Spatial's use of social media data adds flavor, substance to a car's GPS info

Oakley-based company goes deep for local knowledge

CINCINNATI -- In the not-too-distant future, you might drive into an unfamiliar city and ask your car a detailed question, such as, “Where can I find a bar with a sunset view by the water?”

And your car will tell you, thanks to an Oakley-based company called Spatial.

Spatial’s mission, in the words of co-founder Lyden Foust, is to help people “navigate like a local, anywhere in the world.”

How does it work?

Spatial aggregates more than 30 sources of social media data to gather information about places, Foust said. That information enables Spatial to answer complex questions about a place it would normally take several different Google searches to answer.

Those questions can be as timely as, “Where is an artsy event happening downtown tonight?” or as timeless as, “Where is the most popular sports bar here?”

How did Spatial come about?

Foust was working as an ethnographic researcher, traveling to cities around the world and researching them for Proctor & Gamble and other companies, when in February 2015, he had an insight:

In cyberspace, every city has a layer of behavioral information, coming from social media, that will tell you a lot about that community.

“If you could capture that over time, there’s no end to what you could learn about them and what you could do for them,” he said.

A few months later, he shared the idea with a friend he’d met at Crossroads Church, Will Kiessling, who became the co-founder of Spatial. In December 2015, they “cracked the code” to making the software work, Foust said, and in January of this year, they began working full time on the company.

This year, they graduated from the OCEAN Accelerator program in Oakley, and in October from Techstars’ first mobility class in Detroit. The company’s main customer so far is Ford Motor Corp., Foust said, which means making regular, five-hour drives to Detroit.

Deciding what markets to pursue first was a challenge. So, in June, management “put the tech down,” Foust said, and talked to a lot of smart people about it. Now, they’re focusing on the automotive, travel and real estate markets.

How do they make money?

Customers pay a licensing fee to use the software; Foust declined to say how much. But he said that in August, the company began making a profit and the founders began taking a salary.

Are there investors?

Techstars has invested $120,000, Foust said, and OCEAN $35,000. Covington-based Connetic Ventures also made an investment in October, but the amount wasn’t disclosed.

“They are solving a real problem,” said Connetic Ventures chief investment officer Kyle Schlotman. “It really helps when you are traveling. To know what (citizens) think about their city is game-changing.”

Are there employees?

Spatial has five employees, including Foust and Kiessling. Over the next two years, Foust said, the company will probably hire another eight data scientists. He also expects it will soon move out of its space at OCEAN and into larger digs near other startups.

What’s next?

Very soon, we will all walk around wearing earpods that provide us with artificial intelligence assistance, Foust said, and he’d like Spatial to answer the location questions we ask. The company’s also looking into making it possible to see the history of a given location.

“The vision here is ubiquitous spatial awareness,” he said. “To see what’s happened in the past here, and what’s happening (now).”

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