OCTOBER 12 – 21, 2023

Meet Marena Smith, Mapbox Customer Community

The People Behind the Maps - Part I

January 30th, 2023

What goes into becoming the leading real-time location intelligence provider? You’re about to find out. We recently sat down with Official Mapping Partner Mapbox to take a deep dive into all things mapping and what it’s like to join the Rebelle crew for ten days – courtesy of Marena Smith, Mapbox Customer Community.
Read on for the full interview.

The history behind Mapbox is fascinating, created as part of Development Seed in order to offer map customization for non-profit customers. Years later, it’s now the leading real-time location intelligence provider. We’d love to hear how Mapbox has grown into what it is today.

The founders of Mapbox were working in parts of the world where it was very challenging to get access to accurate, updated maps. While building technology projects for public health, election monitoring, and disaster response, they realized a need for better developer tools for using location data. So they built them! And it turns out, a lot of other builders around the world needed these tools too.

Now, a decade later Mapbox is used across virtually every industry – from delivery and logistics, to data visualization and journalism, to retail, to outdoors recreation. This growth has been powered by the hard work and creativity of hundreds of brilliant engineers, designers, data specialist, and product managers – and years of working closely with many long-time customers and partners. It’s an incredibly exciting team and opportunity to be part of!

The Rebelle Rally loves Mapbox! Not only is the company our Official Mapping Partner, it’s our location backbone during the competition. For those that are unaware how Mapbox is (literally) connected to the Rebelle, can you talk about how Mapbox supports the rally behind the scenes?

The Rebelle is the perfect example of how Mapbox powers an ecosystem of companies and technologies working together. Of course the competition itself relies on analog navigation tools, but there’s so much that goes into planning and orchestrating this event.

Take the planning of a Rebelle course: Organizers use the onX Offroad app and Rally Navigator software, both of which are built with Mapbox, to help choose what routes to take, identify what land management agencies to secure permits with, and to plan out an enduro route. Then when it’s time for the live event, organizers use YB Tracker (also using Mapbox maps) to display the teams’ tracker data in a way that both staff and the audience watching at home can follow along.

Course officials, safety staff, and media crews are allowed to use digital navigation apps out on course. You’ll see them using onX Offroad and GaiaGPS, both Mapbox customers, to plan daily routes and prepare offline maps for when they’re choosing a film shoot location or setting checkpoint flags. The digital maps – especially with 3D terrain features from Mapbox – mean they can anticipate where to set up and how to plan routes to avoid leaving clues like tire tracks.

This year we also partnered with Rebelle to use maps for storytelling. Mel Imfeld designed a custom map style as a beautiful keepsake map (below) for the competitors, we created fly-over animations with Mapbox maps and 3D terrain to visualize the daily stages and stunning landscapes of the course, and we worked with the Rebelle web team to create the interactive ‘Map of Rebelles.’

So it’s pretty amazing – for an analog navigation competition, there’s a whole of digital location technology that helps make it possible!

This year two “Mapboxers” joined the Rebelle crew – for the entire ten day span! The rally is not for the faint of heart with early morning wake-up calls, late nights, and long days out on course. Why was it important for your employees to attend an event like this? (it’s not your average employee development/leadership retreat!)

At Mapbox, we believe in working closely with all our customers – getting on the ground and into the details of how they build with Mapbox. We ‘ride along’ with our customers to understand their business and audiences, so we can work out the best implementation together. In the case of Rebelle, we decided to undertake a literal ‘ride along’ with the 2022 crew so we could understand more deeply the particular demands of this event and look for opportunities where Mapbox and our customers can further contribute.

In particular, we had Megan Danielson join the crew because she is a Technical Account Manager, with extensive background in working with geospatial data. Megan spent days embedded with the organizers, course officials, and media teams to observe how they use geospatial tools, create and share data, and navigate constraints like limited bandwidth for downloading offline maps. I also had the joy of joining the crew to experience first-hand the ‘behind-the-scenes’ of the Rebelle ecosystem and how our customers are part of it.

In the future, we hope to have additional Mapboxers join the Rebelle and Rebelle U trainings as stellar opportunities for personal and professional development, and see for themselves how Mapbox technology performs offroad!

Mapbox has countless events to choose from. Why the Rebelle?

