The design-your-own-bus-route tool called Transitmix had all the makings of an Internet sensation when it came out last summer: an addictive fantasy system capable of entertaining both amateurs and wonks alike. And it didn't disappoint. In six months since the beta version launched, users have created some 50,000 transit maps in 3,600 cities around the world.
But it was the messages from professional transit planners that led creator Sam Hashemi to think Transitmix might have a future as an actual business, instead of just another fleeting Web obsession. "They'd email us and say, 'I've been waiting for this. Thank you so much,'" says Hashemi, who's now CEO of the company. "They were love notes in a way. We realized it could be something significant."