Tuesday, October 3, 2006
Interview with Jonathan Berke, Sigalert.com
Our interview today is with Jonathan Berke, one of the co-founders of Sigalert.com (www.sigalert.com), a web site and service that shows traffic conditions in Southern California. If you watch any morning traffic reports on television, you've also probably seen their traffic graphics, and probably heard their products used by major radio stations such as KFWB and KNX. We thought it would be interesting to talk to Jonathan about the company and how it came about--and how a small, bootstrapped company like their has been able to get mind share.
Ben Kuo: Tell us, what's SigAlert.com?
Jonathan Berke: SigAlert.com is a freeway traffic website. We show the freeway conditions in major cities in California and also in Phoenix.
Ben Kuo: Who are the people who use your services?
Jonathan Berke: The web site is geared really for commuters. It allows people to check traffic conditions before they leave home in morning, and before they leave work in the evening. We also provide web pages to other web sites--for example, the LA Times, NBC in LA, KABC in LA, KFWB, KNX, and lots and lots of media companies. We provide traffic pages for them as well.
Ben Kuo: How'd you decide to start SigAlert.com?
Jonathan Berke: Well, I used to have a commute! My partner and I were working at a software company developing enterprise software for large businesses. We had commutes, and knew that the information was available. We're here in San Diego--the first place to have the information publicly available. We wanted to know how long it took us to get home, and wrote the web site working nights and weekends. When our company consolidated their offices to San Francisco, we decided to stay here in San Diego. That was the end of 2001.
Ben Kuo: Isn't there a lot of competition in this space?
Jonathan Berke: The information we get is from Caltrans and the CHP, and that information is freely available to anyone that wants it. In some areas, we do pay companies for private data. In Southern California, however, all that information is publicly available. There are other companies, and there were other companies before we started--we just built a better mousetrap. Our site is easier to use, easier to access, and has more detailed information. We've improved on the user interface, and also went after media companies with a system that was easy for them to get on their own web site--that doesn't involve a lot of pieces and getting legal departments involved, and things like that. Because of the business model, it was very appealing for partners to use our content on their sites.
Ben Kuo: Can you tell me a little bit about your funding?
Jonathan Berke: We're bootstrapped, completely self-funded. We developed the site on nights and weekends. The cost of hosting a web site is pretty minimal. After the other company shut down their offices, we went a considerable amount of time without paychecks. We saw that SigAlert had legs, and received lots of good feedback--so we started working on it full time. We revamped it to get a professional look, and had professional designers to help do all of that.
Ben Kuo: What kind of web traffic are you getting?
Jonathan Berke: We receive on the order of six million pageviews a month.
Ben Kuo: So how is your web site supported?
Jonathan Berke: Using the basic web site is free--you can access maps, speeds, and see accidents for free. Our MySigalert service is a premium service, $19.99 a year with a two week free trial. We also have our television product--the on air product--here on KABC Channel 7 reports in the morning and afternoon. You'll see them doing traffic reports using another product of ours, Traffictv. We've been approaching the traffic business both from the web site, and from the traditional disseminators of traffic information, TV and radio news.
Ben Kuo: Why did the TV and radio stations decide to use your product?
Jonathan Berke: We're software guys. We focus on writing and creating usable software.--software that is easy to use and looks good. The on-air traffic reports we had seen were very rudimentary--we knew we could do something better. We started with NBC in San Diego, and had a graphic design we thought would work for stations. We proposed it to NBC in San Diego, went home, and we built it. We have a little different look than other on-air traffic companies. We think is the better and easier for viewer to see--especially in the morning, when you're 20 feet from TV set drinking coffee or putting on makeup. Our format is easier on the eyes, and very customizable by the stations.
Ben Kuo: Thanks for the interview!