Jack, the Map Making Billionaire (Net Worth $4.2Bn)

“A lot of people don’t know you” we told the tall, lanky man Forbes calls the godfather of digital maps. He replied, “I prefer to keep it that way’, period.

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This is Jack Dangermond, President and founder of Esri. In the late 1960s, when he was 21 years old his curiosity and a dozen attempts at computer programming gave the world the first digital map it had ever seen.

Tell us about how you started Esri

In 1969, my wife, Laura and I founded Esri with 1,100 dollars of our own savings. Esri is a Geospatial Information Systems (GIS) software creator who makes digital maps for enterprise clients. Esri has always been on the bleeding edge of innovating digital maps. You know those maps from tech giants like Google and Apple? They are possible because of the work Esri has been doing for 5 decades now.

Is it right to liken Esri to a gem? (It’s rare and incredibly valuable)

Esri has grown and we continue to do so aggressively. We now work with over 350,000 businesses and governments around the world. As the world market leader our share averages over 40 percent in operating countries. Our clients include the White House, Reliance Communications and state government agencies of India.

Esri’s annual revenues exceed 1.1 billion dollars, and we have always been a privately held company with no external investors whatsoever. Nor do we intend to seek outside investment or seek to be publicly listed.

How does it feel to be a billionaire? Forbes says you and your wife (Laura Dangermond) are worth $4.2Bn (real time net worth as at 23/3/2017).

[Shrugs] I suppose it’s good. Part of that is because I live a frugal life. When I started Esri I was living in my car, eating beans and drinking water. Not throwing money away on champagne. And I continue to live a simple life.

I like money because it lets me do my work…I like spending money like crazy on innovation. We spend about 27 percent of our revenue on R&D, that’s compared to Microsoft’s 11 or so percent.

In order to be successful, you need to do three things 1. Be able sell your work 2. Continue to do your work 3. And be paid for my work. Most often entrepreneurs will be able to do only one or two of these three things. I succeeded because I was good at all three things and, chaotic as it is I’m able to switch from being a researcher, to a marketer to a seller or whatever role I must embrace as an entrepreneur, in rapid time. That’s been part of why I succeeded as an entrepreneur.

Google tried competing with you, but bowed out to form a partnership with Esri. How does that feel?

[chuckles] Competition is healthy. That’s my frank view. And we thrive off of it. I don’t think Google intended to take me on. Google is the leader in mapping for consumer applications.

But when they became interested in creating mapping and GIS software for enterprises then they did venture into our market.

If you’re not spending a quarter of a billion dollars like we are on R&D, it’s hard to compete. So they found out it’s more complicated than they thought so they backed away from it and asked us if we would work with them, which turned out to be a very successful partnership.

As the ‘godfather of digital maps’ what’s your final message to the world?

GIS has been evolving for many, many decades. And now it’s starting opening up for normal people. It’s becoming easier to use and more accessible, thanks to the web services, like Google Maps.

I like to call this [GIS] the science of where. People are not interested in buying/knowing about GIS and geography. But they are interested in understanding questions central to human existence like where should I live, where are my friends, where should I go to a nightclub and dance.

GIS can help businesses like Reliance answer questions like where to route my truck, where to locate my next facility, where do I hire employees, where do I locate my cellular tower. Last year the US post offices saved over 100 million dollars on mail delivery routes using Esri products. In 2016 alone USP saved 400 million dollars in just the US, because they use Esri software. That’s enough to change your stock price.

You see, GIS isn’t some cute thing. It’s a big deal and it takes a lot of hard work to do what we do.

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