Imagine the most intelligent office in the world with the highest sustainability score ever awarded: When Deloitte’s Amsterdam headquarters was completed in 2015, the building – known as ‘The Edge’ – became a global icon as the office of the future. The Edge harmonized architecture, technology and behavioural science like never before, ushering in a new, flexible way of working.
Inside the walls, a sprawling sensor network monitors everything from temperature, lighting levels and humidity to the occupancy of workplaces and meeting rooms. All that information feeds back to Mapiq – a smart office platform that provides insights in the way people use facilities and gives employees control over their work environment. Through Mapiq’s app, employees can find parking spots, available workspaces, their colleagues and book ad-hoc meeting rooms that suit them best; they can even customise their preferred light and temperature levels, so the building adjusts as they go.
The Edge stands as an incredible feat of modern engineering, but it’s made all the more astonishing by the fact that it was Mapiq’s debut project. ‘It was crazy!’ says Sander. ‘We started the lean startup way – we envisioned the product, created prototypes and then straight away we won this huge project from Deloitte. At the time we were just a team of 5 people so it was a lot of work.’ Where some companies take years to get off the ground, Mapiq shot to prominence as The Edge was featured in huge global publications from Bloomberg to CNN. ‘We couldn’t have had a better start,’ Sander admits. ‘After that, people approached us wanting to build their own version of The Edge – that really kick-started our growth.’
Mapiq got off to a hot start, but in truth, Sander had been laying the groundwork for success for many years before the company started. The indoor localisation technology that forms the core of Mapiq’s tracking functionality was originally devised during Sander’s days as a PhD researcher at Delft University. ‘We had a major problem with laptop theft,’ he explains. ‘Every month about 5-10 laptops were stolen on campus, so my co-founder Jasper (Schuurmans, now Mapiq CTO) and I developed an anti-theft system that let people protect each other's computers based on their location inside the building. We used indoor WiFi localisation to track where people’s devices were; if I ‘locked’ my device on the system and someone came along and moved it, the system would alert everyone in the vicinity to tell them that my laptop was being stolen.’
The technology was instantly effective in reducing laptop theft at Delft, so much so that Sander and Jasper sold the tech to half the universities in the Netherlands in the space of a year, under the name VirtuaLock. ‘It was successful in its niche,’ he says, ‘but the issue for us was that theft prevention wasn’t really something that got us excited. It was a product that was preventative – you sell the product, you implement it, and then, hopefully, nothing happens. We wanted to make something that people would enjoy using – something that made an impact in a productive way.’
The limited scope of VirtuaLock meant that the product hit its ceiling pretty quickly, but Sander was keen to repurpose the technology for something bigger and better. ‘We had a lot of feedback from people who loved the technology but didn’t have a problem with theft,’ he explains. ‘The majority of their problems were to do with their office spaces – simple things like booking meeting rooms, not knowing who was in the office or where to find them. That was when we pivoted the technology towards Mapiq.’
Fast forward 5 years and Mapiq is a thought leader in the smart office space, helping global frontrunners like Engie, Unilever and PricewaterhouseCoopers to create great workplaces. Sander’s team has had to grow fast in that time to meet the demand; Mapiq was once just a team of 5, now the team consists of 60 employees at the company’s Delft office.
That sort of rapid growth necessitates change, but also advice from peers; there aren’t many companies in Mapiq’s position right now, and Sander applied to the Rise Program in the hopes that he could make connections with entrepreneurs who have walked the path that Mapiq is on. ‘We’ve reached a stage in our development that not many companies get to,’ he explains, ‘so it’s invaluable to be able to talk to 9 other entrepreneurs who are at the same stage as us. We’ve had lots of sessions as a group where we talk about how we manage our companies, from talent acquisition and HR to organisational structure. Every business is different and we don’t share all the same challenges, but it’s super inspiring to hear each other’s stories and see how we all run our businesses.
‘As an entrepreneur, it's key to be inspired and make your own story from that,’ he adds. ‘I try to gather as much input as I can – I read a lot, I talk to other entrepreneurs, exchange ideas – and then we make a decision and see how it goes. You have to make it your own decision, but for sure, it’s been incredibly helpful being part of the Rise Program and having the input of other inspirational entrepreneurs.’
The most recent challenge, though, has been one they’ve all shared; Covid-19 has affected every business differently, but Mapiq has been in the unique position of being able to help their clients create safer work environments. ‘It was pretty tough at first,’ Sander admits. ‘We make software solutions for offices, but all the offices were closed and a lot of clients asked us to suspend their subscriptions. Plus, a lot of our leads on new business came from big commercial events, which were all cancelled.
‘But then, something happened that I’m incredibly proud of. We opened a dialogue with our customers to find out what problems they were facing and what we could do to help, and in 6 weeks we built 3 new products, all designed to help people return to the office safely.’ Mapiq’s new solutions include socially-distanced floor plans, an app for employees to book their shifts at the office and a live building occupancy display, so they also can find the least occupied areas to work. Mapiq has already sold these new products to over 100 clients, but for Sander, this isn’t just about the sales – Mapiq can make a difference and support people by helping them return to work safely.
‘We were very focused on smart offices to begin with, but now it’s about the people,’ he says. ‘We want to make sure that employees feel safe when they go to work.’ That change in focus and the immediate hurdles of the Covid-19 crisis just go to show the importance of flexibility and a solid foundation when building a company. ‘It’s a marathon, not a sprint,’ he says in closing. ‘It’s about the long run. We have grown from a team of 5 generalists to a team of 60 specialists, but there was never one big change. You really have to think ahead and envision what the organisation will look like in 5 years time. That’s something I think is missing in a lot of startups – they think they can rocket in a few months or a few years and then figure things out. Building a company may take time, but you’ll be stronger for the journey.’