They were sitting in Billings making custom topographical maps and minding their own business when a global positioning system giant out of California came courting.
Trimble Navigation Ltd., of Sunnyvale, Calif., made the first overtures last fall to MyTopo, a Montana company born in Red Lodge a dozen years ago, and bought the privately owned company last month.
The sale price was not disclosed, but MyTopo has posted double-digit sales growth each year since 1999.
Founder Kevin Toohill said he didn’t start MyTopo to sell it, but this news is nice.
“It’s fantastic from my perspective that a small Montana company that is primarily focused on its customers has built something that’s of interest and value to a global company like Trimble,” he said.
Toohill and co-owner Paige Darden will continue to produce maps at 1 S. Broadway in downtown Billings as employees of Trimble Outdoors of Tempe, Ariz., a division of the parent company.
“We just think it’s a good marriage of mobile applications and maps that our outdoor companies want. We’re creating unique solutions for them,” Trimble Outdoors marketing manager Kris Wagner said.
Trimble Outdoors has developed five applications that run on more than 300 mobile phone models and is offering MyTopo digital maps on those apps, including Cabela’s Recon Hunt and Backpacker GPS Trails.
“We specialize in printed maps and then got into desktop mapping software and they bring the mobile mapping in, so it’s a great mix,” Darden said.
MyTopo claims to be the leading U.S. company in delivering topo and aerial maps and hybrid maps either by traditional mail or Internet.
“Many adventures begin with a map. The acquisition of MyTopo allows us to provide our customers with unique solutions for virtually every step of their adventures,” said Rich Rudow, general manager for Trimble Outdoors.
MyTopo’s brief history echoes the rapid evolution of mapping, satellite imaging and cell phone technology over the past decade.
During its first year in 1999 in Red Lodge, the goal was to sell custom, usually waterproof, topo maps mostly to outdoors enthusiasts. Hunters made up half the customer base.
After 9/11 security concerns became paramount, the U.S. government hired aerial photographers to shoot photos in every state. The maps were public domain and allowed MyTopo to sell custom aerial photos. Then the U.S. Department of Agriculture started shooting crop photos to track the national food supply and loss of farmland.
“Now you could get a beautiful color photo of your property,” Darden said. “It’s really quite a feat for our government of 100 years to literally survey every corner of our country.”
By 2007, MyTopo started producing hybrid maps, superimposing aerial photos with topo maps for even more detailed guides. Today half the business comes from sales of professional desktop mapping software used by search-and-rescue personnel, foresters, surveyors and other users in public and private industry.
Even before the sale, MyTopo was a worldwide company with 95 percent of its customers living outside Montana.
In 2009 when Fortune Small Business named Billings as the best small city in which to start a small business, the magazine featured two local success stories, Rand’s Custom Hats and Beartooth Mapping, the corporate name of MyTopo.
Now with the melding of cell phone technology and GPS, a smartphone can do the work that a top-of-the-line GPS device did of a couple of years ago.
“You can do amazing mapping on a cell phone now,” Darden said.
Such maps also help people find hidden treasures of public lands tucked away behind private property and give travelers proof that they are in the right place.
“Now there is no excuse for getting lost or doing something you shouldn’t be doing on public or private lands because you didn’t know,” Darden said.