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Reddit puts Alvar Carto on the map

Alvar Carto boosted market awareness by offering its service as a free phone wallpaper generator and promoting it via Reddit.Alvar Carto

This Finnish startup launched a free phone wallpaper generator that blew up on Reddit and successfully boosted the profile of its raison d’être: customised map posters.

Back in 2018, Alvar Carto’s software developer Kimmo Brunfeldt was faced with a difficult choice: work or pleasure. Internet traffic to the company’s phone wallpaper generator had become so heavy that the servers kept crashing. Understandably so, when tens of thousands of users were trying to access it at the same time.

Needless to say, the sweaty palms of Brunfeldt and his fellow founders Nico Eriksson and Aarne Huttunen were complimented by furrowed brows. Yet when it came time for Brunfeldt to leave for basketball practice, he made a surprising decision: rather than wrestle with the problem any longer, he opted to go shoot a few hoops instead. Then he made another left turn: telling Reddit users what he was doing.

Rather than explode in fury of frustration, 3 000 users immediately gave him the thumbs-up, applauding his decision to put his personal life ahead of his profession.

This was just another unexpected response that had greeted the small startup in short succession.

“We originally put it on Reddit just to try it and didn’t think it would be a big success; a few downloads here and there,” Eriksson tells. “All Hell broke loose.”

Indeed. Along with the 500 000 visitors that arrived in just a few days, hundreds of thousands of background images have now been downloaded.

Pinpointing the right place

Yet for all of the Reddit-related bluster and excitement, up until recently the free wallpaper generator was nowhere near being on the map for the trio. Alvar Carto is actually in the poster business, and had sought a different way to market its customised map service and branch out.

“Basically, you can type in any city in the world on our website, choose your style and order a custom-made poster,” Eriksson says. The entire premise is do-it-yourself. Users can pinpoint the exact location they would like to have hanging on their wall by searching, zooming in and panning on OpenStreetMap with street-level precision. A handful of styles and colours to choose from broaden the palette.

Map company Alvar Carto was founded by (left to right) Nico Eriksson, Kimmo Brunfeldt and Aarne Huttunen. Image: Tiia Nyholm

Once the user has tweaked the design to their satisfaction, Alvar Carto sends it to industrial printers for a hard copy. The matte-finish poster is then mailed anywhere worldwide.

“We’ve gotten really good feedback. People choose locations where they got married, where they were born, where they met their first love or something like this,” Eriksson says. “Every product has a story behind it. That’s usually pretty cool to hear.”

And the most memorable example of having their ear bent?

“There was one women who said, ‘Hey guys, I met my husband 20 years ago on a ferry. Do you know where Viking Line travelled between Finland and Sweden on this day at midnight?’”

Needless to say, that after some consultation with the ferry company regarding routes and mark speeds from a historical perspective, the exact coordinates were deduced and image created and posted, in an impressive display of sleuthing.

“We’re just a mapping company, but we’ll get anything done,” Eriksson says, with a laugh.

Covering the map

The groundswell of interest generated by Reddit has had a knock-on effect to the main business.

“The stunt increased our sales five-fold, so it really has had a huge impact,” Brunfeldt says. “Now, we are already making a profit. There are only a few steps left to being able to do this full-time.”

In order to put the right foot forward, the trio are now reaching out to the world.

“We have been planning to go country by country so we get to know the scene one at a time,” Brunfeldt says. “Germany and the UK are where we are most probably going concretely. Japan is another possible market.”

The company’s name is a play on words of revered Finnish designer Alvar Aalto. Image: Alvar Carto

Brunfeldt also points to the fact that the company already ships worldwide. Therefore, there are no foreseeable limitations in logistics or production.

“The funny thing is that the majority of our sales come from the US at the moment,” Eriksson adds, “even though we use metric centimetres and euros, and we haven’t optimised the website at all for the public.”

Nonetheless, the Reddit stunt also stirred up interest from marketing agencies that want to develop their position in the US market and further afield in China. Now, all the trio have to do is choose which one will help them.

The sincerest form of flattery

Given that anyone can use OpenStreetMap, one wonders whether the trio are ready for their idea to be duplicated.

Been there, done that. And then some.

“Someone in our Facebook group found a way to make these maps for free,” Eriksson tells, with a smile. “She went to our page, pressed print screen and then copied it by hand, square by square.”

Given that their Facebook page has 70 000 followers watching their every move, was their first reaction to call the cops?

“We laughed and thought it was fun that someone would put in this much time and effort, but it was going to take her at least a few weekends to complete. We decided to just give her the map, and wrote to her that we love your enthusiasm, so here’s a free one.”

The service uses OpenStreetMaps for its cartographic content; the exact location to focus on and its design is entirely up to the user. Image: Alvar Carto
By: James O’Sullivan