I have a confession to make: I'm a little obsessed with Crunchbase. When I'm working on a digital disruption project and trying to predict what the future is going to hold, I always turn to Crunchbase, which calls itself "the leading destination for company insights from early-stage startups to the Fortune 1000," as my guide.
At this year's Collision Conference, I had the pleasure of talking to Jager McConnell, Crunchbase's CEO, for the FUTUREPROOF. podcast, about the company's ambitions. You can listen to the entire episode here:
McConnell explained to Crunchbase's long-term objective: It is trying to be the master record of companies on the internet. "There's no place on the internet where you go to always look up company information," insists McConnell. "If I said resumes, you'd say LinkedIn, if I said products, you'd say Amazon, friends-- probably Facebook. But if I say companies, it's a weird thing that doesn't exist, and that's what we're trying to go and build. What we're trying to do is help people connect to companies."
The reason that Crunchbase is considered such a fantastic resource is due to its wealth of diverse data sources. Years ago, the site used to be entirely based off of contributor data. While there is still some data coming in from contributors, Crunchbase has developed 3,500 partnerships with venture capital firms all over the world to share their portfolio data, which means that the site has checks and balances between the community and the VCs. Even that's still only about a third of Crunchbase's data; the platform also sources information itself, using a combination of internet crawling and machine learning, which acts as further ballast against community-reported data.
The final third, explains McConnell, comes from Crunchbase's own data team: they go out and double check suspicious data systems, say, "This doesn't look right," and apply any relevant fixes. Another team overseas keys in the data, cleaning it up in the process. By doing so, Crunchbase ensures it has "a pretty unique and high-quality data set for the sorts of data" it tracks, as McConnell puts it.
While Crunchbase sells value-added services to companies in their data, they do need to avoid a problem that has often impacted Yelp: the review site has long been criticized (rightly or wrongly) for helping businesses who advertise on their platform suppress adverse data. McConnell recognizes that Crunchbase has to balance its role as a for-profit enterprise with its position as a trusted database. Obviously, the platform's management never want to get to the point where people distrust the information they see on Crunchbase out of fear that it's only there because a company paid to put it there - but at the same time, the only way that Crunchbase can continue to provide a valuable service is if it can generate revenue.
That being said, McConnell is quick to emphasize how important truth is to the company's business model. "It ruins us if we're no longer the source of truth," he says, "so we're going to do the best we possibly can to be telling you the truth. We're never going to let the company come in and say, 'Here's $100 [to impact profile data].' That's not our business model."
With respect to business models, McConnell is glad that Crunchbase is focused on delivering the best possible information on companies, as opposed to humans. "That's not a primary thrust for us," he explains. In fact, he would prefer to find partners that can provide that data so Crunchbase can better focus on its primary objective. Including company founders and the C-Suite is probably relevant to Crunchbase company profiles, but including the janitorial staff of each company? Not so much.
McConnell understands that it's his job to look at the 44 million people coming to Crunchbase and figure what they want - if they're looking for companies to partner up with, acquire, invest in, work for, pitch to, etc. But he is also actively figuring out the other side of the equation: what companies want from Crunchbase's users. Right now, organizations that want to find companies who provide specific services are limited in how they can find and reach out to those companies; often, it's a matter of doing a Google search and hoping for the best. What Crunchbase hopes to do is to create a network that allows companies to broadcast what they're looking for and makes it easier for other companies to respond to those requests.