BIIA reported recently that Jim Fowler had launched Owler.com from the remnants of his failed crowdsourcing concept InfoArmy It is amazing that there are still private equity companies who are enamored to back company profile business concepts, notwithstanding the fact that the field is getting crowed and is occupied by well entrenched competitors.  BIIA has discovered a number of interesting comments about the launch of Owler:

Owler-LogoPC World writes:  “Jim Fowler first took on the likes of Dun and Bradstreet as CEO of Jigsaw, which used crowdsourcing to collect and curate business contact data, and now, after selling the company to Salesforce.com in 2010, he has launched Owler, which wants to take on competitive intelligence providers through—you guessed it—crowdsourcing.

“We want Owler to become the go-to place for business professionals when they need information about companies,” Fowler said in an interview.  Information on business should also be interactive and continuously updated, something that isn’t possible with a static report, according to Fowler.

Interactivity is the difference between Owler and InfoArmy, which was the startup’s original name. InfoArmy used a network of researchers around the world who created company reports that got updated periodically. There was little demand for the reports, forcing a strategic change last year.

Owler takes a two-fold approach to competitive intelligence, delivering it in a browser or through a new mobile application. Users choose which companies they want to track and then Owler delivers business news roundups about the companies via email or the app, along with breaking news alerts to their phones.  The other component is Poll Builder, which Owler members can use to create polls about companies they’re interested in learning more about. Users who view company profiles can then answer the polls.  For example, a yes-or-no poll on Oracle that appeared on its Owler profile Wednesday asked whether the company would take market share away from Salesforce.com this year. As soon as the user chooses a poll answer, the aggregate results pop up on the screen and another poll quickly appears. Users can choose to skip polls if they desire, but the polls’ simple design is intended to keep people clicking, building up a larger and larger pool of data and presumably, more reliable results.

Where Owler’s approach gets trickier is with respect to privately held companies, which don’t have to disclose much about their finances or operations, unlike publicly traded ones. When it comes to polls that ask questions such as how much revenue a private company pulled in last quarter, the results should be placed in the right perspective, according to Fowler.

“We’re telling people, this is what the market thinks,” he said. “At a bare minimum, it’s going to get the sentiment.”  About 4,000 people took part in a private beta for Owler, and the more people who sign up, the more reliable the poll data will become, Fowler said.

The Owler mobile app is now available for iOS devices and will be released for Android “as quickly as we can get it done,” as per Jim Fowler.

There’s no charge to sign up. Owler plans to generate revenue in a number of ways, such as by selling the raw information through an API (application programming interface) or selling demographic data obtained through the polls.”   Source: PC World

Outsell’s Chuck Richard raises some interesting questions about Owler’s Goal to become the LinkedIn of Company Profiles:    “It is the early days in Owler’s plan to become the LinkedIn of company profiles and to displace Google Alerts, but the combination of nearly a million pre-seeded company profiles, wisdom of the crowd’s daily updates, and unique and engaging mobile (and desktop) interface is a strong starting point.

The new release of Owler is Jim Fowler’s third crowdsourcing run, a mobile-first app for “noise-free news alerts, crowdsourced company profiles and community polls.” Fowler’s previous crowdsourcing ventures include Jigsaw, sold to Salesforce.com for $175 million in 2010, and InfoArmy’s short 7-month run that ended in February.  Escaping Commoditization in Company Information, Fowler’s Owler – free to users has ambitious goals:

  • To become the LinkedIn of company profiles – the place professionals go automatically.
  • To replace Google Alerts for business news by using intelligent algorithms to create always-relevant alerts (app-based and e-mail) that are “all signal, no noise.”
  • Provide industry-best, crowd-vetted “competitor sets” for each company.
  • Continually engage “the crowd” and maximize app stickiness with potentially habit-forming thumbs up / thumbs down, “do you use XYZ data or platform”-type user community polls.

Owler’s stated mission is to present traditionally static business information in “an engaging, even fun way by inviting community members to take and initiate quick polls that add depth to company profiles.” The service is available for Apple iOS and a desktop web version, with plans to follow with an Android app. Owler launches with 900,000 public and private companies across all industries, following extensive user interface testing that has refined the app and its interface, and increased usage and favorable ratings by beta test users.”

Chuck Richards continues: “Owler will face several linked assumptions that impact not only its future, but also the entire company profiles market.

  • Primary users are marketing and sales professionals pursuing leads.
  • Secondary users are in financial services, venture capital, competitive intelligence, strategy, and consulting.
  • The key task supported by company profiles is discovering new prospect companies.
  • Traditionally, meaningful portions of company profile and contact information are out of date, incomplete, and/or incorrect.
  • Traditionally, the profiles do not include specific products or services to be purchased, the timing of those purchases, or effective customized services for actually engaging with prospects beyond a phone number or e-mail address.
  •  Integrating company profile information into marketing and sales platforms (including CRM and marketing automation) is messy, as is merging and reconciling new profiles with existing internal profile information.

As serious as these challenges are, items 4, 5, and 6 have quickly become legacy challenges over the past five years.  The proliferation of digital and dynamic lead generation services has begun to seriously erode the growth of the more static legacy company profile and contacts firms.

The flight to dynamic analytics, analytical data creation, and deeply niched services is accelerating the commoditization of legacy static leads providers. The rise in the share of digital advertising now being purchased, placed, and measured programmatically has increased the demand for real-time, digital behaviour-based customer tracking data.

Quote Richards - Company profilesThe new real-time dynamic leads analytics companies are stealing demand and marketing budget from static profile data, resulting in a slowdown in revenue growth of the Company Information segments’ historical share leaders. Outsell’s upcoming Market Size, Forecast, and Trends study documents the extent of this shift.

Owler makes no claims to solve all the challenges above.  It focuses more narrowly on accurate and up-to-date data continually refined by the user community and a habit-forming, attractive user interface on mobile devices, where Owler sees a big unserved hole in the market. The business model is to first reach critical scale and then sell data subscriptions to enterprises and phase in a user-paid premium service option. In these early days, it has not focused on items 5 or 6 in the challenges list, yet we foresee strong growth for participants that do address items 5 and 6.

One other hole in the company profiles market is intelligent competitive sets that go beyond a simple selection of companies that happen to share the same NAICS code. Owler, even in these early days before building the large user base it is pursuing, often provides very helpful competitor lists. And since every company name/logo in Owler is a live link, clicking on these competitors’ logos quickly provides additional potential competitors, all part of the very smooth user interface that tends to draw in the user for extended sessions. (Startup Cosights also has an original approach to competitor sets.)

It is early days in Owler’s plan to become the LinkedIn of company profiles and to displace Google Alerts, but the combination of nearly a million pre-seeded company profiles, wisdom of the crowd’s daily updates, and unique and engaging mobile (and desktop) interface is a strong starting point.  Source: Outsell Insight

BIIA editorial comment:  Owler is Jim Fowler’s third crowdsourcing run.  He had learned a valuable lesson from the failure of InfoArmy.  He was not afraid to pull the plug on the concept and found a new approach by adding interactivity to the concept. 

By using polls he attempts to ferret out company information from private companies, who do not disclose financial and operational data.  This is one of the more interesting and exiting aspects of Owler.  If Fowler succeeds he certainly will have a leg up versus his many rivals.

Stay tuned:  It is about time that someone shakes up the static legacy company profile and contacts market.