Jim Fowler first took on the likes of Dun and Bradstreet as CEO of Jigsaw, which used crowdsourcing to collect and curate business contact data, and now, after selling the company to Salesforce.com in 2010, he has launched Owler, which wants to take on competitive intelligence providers through — you guessed it — crowdsourcing.
"We want Owler to become the go-to place for business professionals when they need information about companies," Fowler said in an interview.
Information on business should also be interactive and continuously updated, something that isn't possible with a static report, Fowler said.
Interactivity is the difference between Owler and InfoArmy, which was the startup's original name. InfoArmy used a network of researchers around the world who created company reports that got updated periodically.
There was little demand for the reports, forcing a strategic change last year.
Owler takes a two-fold approach to competitive intelligence, delivering it in a browser or through a new mobile application.
Users choose which companies they want to track and then Owler delivers business news roundups about the companies via email or the app, along with breaking news alerts to their phones.
The other component is Poll Builder, which Owler members can use to create polls about companies they're interested in learning more about. Users who view company profiles can then answer the polls.
For example, a yes-or-no poll on Oracle that appeared on its Owler profile Wednesday asked whether the company would take market share away from Salesforce.com this year.
As soon as the user chooses a poll answer, the aggregate results pop up on the screen and another poll quickly appears.
Users can choose to skip polls if they desire, but the polls' simple design is intended to keep people clicking, building up a larger and larger pool of data and presumably, more reliable results.
Where Owler's approach gets trickier is with respect to privately held companies, which don't have to disclose much about their finances or operations, unlike publicly traded ones.
When it comes to polls that ask questions such as how much revenue a private company pulled in last quarter, the results should be placed in the right perspective, according to Fowler.
"We're telling people, this is what the market thinks," he said. "At a bare minimum, it's going to get the sentiment."
About 4,000 people took part in a private beta for Owler, and the more people who sign up, the more reliable the poll data will become, Fowler said.
The Owler mobile app is now available for iOS devices and will be released for Android "as quickly as we can get it done," Fowler said.
There's no charge to sign up. Owler plans to generate revenue in a number of ways, such as by selling the raw information through an API (application programming interface) or selling demographic data obtained through the polls.
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