How a mapping company was born

18 February 2014

I sometimes get asked ‘How did Earthware begin?’ I like telling the story as it shows that a successful business idea can grow out of a personal technology ‘brain fart’!

Once upon a time I (Neil Osmond) was working in the pharmaceutical industry running a team of analysts in a comfortable well paid job. I had always hankered after doing something ‘entrepreneurial’ but didn’t want to be a freelance Consultant so I had half an eye on launching a product, or solutions, based company.

One day in 2005, I turned on my PC and was met with the ‘blue screen of death’. Being of a rigourous and cautious outlook on life (not!), I had failed to back my PC up for some months. In a fit of panic I rang my most technically qualified friend, Brian Norman. I don’t remember even giving him a choice – I just bundled my dead PC into the car and drove to his house.

While Brian was resurrecting the hard drive he uttered the words, which at the time I had no idea would change my life, “Would you be interested in seeing something I have been mucking around with in my spare time?” To my shame, the voice in my head was saying “Not really!” but not being quite that rude, I actually said “Yes, I would.”

So Brian showed me this amazing thing I had never seen before, Google Earth (you have to know this was way before it was launched to a wider public). He had also screen scraped (we'll gloss over the legalities of that seeing as it never saw the light of day in the public domain) from the Pearl and Dean website, all the addresses and all the show-times for every cinema in the UK. Bare in mind that this was pre-broadband days, now suddenly by clicking on a few points I could work out what film I would like to see and at which of the local cinema options. I could do this in a few seconds rather than the ten minutes, via three websites, that it would have normally taken me.

This prompted my response (that shows the clear difference between our personalities) of “Are you going to sell this?” to which Brian responded with “No, I am not into all that!” My initial reaction was “Well I think I could sell this!”

So an idea was born and most weeks for about a year we met on a Saturday morning over coffee to work out what the mapping proposition might look like, what markets to target and what would have to be true for us to leave our jobs and strike out on our own. We agreed that we were both passionate about creating cool maps and building a company that clients would love to partner with and people would love to work for ….

… and so a mapping company was born!