Background

International explorer Duncan McCall often found himself travelling in far-flung places with little more than a map and compass. Whenever he would convene with fellow adventurers they would invariably compare notes: “How did you get across the border between Burkina Faso and Ghana?” “Where’s the best place to scuba dive in Mozambique?” and “How do I cross that friggin’ minefield without blowing up my Land Rover?”

Through the late ‘90s, even as GPS devices began to shift from military hardware to adventurer gear, it was still very hard for McCall to find good sources of relevant points, and harder still to get them to his device. Bouncing across seemingly endless desert in West Africa with plenty of time to think, he began developing an idea. It seemed clear that over the coming decade, professional ‘location aware devices’ were going to become mainstream. Imagining a population armed with these tools, combined with the established power of self-publishing on the Internet, Duncan McCall believed there would be great value in creating a collaborative publishing platform to empower anyone and everyone to build and share intelligent descriptive data about interesting places, keep it current, and make it mobile…

Forming the Company

After returning to the US, McCall spent four difficult years pulling together his idea. In 2007 McCall was introduced to David Hose, a serial entrepreneur and career expert on computers and mapping. Hose had been part of the earliest computer-mapping projects in the 1980s, and he was the founder of SignalSoft in 1995, a pioneer in location-based applications for mobile phones, which he later took public and was eventually acquired by Openwave. Hose, who was actively helping startups worldwide, was immediately excited by McCall’s vision.

Hose and McCall assembled a small team of mapping experts and
engineers in Boulder Colorado, and in December 2007 Polaris Venture
Partners seeded The PublicEarth Project. Over the following 18
months thousands of GPS-enabled explorers formed a community to map the globe. Combining their millions of points with specialty map
collections from RVers, paleontologists, public art fans, birders,
and dozens of other interest groups, the foundation of PublicEarth
was established. More recently, “head-content” in the form of
hotels, restaurants, spas and tens of thousands of businesses were
added from companies like Hotels.com and CitySearch.

In August 2009, Hose and McCall asked Michael Rubin join as Chief Product Officer, to simplify the toolset into an easy to use experience to better accommodate the growing number of consumers armed with GPS devices in their cars and phones. Rubin —a noted technology pioneer, filmmaker, educator and author—had most recently been an architect of the Netflix website, and brought to the team an ethos of simplicity and consumer value.

In November 2009, with almost 5 million places, PublicEarth opened its wiki and website to the general public. The site presently offers widgets, APIs, and a range of tools that encourage the continued addition of new points; it also provides a foundation for external location-based applications that seek to utilize place information for entertainment and utility.

By February 2010, Rubin was tapped as CEO and began to relocate the business to Silicon Valley, to take advantage of the start-up culture and tech environment. There, Rubin gathered a team to deliver on the PublicEarth vision, as well as to launch a new consumer travel application: PlaceBook — your personal atlas.