After moving to San Francisco, Andrew Johnson (TPR '03) discovered a passion for hiking. His girlfriend, Anna Hentzel, introduced him to the sport. And the two have explored dozens of forests around the world.
It's a hobby that has led the pair to the bottom of Death Valley, the top of Mt. Kilimanjaro, and most recently, to found TrailBehind.com.
While hiking, Johnson said they often discussed the fragmented information online, the expensive maps, and what could help make their hiking trips better. Eventually, the pair hit on an idea — a website that could be edited wiki-style, with maps and reports. Hentzel, who usually planned the trips, could use the site to find new places. Upon returning, Johnson could use the site to report on the trail and upload photos.
Last summer, TrailBehind became a full-time job for the two, and they're planning to market the site heavily during the hiking season next summer. To fund development of the site, Johnson said they have raised money from angel investors. Also, TrailBehind was recently awarded a $25,000 Facebook fbFund grant — they were among 25 applications chosen from a pool of over 600.
TrailBehind is working to create complete — and free — maps of wilderness areas by aggregating existing Internet data with new trail information uploaded from site users. TrailBehind.com now includes partial maps of more than 3,000 parks, ranging from a map of Yosemite National Park to a map of the Allegheny National Forest. These "social maps" offer users the opportunity to share their experiences and advice, from recommending child-friendly parks, to publishing trail reports.
As Johnson explained, "A map is not just a picture. It leads to the experiences you want, the sights you want to see."
Johnson said his love for hiking intensified his appreciation for the outdoors and the need to preserve it. Not surprisingly, he hopes to become more environmentally active as their company grows.
"I came to realize that my actions have an impact. Being out there has influenced me to treat nature more carefully," he said. "I think that environmentalism will always influence our decisions, and hopefully we'll be able to create corporate programs where we can make an impact."
His time at Carnegie Mellon provided Johnson with both an educational background and valuable, lifelong connections. After graduation, he worked for an ad agency run by two alumni, and his clients included three alumni startups. He joined one, and his former boss is now TrailBehind's board chairman. Three former classmates work as part-time TrailBehind developers and advisors.
"Carnegie Mellon has absolutely helped me," Johnson elaborated. "All of my education, what I learned at business school and as an engineer, has definitely had a bearing on all the jobs I've had. My contacts have definitely helped. The Carnegie Mellon network is very strong — from the professors you meet to the friends of friends."