CartoDB takes $8M in funding to build platform for “thousands” of niche mapping apps

Interactive map maker CartoDB has had a high profile of late, creating interesting visualizations of geospatial data for Twitter (showing the spread of violence in Ferguson, Missouri), Nokia (showing traffic flow in major cities) and even the White House (helping nonprofits visualize climate change impacts.) Now it’s picked up $8 million in Series A funding.

The cash comes partly from existing Spanish investors Kibo Ventures and Vitimina K, but the round was led by Berlin-based Earlybird Venture Capital. It is therefore a little surprising to see that, with all this European money in its pocket, CartoDB is now relocating its headquarters from Madrid to New York – but not that surprising.

As CEO Javier de la Torre told me, CartoDB sees the U.S. as a “commercialization market to get started” – more than 60 percent of its current revenue comes from there, so it wants to be closer to the action. “When we created our product, we knew the U.S. was a much more mature market for us to come and launch an innovation – an easier market to get started when you’re introducing new technology,” he said. However, 30 percent of the company’s revenue still comes from Europe, and CartoDB’s “biggest offices will remain in Madrid” for core engineering and so on. “We’re definitely staying in Europe,” he said.

So, what’s the money for? To help make CartoDB the platform for thousands of niche, simple-to-use mapping applications. Last week CartoDB introduced its developer program, suggesting that “the future of geo is going to be an ecosystem of apps that serve many different use cases.”

As de la Torre explained it to me:

We started purely with developers and moved to data scientists and more information professionals, and now the next situation of our product is that anybody can make maps. Part of the investment goes on the development of our tool – we’re hiring a lot of user experience designers…

I believe not a single application will do everything that’s required on GIS [geographic information systems]. The future of geo is not one application with a million buttons but a million apps with one single button. You’re going to see us investing in the power of the community of spatial developers to make better apps.

So, for example, a water management company might have a dedicated GIS department to aid its mapping efforts, but that information might not be immediately useful to someone on the company’s business intelligence side. “They might want to know what will happen if you cut a pipe in a particular place,” de la Torre said. “Before, they’d have to ask someone to make a report. Now it can be done with a very simple web application.” Similarly, retailers may use another CartoDB-based application to find the location for the next shop, based on spatial demographics.

Developers would write apps to address these various needs and sell them through CartoDB’s marketplace, sharing the revenue with CartoDB.

“The reason we’re doing it is not only because we believe it’s a good revenue source, but we believe the future of GIS mapping and location-based services is going to be more in customized applications,” de la Torre said. “We’re not expecting a few applicationss – we’re expecting thousands of applications categorized for vertical markets. They’ll use GIS tech without even realizing it.”