Indonesia Expat
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Meet J.P. Ellis

J.P. is an entrepreneur and a proud new father. He’s also an avid map aficionado; so much so that he created Mapiary, a powerful social mapping engine.


We are curious, what does J.P. stand for?
John Patrick. My father is also John, so from a very young age everyone called me JP and it has stuck.

As this is the men’s issue, tell us, what do you believe makes a great man?
Commitment, honesty, wisdom, and cajones.

You are quite the entrepreneur; why did you take an interest in Indonesia? When did you move here?
I was on the law school track after my university undergraduate degree, and since I had spent some years of my youth growing up in Asia – my father builds skyscrapers so we would move every few years – I figured China would be a good place to go for a year of adventure before going back to hit the books. To make a long story short, I was given an opportunity to go to China, but at the last moment the Indonesia program director dangled this crazy carrot in front of me, and I chose, quite suddenly, to come to Indonesia instead. They moved me to an ethnobotanical research station in the hills of western Flores.


At the Facebook Ecosystem Crunch Up California August 2012
At the Facebook Ecosystem Crunch Up – California, August 2012

You studied in New York? How was it to have to adjust to living in Indonesia?
I had the good fortune to attend Columbia University in New York City, so I was already accustomed to a certain amount of chaos! Obviously, from New York to a mountaintop village in Flores was a bit of a transition, but it was, in retrospect, one of the best ways to get acquainted with the country. By starting very rural and isolated and in the East, and working your way westward over the course of a few years, by the time you get to Jakarta, it feels so very cosmopolitan!

Let’s cut to the chase; what is Mapiary? And what was your vision for it?
Mapiary is a powerful and immersive map-based digital marketing tool for brands, agencies, media owners, and others. A great way to think about it is as “Pinterest for maps”. Right now, digital maps are these highly used and very functional things, but they are also very bad at storytelling and sharing specific information and experiences. Mapiary allows anyone to quickly and easily create and share their own maps. What distinguishes this approach is thinking about the world as a collection of millions and millions of mini-maps, rather than one impossibly large macro map. So, Mapiary is essentially this great storytelling tool which mashes up maps, location, mobile, social, as well as marketing and advertising.

So, I can search for restaurants, gyms and other businesses throughout Jakarta with Mapiary?
To a certain extent, yes. More specifically, Mapiary is an engine and a set of tools that allows me to make maps of my own experiences in Flores and New York, and to share those with you. It also allows you to make your own, say, culinary map of Jakarta, or follow someone else’s trail and set off recommendations. For a nice jaunt through Jakarta though, I recommend the “36 Hours in Menteng” map, which is featured on the Mapiary homepage.

How is Jakarta’s response to Mapiary so far?
It’s an interesting question because the support for what we are doing has been overwhelming. So many people love maps, collect maps, obsess over maps. So we’re definitely in this nice sweet spot with a product that basically allows a huge amount of customization on top of digital maps. We partner with media groups, guide books, political campaigns, historical societies, food bloggers, and many others.

What are you most proud of with Mapiary? What’s different about it compared to other social mapping apps?
Social mapping is basically a brand new category of software. There are only a handful of companies doing this in the world today, and none of them have been very successful outside of Waze and social traffic mapping – yet. Mapiary’s breakthrough, and what I am most proud of, is our insight that there is not one single and definitive map. There are actually millions and millions of different maps, each one informed by the experiences and biases of their creator. Physical places hold different levels of significance to different people, brands, and families.


Bathing in the River Racang Flores March 2006
Bathing in the River Racang, Flores – March 2006

Have you always been interested in doing software development? What did you study in college?
My degree is in political science, but I also have a background in web design and development. During the first internet boom, I used to bid for web design jobs that small businesses in New York would post on the university job boards. I would meet the client, understand the requirements, make some specs and then farm the work out to designers and developers in the dormitories. I didn’t realize it then because I was just having fun, but it was basically what is called product management.

You and your team have also created Harpoen, correct? Tell us a little about Harpoen. How is it different from Mapiary? We heard it just won an award?
Thank you, yes, Harpoen was the predecessor to Mapiary. It was recognized earlier this year as the Global Champion in m-Tourism & Culture at the World Summit Awards in Abu Dhabi. We were thrilled to represent Indonesia at this global forum of more than four hundred digital companies from all over the world.

Are there other techie projects you’ve been busy with?
Many! I love software, and the creativity and speed of it. Many things here are still fundamentally difficult and paper-based. Software will play a big role in the Indonesian economy of the future.

Are you working on projects that are not so much in the technology area?
I am extremely fortunate to have some very talented and dedicated business partners. Among other things, we distribute the Para’Kito brand of French-made natural mosquito repellent bands and clips in over 100 stores around the country. We also design, craft and sell luxury hair jewellery that is carved from buffalo horn and accentuated with gold and silver and emeralds and such. Say what? Yes, I know, it sounds crazy, but jewellery for women’s hair is a brand new category of luxury goods. You can check it out at

You are one busy bee! On top of it all, you’re a new father. Congratulations! How has fatherhood been so far in Jakarta? Has it made this city a completely different place for you?
Fatherhood is great, thank you! My son Hunter is almost four months old. He was born at RS Bunda in Menteng. He is our first, so we try to spend as much time with him as possible, and he is spoiled also to have twelve cousins and constant visitors from family and friends from the US, too.

J.P. appreciates your comments on Mapiary. Contact him via [email protected] /

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