Princeton University Students Seek to Revolutionize Android App Market
With funding from Tigerlabs, four students created and launched a new technology company, Mapsaurus, this summer.
Ever tried to explore apps in the Android app store, but become frustrated by just seeing a list of the most popular apps?
Clicking through the list means individually visiting each application, then returning to the list to scroll through more.
Enter Mapsaurus, a new company launched this summer at Tigerlabs in Princeton. In three short months, four rising seniors at Princeton University- Danny Guo, Kenrick Rilee, Alice Zheng and Evan Leichter- have created and organized what they hope is a visually appealing and easy-to-navigate representation of the Android smartphone app store.
Mapsaurus allows users to discover new apps based on their own individual interests and preferences.
“Our app is really designed to allow for discovering new applications when you don’t know what you’re looking for, which is why from the get-go we suggest various applications for your phone that you might not have known were available,” Zheng said. “Like maybe you didn’t know that you could use your phone as a scanner, so we show you and all of a sudden you’re exploring all these ways you can use your phone in ways you didn’t know before.”
Mapsaurus is one of seven new companies- out of 200 applicants- to receive $20,000 in funding, plus mentoring and office space this summer to launch their product. In exchange, Tigerlabs receives six percent undiluted shares of each company.
On Tuesday, Aug. 15, Tigerlabs hosted a Demo Day to showcase the work of its seven summer accelerator companies.
More than 100 people, including venture capitalists, media and bankers, attended the half-day event, where they heard presentations by each team, each of which is generally seeking about $500,000 to $1 million in seed money to continue.
Mapsaurus would use funding to hire a full-time engineer, expand into the IOS (Apple) makret and provide living expenses and salaries for its founders to continue their work.
James Smits, a 2012 Princeton University graduate, is program director of Tigerlabs.
“What we really found was an interesting thing about the seven companies that we chose was that coming in they had built a product,” he said. “So not only could we see what they wanted with their vision on paper, we could also see it manifested in real-life products.”
Mapsaurus went live on Thursday, Aug. 9.
“In our first three days, we had more than 8,000 downloads of our application and we drove more than 6,500 downloads of other people’s applications,” Rilee said.
The application has received 120 five-star ratings on the Android Store so far.
With more than 600,000 Android apps listed in the Google Play Store and more than 20 billion apps downloaded by users to date, the market is ripe for organization and helping users find apps they want, Rilee said.
When users log on to the Mapsaurus app or website, they see six potential categories of exploration with a search bar in the center. Clicking a category or typing a search term leads users to six similar or related apps. Users can hover their mouse over an app to see detailed information about it on the right side of the screen, so there’s no need to open multiple browser screens or constantly hit the back button.
For every click, Mapsaurus looks up 5,000 different applications in 0.2 seconds and determines the best four to show you, Rilee said.
Mapsaurus was conceived only in the past few months.
Rilee, Guo and Leichter met in the Princeton band freshman year, but they met Zheng through Princeton’s student design agency during the 2011-12 academic year. Guo and Rilee asked Zheng to join them in creating a new business based on advertising for apps.
“When they brought me in, Danny told me he was willing to commit $20,000 of his own personal capital into this if we didn’t get funding,” Zheng said. “And Kenrick told me right off the bat that he was willing to drop his offers from Facebook and Google this summer. So I knew I was working with good people.”
The group applied to Tigerlabs' summer accelerator program but their idea was rejected. Then in April, Rilee and Zheng won second place in the Princeton Spring Hackathon, a 48-hour coding event.
“We basically did a prototype for a recommendation engine in 48 hours using techniques that neither of us had really tried before dealing with word similarity and clustering,” Zheng said. “We’d never taken any machine learning classes or anything. We got second place, $500 each. And we attracted the attention of Tigerlabs.”
Leichter joined the Mapsaurus team after the new idea received funding.
Tigerlabs launched in 2011 as a co-working space, Smits said.
While the company holds no official affiliation with Princeton University, it has a close relationship with University students.
“We don’t see this as two things that just happen to be in the same town. We like the idea of s symbiotic relationship,” Smits said.