Metro Tech

Is Roadify, Winner of New York City’s Big Apps 2010, Stalled Out?

roadify Is Roadify, Winner of New York Citys Big Apps 2010, Stalled Out?

Roadify for iPhone

The city frequently touts its Big Apps competition as one of the highlights in its campaign to foster the local tech industry. Developers get access to all kinds of city data and the grand prize winner receives a $50,000 prize. Last year’s winner was Roadify, but as Fast Company pointed out today, the app doesn’t seem to be doing a great job fulfilling its mission.

The premise of Roadify is that users can find parking spots, avoid traffic jams and figure out which trains to catch. But to generate data on open parking spots and snarled traffic, its needs a critical mass of users. Betabeat downloaded the app today and fired it up. The app found zero parking spots in Manhattan and didn’t seem aware of the vehicular backup growing nearby our office.

In the VC world this is referred to as the “ghost town” or “cold start” problem. When you have a service that gets better the more users it has (the always valuable “network effect”), you conversely have a service that stinks when no one is on it.

Roadify does offer a few basic perks for users, like the location of parking garages, gas stations and subway entrances. This sort of functionality is already baked in to basic services like Google Maps, but it was enough to earn Roadify a number of 5 star ratings in the Apple store.

The moral of the Fast Company story is that NY City is throwing away $50,000 a year by awarding prizes to apps without figuring out if their is a user demand that needs to be met. But the winner from the first year of Big Apps, MyCityWay, scored a $5 million series A round this year and has racked up over 1 million downloads. When it comes to investing in early stage startups, batting .500 is considered a great average.

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Comments

  1. Scott Kolber says:

    Too bad the
    author didn’t contact Roadify for comment because we could have clarified some
    errors in this article, specifically the idea that our entire service depends
    on crowdsourcing.  It doesn’t. We won the
    BigApps Grand Prize because of our innovative approach to using multiple data
    sources, including official and user gen content, to solve daily pains for commuters. The bulk of our utilization is by mass transit riders who simply want to know
    when the train or bus is coming and what other riders might have to say about
    transit conditions.  Our traffic feature provides
    on-demand bridge and tunnel crossing times and speeds using NYC DOT data, not traffic
    for everywhere which other services like Waze and Inrix do very well.  To suggest that NYC is
    “throwing away” money by awarding modest prizes as an incentive to developers flies in the face of the many thousands of New Yorkers happily using Roadify and other
    BigApps winners every week to get around town.

    -Scott Kolber, Roadify COO

  2. Last time I leave town for one day! Such silliness I’m reading on some of these articles. BigApps is the leading City apps/data/competition ecosystem in the world. The meetups, the Ideas challenges, the pairings of leading VCs with contestants, the success stories, the positive effect it has on New York City being a leading tech hub, the $4M to $5M in software created each year in exchange for $20K to $50K in prize money… 

    As for Roadify, that app kicks ass. It does more than just empty parking spots. Of course it’s hard to get massive traction from all New Yorkers as a result of just one competition. It’s not like developers get to sit back and watch a competition do ALL the work. But BigApps gives them a huge kickstart, press, meetings with investors, big increase in app downloads, and more.

    BigApps is about more than the winners. The real win is the totality of the investment created from all of the 150 apps, free for the public to use as they like. The developers get a big push to start their businesses. And the City wins from not having to pay out the teeth for ideas and creations.