A “big data” company helps small businesses target sales

    By Adrienne Burke | Small Business

    The Radius Intelligence team in San Francisco

    Small business owners may be interested to know that a fellow entrepreneur has raised more than $18 million from investors, including $12.4 in a funding round led by American Express this week, for technology that makes it easier for salespeople to find you and, if you sell to small businesses, for you to find customers.

    Radius Intelligence is the brainchild of Darian Shirazi, who gained notoriety at 17 as Facebook’s first intern and later dropped out of college to start his own company. Descended from entrepreneurs in Iran—one set of grandparents imported fabric to make and sell clothing and another re-manufactured brand-name products such as Nivea and PertPlus for the local market—Shirazi says he grew up thinking about the needs of small businesses.

    He also had a bent for big data. So at 21 he set out with his two Palo Alto, Calif., roommates to build a knowledgebase that would help small service and product suppliers better target their sales.

    Since 2010 Radius has amassed an unmatched collection of integrated data documenting the existence and activities of 22 million small- and medium-sized U.S. businesses. Using Web crawlers and other custom tools, the company continuously searches a raft of sources for information. Online news, Facebook pages, Yelp reviews, Foursquare check-ins, Instagram photos, Twitter mentions, Groupon offers, banner ads, government license reports, and LinkedIn accounts are all founts of data about the size, health, and needs of businesses.

    “There’s no reason social information can’t be used as a metric,” Shirazi says. If you’re a brand new restaurant, you might not be in Dun & Bradstreet but you will have a reputation on social media, he notes. Radius data can indicate to a vendor which companies are growing, which are shrinking, and which are the most worthy targets of sales pitches.

    Shirazi says the tool levels the playing field for those who sell to small businesses. “If you’re AT&T you have a team working on prospecting. If you’re a small tax consultant, you’re basing your business totally on referrals ... or you buy these lists, spreadsheets, or data from Infogroup or Dun & Bradstreet,” he says.

    Subscribers to Radius data can run custom searches using any combination of 100 parameters to target their sales. For instance, the database can provide a list of hair salons in a given geographic region that don’t accept credit cards and have increasing foot traffic. Or, Shirazi says, “If you’re a local TV station and you want to find potential advertisers, you can ask Radius to show you all delis on New York’s Upper East Side without a Facebook page that pay for advertising.” Once created, that list is stored in Radius and updated as new businesses that match the query are identified.

    Subscribers who pay monthly to access the service include “hundreds of seats” from small businesses and “a bunch” of Fortune 50 companies that are vendors to small business customers, Shirazi says. He points to one user with a 15-person sales team that has doubled its success rate by calling 300 prospects per day pulled from Radius lists. “Before, they were just cold calling. Their efficiency has doubled because their calls now matter,” Shirazi says.

    Not only is the aggregated data useful for sales, but it’s also a barometer of the small business economy and potentially a source of small business survival advice. “We have metrics internally that show things like a business that does a daily deal is more likely to fail,” Shirazi says, or that “businesses that have websites are more likely to be successful at retaining customers.”

    What if your small business is not among the 22 million tracked by Radius? While acknowledging that his crawlers aren’t perfect, Shirazi says being overlooked by Radius might indicate that “the business is not doing a good enough job of making itself known.” He intends to introduce a tool that would allow business owners to check for their own listings and add themselves if they want to be included.

    “My dream has been providing a platform of small business data and building products on top of that,” he says. “Eventually, we want to be most trusted source of information on small businesses.”

    For an animated explanation of Radius Intelligence, see this video.

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