How can you build a company that's able to sell to Google? The key is not to plan for it. This past week, I spoke to Gil Elbaz, Founder of Applied Semantics and Factual, to discuss his journey throughout the data industry and how businesses can use data to improve the mobile experience. According to Elbaz, "if you spend too much time on the end game, it's unlikely that you'll get there." By focusing on the customers and following your passion for building something important, he believes success will follow.
Elbaz always had a passion for data and sharing it with the world. He wanted to build innovative technology and explore how the digital ecosystem could be different. After constantly learning and improving, he formed Applied Semantics. This software was able to analyze data from a web page and infer what types of advertisements would work best on that site.
The company originally received criticism from traditional ad players because they believed that this wasn't how the world worked. However, everything changed in 2002 when a major publisher started using his AdSense program. Greater traffic was being generated through AdSense, and larger companies were more wiling to take a risk on the business.
One company in particular was more than willing to take a risk on Applied Semantics: Google. Google acquired the company in 2003 and used it to develop Google AdSense. The purchase took the company by surprise, but was a very exciting time and well received by all.
After his experience with Google, Elbaz realized that large companies are establishing massive data moats. While this can be great for "data absorption monsters" and seem great for consumers, the large collections put other major companies at risk, and ultimately reduces the overall pace of innovation. Elbaz wanted to democratize access to critical data so that it could create a more level playing field, and innovation isn't hampered by a lack of access to data. He believed everyone should have access to "Google level" data and was determined to make this a reality.
Factual is a data company with neutral positioning that collects, analyzes, and then shares data with other companies who would not have access to this information. Through various engineering efforts, data is taken, mashed together into data sets, and then improved upon. The company gathers information about real places and transforms it into valuable APIs for other software and app companies to use in their own products.
Factual's neutral strategy is one of the many factors that makes the company so unique and successful. The company truly has the industry and consumers as its top priorities. Elbaz believes that the best way to impact the industry is to partner with multiple companies that sell advertisements and support all of them instead of competing with them. Its neutral stance allows Factual to focus on what it does best- data and data solutions.
Recently, Factual has enabled companies to look at the data it has on them and update or modify it. It created a data contributor program that helps to scale the gaining access to data. Elbaz noted that Factual is the most important place that businesses want the right information in. If data on a company isn't in Factual, it can be a concern for that company.
Factual has helped countless developers create richer mobile app experiences for their users. For example, Factual just partnered with Uber to help the app with its location accuracy and other services. Allowing an app to analyze location history over time can help a company learn unique properties about its users and better target the overall experience.
Factual has become a dominant powerhouse on a global scale, operating in 29 languages and 50 countries. There is no high-quality provider outside Factual that can provide a global data set.
Factors that helped get Factual to where it is today:
1. Understanding that data companies cannot be an overnight success Within the data business, it's not possible to have overnight success. While some apps can become trendy and viral overnight, the data industry is a different world. This is because the processes of cleaning, sorting, and structuring data stacks are lengthy and take a lot of time and effort.
2. Inferring if data can be trusted Elbaz notes that one of the most difficult things to acquire as a data company is the ability to infer if certain data can be trusted. A lot of information can be malicious, spammy, or erroneous, which could flaw the entire data system. It is crucial to be able to recognize which data is pure and accurate.
3. Instilling a large technical team Having a large technical team is a huge aspect in leveraging multiple approaches to detect faulty data. Elbaz noted that 70-75% of the Factual company is technical. This is mainly because the DNA of the company is put into resources to help solve the company's most difficult problems. When operating on such a large scale, an automation system needs to be put into place. Without a technical team to help, it would take too much time to go through all of the data Factual receives.
Although Elbaz has made incredible achievements throughout his life, he feels like he is just getting started. The opportunity to make data accessible and easy to integrate is limitless because the entire world is going mobile. Everyone wants to directly engage with real-time customers. Giving others access to data can help foster that communication and impact any mobile experience. "If you are going to serve your customer, you should know your customer." Understanding location data is one of the fundamental components every company should know about their customers. With Factual's help, businesses around the world can get to know their customers a whole lot better.