Melinda Haughey and other parents were desperate for safe trick-or-treating in the midst of the pandemic in 2020. They began individually posting long lists on Facebook of Seattle addresses where kids could get no-contact candy via homemade chutes. While well intended, it was a messy solution.
Tapping her professional tech background, Haughey cobbled together a map using free online tools. It was a cumbersome process, but generated an easy to use, crowd-sourced Halloween map featuring 2,300 Seattle homes that caught the attention of local TV news and “Good Morning America.” She soon began receiving cold calls from people with their own mapping needs.
Haughey was on to something.
Proxi on Monday announced a $1.2 million investment round led by Graham & Walker with participation from Techstars, Madrona Pioneer Fund, Pack Ventures, Tacoma Venture Fund, FAM Fund and Keeler Investments Group, plus contributions from unnamed angel investors.
Proxi, a play on “proximity,” has three full-time employees. The startup’s mapping tool is up and running, and its site displays two-dozen interactive examples.
The company, previously known as Map Your Idea, is also participating in the Seattle Techstars accelerator.
Haughey and Roney met at Texas A&M University and both have advanced degrees from the University of Washington. Haughey worked in U.S. intelligence and has experience in geospatial tech, user experience and data analysis at companies including Accenture, Facebook and Dell. Roney founded and sold a software-as-a-service startup and worked at Microsoft for five years.
There are other mapping tools available. Haughey used Google My Maps for her Halloween project, but found it wasn’t easy to customize, maintain or use collaboratively. On the other end, there are sophisticated GIS-based tools that require more skill and money.
“There was this gap in between these two poles where we could provide a solution,” Roney said.
Travel writers and bloggers, influencers, community groups and a news site have used the tool. They are creating interactive maps to help people find kid-friendly breweries and wineries, Traveling While Black in Seattle destinations, and other locations.
The idea, said the Proxi founders, is to create an alternative to Google Maps, Yelp or Trip Advisor by offering maps from trusted sources to help people navigate their way to curated destinations. Proxi doesn’t require users to download an app and maps can be dropped into sites already built by map creators.
Over the coming year, Proxi is planning to connect with potential creators in cities including Austin, Los Angeles, Atlanta and elsewhere to produce collections of maps in populous hubs. The team is also building new features for their tool. To generate revenue, the plan is to create a subscription-based, premium option that includes analytics and other perks.
One of the challenges for Haughey and Roney has been selling investors on their potential. Not only do they bring their own firsthand experience with the need for a tool like this, but they say they have the tech chops and business expertise to deliver on the vision.
The question is, “how do we transition from this ‘mommy Halloween story’ into ‘this is a billion-dollar company that we’re building?’” Haughey said. “We’re learning how to tell our story better.”