Infinite Analytics: Small Company, Big Data, Bigger Ambition
Infinite Analytics: Small Company, Big Data, Bigger Ambition
Conceived at MIT, and backed by internet pioneers and global investors, Infinite Analytics hopes to tap the ecommerce market with the promise of real-time predictions of consumer trends and preferences
A knock on the door changed the fortunes of a fledgling big data analytics start-up. Stranger things are known to happen at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in Boston, but for Akash Bhatia (37) and Purushotham Botla (39) it was serendipity. It was July 2013, a Friday evening. The business management students were at MIT’s entrepreneurship centre, Martin Trust, discussing how to raise capital for their seven-month-old company when a gentleman knocked on their door asking for directions. It was venture capitalist and co-founder of Taipei Angels, Chester Ho.
Curious about their work, Ho started questioning Bhatia and Botla about the business plan they were working on. Before leaving, he asked them to send him a pitch. A month went by and with no capital in hand, their start-up, Infinite Analytics, was facing an uncertain future. But 45 days later, Ho replied with a cheque for $90,000 from Taipei Angels. Infinite Analytics got the financial wherewithal to ramp up sales and hire employees.
Founded in December 2012, Infinite Analytics is a cloud-based big data company that predicts consumer behaviour based on information shared by users on their social networking sites. Since July 2013, it has acquired nine investors—three institutional and six individual or angel investors from Australia, Taiwan, India and the US; a rare feat for a start-up.
Over 90 percent of start-ups in India die within two years of inception due to lack of financial support. In the Silicon Valley, the mortality rate is lower because of the strong entrepreneurial ecosystem, which includes a large base of angel investors, start-up incubators, accelerators and seed funds.
Infinite Analytics analyses raw data, maps out a person’s social genome and then gives personalised recommendations to consumer brands that have an online presence. This information, which is collected without breaking privacy laws, allows a retailer to identify and recommend products that will appeal to a customer.
Bhatia and Botla developed SocialGenomix, a tool that combines a person’s data from social networking sites to create a detailed profile of the customer including age, location, interests, places frequented and even spending power.
Most ecommerce retailers offer consumers the easy option of purchasing products by simply logging into their social networking accounts—Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and other such sites.
Users prefer this route over creating yet another profile with a username and password and, in doing so, they allow SocialGenomix to collate relevant information from their social networks and profile pages.
Simply put, a company such as Infinite Analytics gets access to personal information when people use their social networking IDs to log into a retail website that uses products like SocialGenomix.
“The social genome that we create within milliseconds—based on publicly available information about a person through social networking sites—is our biggest differentiator,” says Akash Bhatia, co-founder and chief executive officer, Infinite Analytics, which works out of Mumbai.
The start-up uses different techniques to predict user behaviour, including natural language processing, machine learning, semantic technologies and predictive analytics. It processes the data in real time. Within a span of 24 milliseconds, it sends out recommendations based on a user’s changing preference. Infinite Analytics has processed 95 million users, 5.9 billion attributes and claims to provide a 17 to 25 percent increase in customer site engagement for clients.
This social genome created from a user’s profile is of huge interest to consumer businesses, particularly those that rely heavily on correct and relevant recommendations to customers for conversions of clicks into sales.
Bhatia and Botla developed SocialGenomix at MIT in a class taught by British scientist Sir Tim Berners-Lee who is credited with building the foundations of the World Wide Web when he was at CERN, Switzerland. Berners-Lee is now an advisor to the company.
Among those backing the firm in an individual capacity is Deb Roy, a tenured professor at MIT and chief media scientist, Twitter. Roy was the talk of the town last year when he sold Bluefin Labs, a social TV analytics company—which he co-founded in 2008—to Twitter for $90 million.
Infinite Analytics focuses on consumer and media sectors, and it is this similarity that drew Roy to invest in the company. In an email interview, Roy says there are similarities between BlueFin and Infinite Analytics in that they both work with data to predict trends. “I think there is huge untapped potential in this space,” he wrote.
Since its inception, the start-up has eight clients in India including Salman Khan’s Being Human, Croma (electronics), FabIndia (ethnic clothes, furniture), Gitanjali Gifts, Harlequin (books), RoomStory (home decor), and fashion retail brands SquareKey and Zovi. It is currently in talks with at least four potential clients, including the US-based Chocoley. Infinite Analytics works on a revenue sharing model and gets paid a percentage of the sale for every conversion it makes.
Satish Mani, founder and chief technology officer of online fashion store Zovi, says, “About 20 percent of our sales are through recommendations. We are constantly trying to improve that conversion rate.” Zovi has been a client of Infinite Analytics since February 2013, and has found that sales have improved. In the competitive ecommerce market, retailers find that matching consumer goods to a potential customer’s sensibilities, translates into more clicks.
Deepak Srinath, director of the Bangalore-based investment bank Allegro Capital Advisors, says that most online brands are either trying to build such capabilities themselves or are hiring those who can do it for them.
“Interpreting data meaningfully and offering correct recommendations is extremely challenging. Many are wildly wrong, but those who get it right can make it very big,” he says.
The start-up’s survival and success will depend on the ability of its founders to innovate, and the power, speed and accuracy of their algorithms. And they have competition not only from big companies such as Oracle and IBM, which are firmly entrenched in the business, but also other start-ups that are eyeing the growing market.
Apart from global heavyweights, the Indian big data space is also seeing the fast growth of relatively newer companies such as Mu Sigma and Fractal Analytics, which offer advanced analytics to multinationals across the world. (Advanced analytics refers to predictive analyses that firms can use to drive internal changes and operational improvements.)
Bhatia says big companies in this space are mostly services firms providing advisory and consultancy services, and pose little or no threat to Infinite Analytics. “We are a product company, and unlike services firms that consider past transactions to understand behavioural patterns, we are real time and quickly adapt to the changing preference of a shopper real time,” said Bhatia.
Today, the start-up’s priority is client acquisitions, not funding. The media is the next most important area of focus for Bhatia and Botla. An increasing number of people are looking for news and content that reflect their preferences and interests. Infinite Analytics is testing an app that will help readers source personalised content.
Early this year, a US-based analytics firm approached Infinite Analytics for an acquisition. The founders declined, though they will need to provide exits to its investors at some point in the future. With companies like Twitter becoming more bullish in acquiring tech-related media firms, such an exit might just be possible. “We have to give our investors an exit like the one Roy had when Twitter bought BlueFin. The thought that someone like Twitter will buy us is always there, but no one can plan that,” says Bhatia.