by: Leslie Bunder - Last updated: 2004-04-06
As chief executive of Multimap, Jeff Kelisky is in charge of a business that makes it easy for people to find their way around the UK and the rest of the world. He talks to SJ about his role, background and future plans for the business.
How did you get into mapping the world? How did you end up where you are today?
Technology has always played a significant role in my life; its my passion, my hobby and my life-blood. While growing up in the US, I observed with great excitement the huge technological advances that were taking place around me, and studying Computer Science at McGill University in Montreal was a natural choice for me. Technology has been the common denominator in all my career and life choices since that point.
After completing an MBA at the London Business School, A.T. Kearney took me on as a management consultant, in which position I led strategy and organisational restructuring projects across Europe and the US in telecommunications, IT, banking and retail sectors. During this time, I stayed in close contact with one of my professors from LBS, John Bates, who was always encouraging me to take on growing a company because he thought that Id be very good at it. Three years after business school, John introduced me to Sean Phelan, founder and chairman of Multimap, where John was a non-executive director. This was at the height of the internet boom and Sean had recently secured investment from Flextech/Telewest to grow his online location-based information business.
And thats where I came in. I was looking for a position that would combine my technology background from university and a seven-year stint at IBM, with the extensive sales experience Id gained at business school and while working at A.T. Kearney. The position at Multimap met all these criteria and more besides, offering me an innovative technology context, the flexibility to use and further refine my business skills, an opportunity to prove myself, and a fully scalable and robust business model. Essential to my decision was my absolute confidence in the location-based services space. It was clear to me that the distribution of mapping via the internet was something that people would eventually use on a daily basis without even thinking about it. The thought of helping to drive and shape that behaviour was, and indeed continues to be, thrilling.
What has been your best business decision in life and why?
On a personal level, doing my MBA was the best business decision that I ever made. It opened my mind up to a gallery of real challenges in the marketplace and taught me how to address those challenges. I learnt what questions you need to ask and how to find the answers. Critical to our success here at Multimap is that once you know the answer, you have to make sure that everything you do supports that decision. Making the decision isnt, in itself, difficult; its making that decision a reality that needs to be managed extremely carefully.
In a business context, hiring outstanding professionals has proved itself time and time again to be the only viable option. When my dear mother passed away in 1991, we had to sort out the family business in Paris and we hired Coopers and Lybrand to help. It seemed expensive at the time but hiring skill and experience paid real dividends. Since then Ive always made an extra effort to find the best people for every job. This policy hasnt failed me or Multimap yet.
How important are your Jewish roots, your family and what part does Judaism play in your life?
My Jewish roots are extremely important to me. My family has a strong history, steeped in persecution, emigration and re-establishment in the new countries to which it was forced to flee. My paternal great-grandparents were subjected to Cossack raids and my maternal grandparents lived in Russia until shortly after the revolution. Having fled to France, after France fell to the Nazis they again found their lives threatened and were again forced to flee, this time to the United States.
Im proud that by sheer grit and determination, my family has survived and, at each juncture, has become successful. I admire them a lot, in particular my maternal grandfather who started up and ran a chain of cinemas in Paris at a time when the seventh art was at the pinnacle of its popularity. He became a well-respected cinema entrepreneur in French cinematic circles where he was respectfully referred to as the czar of the Quartier Latin. He was a qualified lawyer, spoke five languages fluently, another four very well, and was known to have translated from the Russian original and published an Italian translation of Andreyevs He Who Gets Slapped.
I grew up around people who instilled in me sound values and a real sense of courage, drive and determination. This clearly has had a large impact on my trajectory and I can see its effect in the workplace. My father always set the bar just a bit higher each time so that I would always strive to do better and I do the same at Multimap. I believe that its this constant desire to improve and to achieve that has propelled Multimap to the level of success that it currently enjoys. We were all deeply gratified and very proud when we came 27th in The Sunday Times Tech Track 100 report listing the nations fastest-growing unquoted technology companies in September of this year.
Although my parents were not observant, I was made well aware that I am a Jew and also aware of Jewish culture and Jewish values. I am immensely proud of my heritage and I try to reflect Jewish values in my day-to-day life. I find that I am more aware of who I am and what I believe now that I have young children.
