The goal of Factual is at once hugely ambitious and unexpectedly humble: to be the steward of the world's information. That means amassing data on subjects about which people need data, standardizing it and making it accurate. But unlike consumer-facing data giants like Google, Factual works quietly behind the scenes enabling other companies--even tiny startups--to offer sophisticated services to their users.
Founder and CEO Gil Elbaz--who as a child poured over stats on everything from sports to economics to weather--would love to aggregate data on everything. As a business model that's a stretch, so for now he's focused on the vast location industry. Factual's database runs to 70 million businesses and points of interest across 50 countries in 29 languages. "You can't find another provider out there that will give you a global database of every place in the world," says Elbaz, whose previous company, Applied Semantics, was acquired by Google and created what is now Google's AdSense.
The result, he hopes, will be a world that ultimately operates on close-to-perfect information. No more dialing wrong numbers. No more making lunch dates at restaurants that start serving at 5. "There will be so many mistakes that the next generation no longer makes and won't be able to fathom how people once did," says Elbaz.
Factual compiles its data from millions of online sources: as many as 500 might contribute to the record of a single restaurant. That record might include dozens of attributes ranging from address and phone number to details about prices, cuisine, and the chef. "The data quality is very good because underneath the covers we generally have thousands of data points about each business," says Elbaz. "We clean them up so clients don't have to see all the complexity. You don't need to know every incorrect phone number someone has given for a business."
Major companies such as Bing, Yelp, and Groupon license Factual's data. Factual makes no consumer product so those partners aren't threatened by its scope. The company charges for its data on a sliding scale: Even startups with scarce funds can use it. Factual also helps clients create apps that deliver "personal, relevant, contextualized information," says Elbaz. Essentially, Factual takes latitudinal and longitudinal data collected by clients from their consumers' regular usage and marries that with its own deep knowledge of locations to produce predictive capabilities. For example, if Factual can tell that a consumer spends a lot of time at locations it identifies as hiking trails then that makes it easier for the app developer to suggest weekend activities.
While the location market will keep Factual busy for many years to come, Elbaz imagines other verticals, including information on physicians and products. "At Google I saw this great company that was helping people organize information. But they want the whole game for themselves," he says. "I want to build a company that makes the world's information accessible so that any other software developer, advertiser, publisher, can tap into it to further their own goals."
Robert Scoble, startup liaison officer at Rackspace and author of the prominent Scobleizer blog, says Factual could potentially have a "deep impact" on the mobile-developer community. "As we head into this age of context, where wearables and sensors are going to be mixed with mobile phone data, you need to know a lot about where you are or start from zero," says Scoble. "Factual lets you build a really robust app with this location data.
"They're underneath a lot of the apps in the world," says Scoble. "But no humans know who they are."