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Driving Change with Hila, Head of Communities at Waze

Hila Roth on building a Community that gives back

As Head of Communities at Waze, Hila Roth is building a Community that gives back.

Driving Change explores how leaders at Waze balance big-picture innovation with day-to-day challenges.

Hila Roth joined Waze seven years ago to build the Beta Community from scratch. Eventually, she became the Beta Community Team Lead, until the Beta team and other 4 Community teams joined forces. Now, as Head of Communities at Waze, she manages a global group which includes 5 Community Teams (Editors, Beta, Localizers, Carpoolers and Partners). Hila’s Global Group manages thousands of passionate volunteers around the world. We caught up with Hila to learn about how she and her team members foster relationships with volunteers, the features that wouldn’t be possible without them, and why the Community is at the core of the entire app.

Community is the heart and soul of Waze, and it’s one of the things I’ve always loved most about the app. At the end of the day, everything — from the latest features to the most up-to-date roads — relies on the contributions of our Community. When I joined Waze almost seven years ago, Map Editors made up most of the Community. Now, my team manages thousands of volunteers around the world in five different domains: Map Editors, Beta Testers, the Carpool Community, Localizers, and Partnerships. Their commitment to Waze and our mission is really what makes what we do possible.

Building relationships with thousands of people:

All of our Community members are volunteers. Whenever we ask why they contribute, the answer is always the same: They want to help other local Wazers, and they love the unique connection between the Community and the Waze staff. It’s rare for such a large, global company to have this kind of direct relationship with the people who use and contribute to their product every day, and I feel so lucky that it’s such a defining dynamic at Waze. That’s why I think it’s so important to listen to volunteers, share our Waze mission with them, and understand what they’d like to see in our products.

A lot of the people who become volunteers are people who contribute to other communities as well, whether they’re helping people in their work — as doctors, firefighters, and teachers — or volunteering for other causes. Our community is made up of people who want to contribute to something bigger than themselves.

How Waze features come to life:

The Waze Community is full of ideas. When they come forward with new suggestions and improvements, it’s my team’s job to work with other Waze teams to bring those ideas to life. In fact, two of our newest features were created by the Community — they were involved from the initial planning phases of the feature all the way through execution.

One of these new features is Lane Guidance. Not only did the Map Editors Community come up with the idea of mapping lanes, they actually brought it to life in the app globally. Now, Community leaders meet with local volunteers in each country (from the Netherlands to Malaysia to Brazil and beyond) to teach them how to map lanes in their area. In some cases, it’s just 5 or 10 leaders teaching 200 people in their country’s local community. Lane Guidance is a great example of how just a few people can make a huge impact on millions of users around the world when they step up together.

Another Community-driven feature we launched recently is Toll Pricing. A frequently-shared suggestion at meetups was to be able to calculate the estimated cost of a route to give drivers the option of choosing an alternative, cheaper one (even if longer). In response, we built a localized tool to help Community members map toll pricing in their countries. From there, the Community did everything manually — mapping each combination of toll road entrances and exits one-by-one, along with the distances between them. And thanks to them, Toll Prices are now available in more than 40 countries! We never could have launched it without this mighty crew.

Creating a collaborative Community:

Before COVID-19, we held more than 80 in-person community events each year, all over the world. These meetups gave Waze Community Managers and other staffers the opportunity to share updates about Waze products and hear feedback, straight from community members, on current and future projects. Meetups also helped us make sure our volunteers have the tools they need. After the presentations and product updates, we’d go and do something fun together, like bowling, a group cooking class, or checking out a performance by local singers and dancers.

Over the years, as we’ve gotten to know each other, we all look forward to reuniting and catching up. Now, during COVID-19, we stay connected virtually with online meetups, but we can’t wait to see each other in person as soon as it’s safe. Everyone really misses each other.

Maintaining an engaged community:

In some ways, moving our meetups online has actually strengthened our bond. During the first few weeks of quarantine, we started a new tradition of hosting Community Office Hours every other Sunday. We theme each session around a popular Waze topic and have a Waze employee host it so we can share updates and plans for an upcoming feature, for example, and answer the community’s questions live. It’s been heartwarming to see how the community has embraced this new way of coming together. These Office Hours sessions have also been an excellent complement to our regularly-scheduled global and local meetups, along with what we call “Waze Virtual Cafes.” We also keep in touch through country-specific online forums (in the respective local languages, of course).

Our online events are open to all community members, and anyone who’s interested in joining our community is more than welcome!

Navigating a new team routine:

Waze Communities is a very close team, and seeing each other at the office every day was an important part of our culture. Now that we don’t get to see each other in person, we have to get creative online to feel that connection. Sometimes this means our team meetings have a special theme, like “Fancy Dress Up Day” or “Costume Party.” We’ll still have full-on, serious work discussions while wearing these ridiculous outfits and trying to properly capture the moment with screenshots, which is fun and hilarious. Other times, we’ll play online drawing or trivia games together. One bright side to working from home is that we’ve all gotten to know each other’s families and home lives even better, with partners and kids and pets frequently popping on screen to say hi during meetings.

The Waze Communities team working from home and staying connected from a distance
The Waze Communities Team (based in Tel Aviv) working from home

Before the pandemic, my team and I were often traveling around the world to meet with community members and visit other Waze offices. If it weren’t for COVID-19, I would have visited at least 10 countries already this year! I love to travel, but it’s a pretty hectic lifestyle. I’m trying to think of this break in travel as a silver lining — even if it’s a forced break.

I’m a very active person, so the pandemic life has been tough. I’m a powerlifting and CrossFit competitor, which means I typically work out for two or three hours each day. As all the gyms were closed during lockdown, I actually managed to build my own gym at home in order to maintain some of my daily routine.

Hila built a home gym during the pandemic to stay active.

Sticking together through thick and thin:

Over the years, we’ve seen how much our Community loves to give back — whether that’s by adding shortcuts to the map, keeping drivers updated when natural disasters hit, or reporting traffic so someone else can find a faster route. So I wasn’t surprised when they quickly looked for ways to help the moment the pandemic started. They sprang into action immediately, sharing ideas that our team brought to life in the app. Over the past few months, they’ve played a major role in helping with our COVID-19 response efforts, including mapping blood donation centers, food distribution centers, and testing locations on Waze.

But the strength of the Community goes beyond that. Through Waze, they’ve actually become friends, and they continue to support each other. Before the outbreak, they went on vacations together and sent us photos. We know of some couples who met as Map Editors and got married. Now, they share things like Spotify playlists and create memory games out of our new Waze Moods for their kids. Even in these difficult times, they’re still there for Waze and our mission, but most importantly, they’re still there for each other.

Lightning round!

What three things are always on your desk? My laptop, iPhone, and water.

What Mood do you relate to the most? Sunny, because it’s optimistic, smiley, and gives me good vibes. Also, yellow is my favorite color!

Describe Waze in three words: Local, Community, Real-Time.

What is your favorite thing to listen to in the car? Random Israeli radio stations that play music from all over the world.

What is your biggest pet peeve on the road? When people honk for no reason or because they’re impatient.

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