Your company is expanding. Tell us a bit about your plans and what excites you about the service you offer?
Multimap is in a really exciting position from both a consumer and a business viewpoint. From the general publics point of view, the time when ones mobile phone will be able to specify ones location, tell you whats around you and how to get around, is no longer a distant reality. Granted, there are still technology usability and information hurdles to overcome but, in the relatively short term, people will be using their phones, PDAs or whatever platform they have to hand, to access this information in the same way that they today use SMS, voice mail or search engines. We plan to put in place the building blocks needed to make this happen. We are going to be the people who drive and shape these behavioural changes and thats a tremendous source of excitement.
From a business perspective, location is playing an increasingly important role in marketing to generate more sales, increase loyalty, boost productivity and reduce costs. Companies no longer want, or indeed are able to invest in building their own technology solutions. Increasingly they are deferring to companies like Multimap from whom they much prefer to buy easy to use solutions to complex problems.
Location-based services are becoming a utility. In much the same way that you plug in a toaster without ever thinking about how electricity works, people will access local information as and when they wish without having to think about the technology behind it. What were doing is genuinely useful both to consumers and businesses. Right now we may not know all the details of what the market wants or indeed what technology will really allow us to do. However, as Alan Kay at Xerox so famously said in the early 1970s, The best way to predict the future is to invent it and thats exactly what were doing here at Multimap in the location information space.
Tell us a bit about your family background. How did you end up where you are today?
I grew up in a typical, leafy American suburb with kids playing in the street, a moderate-sized house with a front and back yard, Halloween, dogs, bikes and snow in December. That said, my life was always a little different from that of my friends, given that my mother was French and my maternal grandparents were Russian. While other kids were going to summer camp or hanging out in the local mall, we would usually travel to Europe to holiday. By the time I was of job-seeking age, it was natural for me to return to Europe. Europe represented something with which I am very comfortable. In other words it provided an opportunity to see and experience as an adult what Id grown up with during my family vacations all those years ago. It was my upbringing that prompted me to come to Europe and it was the emphasis that my family put on education, cultural curiosity and self-improvement that laid the foundations for my career in the UK.
What do you do to relax?
I find socializing informally with my friends and family really relaxing. I love travelling and experiencing foreign cultures. When I can take time out for myself, I enjoy going to gallery openings, art exhibitions and the occasional play.
How many people are using Multimap services? In what ways has the service been used, any unusual ways?
We have over 6.3 million unique users and register over 90 million page impressions per month on the public website. Our services are used for all sorts of reasons; from finding directions to a friends house, to locating a property near to a particular tube station; from sorting out all your accommodation and entertainment needs for a business trip and accessing the most up-to-date and visually appealing maps of the relevant areas, to providing personalised gifts for Chanukah such as aerial photographs of where you live or historic photos of where your loved ones grew up. And were adding complementary services all the time.
Certainly the most amusing way in which Multimap was used recently was to help find the winner of a balloon race being run for charity. Helium balloons were released from a church in Shotley, and were picked up in Grunau, Austria, and Maribor, Slovenia. They had both gone a long way, but the organisers werent sure which had traveled furthest. They used Multimap to determine that Maribor was 1,147.08 miles from Shotley, while Grunau was 981.97 miles away. Multimap helped to find the winner, and the church raised £500 to improve its facilities.
On the business side of things, we have well over 650 business clients across a wide range of industries including automotive, retail, travel and tourism, manufacturing, local government and property. In the retail sector alone, four out of every five UK-based businesses employ our online mapping services.
In a nutshell, our location-based services help our clients' users to boost their site traffic and visitor retention levels, and improve conversion rates from surfing to buying online. Our client portfolio includes Hilton, Lastminute.com, Avis, Thomas Cook, Intercontinental Hotels Group, Shell, JJB Sports, Marks & Spencer, Yell.com, Mazda, Orange, Fiat, Herts County Council and FDPSavills.
The services with which we provide these clients include embedded maps; a geographical "Where's My Nearest?" search and map service that displays stores and stockists as icons on a map; a travel directions service that shows route information as a highlighted path on a map and as a table of text instructions; and location-based advertising.