What businesses do I target as customers? Who are they currently working with? What are the next industry trends? Where do I turn for funding?
These are all questions you might ask as you scale, find new sales prospects, and embark on competitive research. Finding information on publicly-traded companies is relatively easy, but finding details in the start-up ecosystem can be more complicated.
I sat down the Jager McConnell, the CEO of Crunchbase at the Collision Conference this year and he explained the company's plans to evolve from an online directory to a dynamic marketplace, where businesses can find out which suppliers a company is currently using and when those contracts expire (so they can prepare to pitch at just the right time).
The company is all about current data, aggregated and sorted for ease of use. Each week, you can see top line summaries of funding deals, growth industries, and acquisitions. But you can drill down to see much more detailed information. McConnell describes the platform as the "connective tissue between people at companies," designed for and powered by humans.
To grow from its current base of 44 million to 400 million users, McConnell says that Crunchbase will not only continue to add new data sources but also "to develop a better understanding of what users are looking for."
When McConnell took over the company about two years ago, he also made a commitment to build a diverse and genuine organization, going so far as to publicly reveal his mobile phone number.
Connections are a common theme of McConnell's philosophy. He built Crunchbase from 20 to 70 people, applying the philosophies he liked at his previous employer Salesforce, but abandoning others.
The San Francisco-based company recruits talent from both enterprise and consumer-focused companies like Workday, Salesforce, Google, and Twitter. McConnell says when recruiting new hires, he always asks himself "Are they joining for the right reason?" He prides himself on building a cross-generational team, in which 45 percent of the employees are women.
"I've built a culture from scratch," McConnell says. "I don't rush to hire people. I wait until I feel pain, but not too much pain." He confesses that he still functions at times as the internal IT department because he has yet to find the right executive to own that part of the business.
But competition is heating-up in the battle to own the source of start-up data. Other companies are scraping and reselling Crunchbase data and some are scrambling to build similar proprietary data feeds. After all, data is a commodity and whoever can deliver the most accurate and comprehensive data will lead the market. But McConnell stated in an interview on Medium, "Don't compare yourself to anyone, ever."
Investors and analysts may also soon be evaluating companies based on factors like diversity and public reputation and those measures may become a market differentiator -- rather than just financial performance. Although Crunchbase has a first mover advantage in the data aggregation industry for start-ups, whoever has the most accurate and robust data may ultimately lead.
So, remember as you build-out technologies, users and the talent who work for you are ultimately people and keeping one eye on the data and systems and the other eye on human beings -- and the competition -- is never a bad idea.