CartoDB: From Alcatraz to elephants, startup puts open source visualisation on the map, creating a successful business isn’t just a matter of having a good idea. Sometimes, what you really need is luck.

Javier de la Torre and Sergio Álvarez Leiva certainly had luck when they published the right material at the right time.

In 2007, they started working together on a data visualization project involving conservation and biodiversity. They both like science and were curious to know how protected areas help conserve endangered species, so they took public data from different UN agencies, analyzed it, and published the results in a blog entitled Biodivertido. As luck would have it, the United Nations saw the result, contacted them to say it had long wanted to do something similar – and said it wanted to hire them.

They created software to process millions of data points and display the results on a map to help better understand a problem or tell a story. Thus Vizzuality – their company – and CartoDB – its flagship product – were born, thanks to bootstrapping, some public funding, and hard work.

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