Financial Times buys S.F. company started with $2,000 and a laptop
By Mark Calvey
San Francisco Business Times
4 January 2017
Photo courtesy San Francisco Business Times
Caption: Anatalio Ubalde and Pablo Monzon, both former CED students, formed GIS Planning in 1998 shortly after graduating with Masters degrees in City & Regional Planning.
The Financial Times purchased San Francisco-based GIS Planning last week, a fast-growing software-as-a-service provider of data and maps to help businesses make site selections. The company was founded by College of Environmental Design alumni Anatalio Ubalde (BA Arch ‘95, MCP ‘97) and Pablo Monzon (MCP ‘97) who met at CED and formed GIS Planning shortly after graduating. They will become managing directors with the acquisition.
Ubalde and Monzon started GIS Planning on a shoestring, with $2,000 and a laptop. The two turned down the opportunity to raise venture capital and accelerate growth several times since the company’s founding, opting instead for growth financed by paying customers.
GIS Planning was profiled in the San Francisco Business Times in 2008 and was listed in Inc. Magazine’s list of the nation’s 5,000 fastest growing private companies more than once. GIS’s acquisition by the Financial Times may seem unusual, but Ubalde sees the merger as a natural fit for his company; the Financial Times’s business services have seen strong growth, largely due to the information it sells to clients on foreign investment.
“Traditional media is no longer traditional. We see the Financial Times as the ideal partner. Combined we create so much more value for our customers,” Ubalde said.
GIS Planning’s clients are the economic development offices at the city, county and state level that are eager to be chosen for the next store, restaurant or other development location and the jobs and tax dollars that will come with those projects. “We help businesses with everything from starting up, expanding or relocating,” Ubalde explained.
GIS Planning allows businesses to conduct their site-selection research from the comfort of their homes and has enjoyed rapid growth similar to online shopping and house hunting because of it. “People want self-service. They do their online research before they make their first call,” Ubalde explained. That allows businesses to research the best locations for their next store, office, factory or other operations without getting the sales pitch from economic development officials.
In turn, GIS Planning’s services allow those working in economic development for cities, counties and states to ensure they are making the best use of their time when answering those calls from businesses who have screened for locations best suited for their companies. GIS Planning and its competitors have effectively changed the rules of the game in site selection. “Counties and cities are being evaluated and eliminated before they even knew they were in the running,” Ubalde said.
Given the unique perspective Ubalde has when it comes to evaluating a region’s strengths and weaknesses, what does he think about the Bay Area when it comes to attracting and retaining businesses?
“Vallejo has so many advantages and tons of potential,” said Ubalde, who began his city planning career in Vallejo and still has strong family ties to the city. “The numbers show that Oakland is a robust city with tremendous opportunity.”
Yet, Ubalde hesitates to offer up his thoughts on the two cities, saying that the heart of GIS Planning’s services is to allow businesses to assess the numbers and data without the biases and misconceptions people may have about cities or regions.
While he’s been pitched many times to move GIS Planning’s headquarters out of pricey San Francisco, Ubalde explained that the issue is not about cost: “Here in San Francisco, we can access the world’s best talent in engineers and visionaries. Disruption is seen as a good thing and innovation is part of the business environment’s DNA,” Ubalde said. “We can create the best service for our customers by being in San Francisco.”