Apple's Maps app uses it.  Facebook relies on it for location tagging. And now it will help power Uber's services.

Factual, a behind-the-scenes tech startup in Los Angeles with a monstrous collection of data, has become the go-to source for powering some of the internet's most popular location-based apps. Now, partnering with Factual should allow Uber, the $50 billion ride-hailing company, to improve its location services, including the accuracy of its GPS.

"That's one of the things that Uber is good at but is still trying to improve at across many countries," says Gil Elbaz, who founded Factual in 2008. "More data allows a company to refine that capability." 

Uber operates in 70 countries, and many of those regions don't use addresses. In some of those places, Uber's app has used workarounds like letting users snap photos of their locations and send them to drivers. Factual's massive Places database has information from more than 96 million locations--businesses and other points of interest--in 50 countries.

Through a spokesperson, Uber told Inc. that the partnership will improve accuracy for riders and drivers and help improve its food delivery service UberEats, as well as UberRush, its messenger service. 

In addition to information like latitude and longitude, Factual's database--which draws from millions of online sources--includes details such as phone numbers, websites, email addresses, and hours of operation. The company categorizes each business, and then stores extra data based on that category, so restaurants will also have information like cuisine types, parking, prices, and whether the place is good for kids. Factual makes it simple for clients to report if any information is wrong, so the accuracy continually improves over time. 

After selling his previous company, Applied Semantics, to Google in 2003, Elbaz founded Factual right as the onset of smartphones led to an increased use for location data. "It so happened," Elbaz says, "that we were starting to build the company right as the mobile app ecosystem started to be revolutionized."

The company secured $27 million in funding in 2010 from VC firms including Andreessen Horowitz and Upfront Ventures, and it's raised $62 million to date. The company won't reveal revenue, but in addition to Apple, Facebook, and Uber, its clients also include Microsoft's Bing search service, and MasterCard, which uses the firm's merchant data.

If the data Factual compiles sounds similar to the information Google collects for its search and map services, that's because it is. The difference is that Google is consumer-facing, while Factual's strictly business-to-business model means that other companies can access its data without fear that Factual will build an app that competes with it. This helps Factual's data set grow, since those clients are willing to provide information back to the company.

"We're committed to not building apps and not going after eyeballs," Elbaz says. "That's really helped with our partnership development." And it might explain why the average consumer hasn't heard of Factual--but many of the world's biggest tech companies certainly have. 

Published on: Jun 15, 2016