We see the Rebelle as uniquely positioned to appeal to our customers across the Automotive, Outdoors, and Logistics sectors, and with a compelling narrative that ties all these angles together. Emily and the Rebelle crew are expert navigators, map makers, adventurers, and event planners who deeply understand the value of maps and location technologies —they’re not just promoting Mapbox because we’re a sponsor, they are genuinely excited about what Mapbox is building.

The Rebelle has built an incredible community of partners around this event. There is a very clear sense that all Rebelle partners have been carefully selected based on a deep commitment and sincere value that they bring to the event, and that creates a space for learning and collaboration between partners that is hard to find.

Any exciting developments in the works you can fill us in on?

We are really excited about what we’re building with our Automotive and Navigation customers to improve the Electric Vehicle driving experience. Mapbox for EV is our new end-to-end solution for EVs that consistently and reliably routes cars based on accurate range calculations, helps drivers find optimal charge points, and enables payment directly from a vehicle’s infotainment screen or mobile companion app. By working with Automakers and EV Charge Point Operators, we are building the platform that will make driving and charging your EV easier than a gas-powered vehicle and further accelerate mainstream EV adoption.

Mapbox has an extensive client resumé including onX Offroad, Yahoo!, Strava, The New York Times, and Adobe. What is it about Mapbox you believe draws these big names in?

Our enterprise customers are looking to revolutionize how they use location technologies as leaders in their sectors. They want a partner who is committed to working closely with them, innovating together, and delivering on a shared vision. Mapbox delivers unparalleled product flexibility and support that equip our customers to tailor their use of location data to advance and expand their business. More and more companies are realizing that maps and navigation services are not as luxury features but are actually an untapped driver of growth and profit, and they’re coming to us because they see that Mapbox is ready to collaborate and deliver results.

Tell us more about Mapbox’s work in automotive.

The automotive industry is going to be driving major innovation in navigation technology over the next few years. For too long, customers have written off in-car navigation systems as clunky and quickly out-of-date, with the result that automakers lost ground to consumer navigation mobile apps. But now our automotive customers are realizing that with Mapbox they can build tailored navigation experiences, both in-car and in companion apps, that are tailored to the needs of drivers and integrated with vehicle data in a way that is impossible for a third-party mobile app. Consumers can look forward to exciting advances as automakers roll-out this new navigation philosophy and compete with generic map apps. We’ve already started to see it with leaders like our customers Toyota and GM, and stayed tuned for more automotive customer launches to see what else is in the works!

What is a project you’ve been involved with recently that you’re proud of.

In December 2022, the Marketing team led the first Mapbox launch event, ‘BUILD with Mapbox’. This was a celebration of all the new Mapbox features and product launches over the past 6 months, and my team also used it as an opportunity to invite our customers to share their own stories about how they build with Mapbox. I felt so proud to see all the amazing location experiences and solutions that teams are building with us.

Is everyone at Mapbox as enthusiastic about maps as we are? 🙂

You know it! We’re a bunch of map nerds at heart. Even for folks, like me, who join Mapbox without experience in the mapping or geospatial world quickly realize the far-reaching importance and potential of location technologies. It’s easy to get excited about building products that can be applied to help solve virtually any problem, in any sector. Everyone finds their particular favorite map applications, which forges a deep rooted passion for the company and our customers.

Favorite roadtrip?

Is it cheating to say the 2022 Rebelle Rally? Honestly though, the opportunity to experience that beautiful course really stands out among my favorite driving experiences! Another favorite roadtrip for me was a spontaneous pandemic camping trip that my husband and I did all across Nevada, Utah, and Arizona. We didn’t make a specific itinerary, just packed up the car and explored, finding different dispersed camping sites on BLM land each day. Using apps like onX Offroad makes it so easy to find really amazing spots to camp with no one else around, especially in the western US. When you’re in places like the southwest it feels like every road and camping spot is more beautiful than the last, it’s like you can’t take a wrong turn.

Lastly, any words of wisdom for future Rebelles?

I think I was like many women when I first heard about the Rebelle, thinking: That sounds so awesome, but way too badass for me. I assumed that because I never thought of myself as a great driver or navigator, that I’d be hopeless at driving offroad or navigating with a map and compass. But you know what? It is so much fun! It’s like a treasure hunt that builds useful practical skills at the same time. You can do far more than you give yourself credit for, especially when encouraged by a team of inspiring women who believe in you. If you’re looking for something new to spark joy and build courage, find some other women in the offroad community and give it a try!