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'Apprentice' runner-up launches mapping site in L.A.

Founder James Sun says his association with the show helped him get funding for Zoodango, which will enable users to find all the entertainment venues in a neighborhood with one click.

February 18, 2009|Alana Semuels

Don't you hate it when your online map doesn't tell you what you need to know? Like when MapQuest sends you down a dark alley, or when Google sends you on four freeways when you really needed just one?

A Los Angeles start-up called Zoodango is launching a local service today for finding restaurants, bars and entertainment venues on digital maps.

Its claim to fame is founder James Sun, who came in second on the sixth season of "The Apprentice," the show in which businesspeople aspire to be Donald Trump's assistant.

Sun's association with the show helped him land funding from some Seattle angel investors. Not bad for a guy who spontaneously decided to audition for "The Apprentice" when he was walking past lines of men in suits waiting for their turn at the mall.

"It opened the door to get in front of people I wouldn't have otherwise," he said. "But you still have to have a good product."

Zoodango has debuted already in Seattle; San Francisco; Spokane, Wash.; and Portland, Ore. It's slowly snaking its way down the coast.

Eventually, online publishers will license the technology and put the map on their websites, Sun says. Advertisers will be able to buy addresses and put their brands there. And Web surfers can see all the entertainment in a neighborhood with one click, rather than the several it might take on a site such as Yelp.

Sun's takeaways from "The Apprentice" might help him in this venture:

L.A. is a big city. Maps help.

Small groups "can do a tremendous amount of work in a small time." Sun has only 11 employees.

It's important to know your brand, as Trump told him many times.

One potential lesson that Sun didn't name: Stay solvent. Trump Entertainment Resorts Inc., the casino group that bears the Donald's name, filed for bankruptcy protection Tuesday -- for the third time. Trump, who quit the firm's board last week, controls 24% of its stock, the filing said.

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alana.semuels@latimes.com

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