigation supplier Gate5 disappeared into Nokia, to be followed by Navteq (which later emerged as HERE). And Israeli startup Telmap ceased to exist a few short years after its acquisition by Intel.

Survival and persistence can’t be taken for granted. The value of the Waze brand lives on even as the likes of Apple, TomTom, HERE, Telenav, NNG, Sygic, Mapbox, and others continue to rise up and push back against Waze hegemony.

The last piece of unfinished business for Waze and Bardin upon his departure was the integration of dash cam-style inputs with the mobile application. A new crop of Israeli tech players including Nexar and Mobileye along with a host of competitors are opening this new chapter. It will be interesting to see whether Waze can keep up – sushi or no sushi – sans Bardin.

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