Company Connecting – Internet Dating for Companies
Janice Grant-Shaw has a natural skill in finding the patterns hidden within big data.
“I’ve often said to people that there are those talented artistically and musically but, actually, my talent is data,” she explains.
As the former managing director for a software products and services company, Janice has used her knowledge to create Company Connecting, a directory which helps businesses to find the perfect IT firm to suit their needs.
“I use the phrase ‘Internet dating for companies’ – people either love it or they hate it,” she laughs. “Some people think that’s downgrading the whole thing and trivialising it, but I thought it was a really good way of explaining it.”
The idea for the business came to Janice in her previous job, when they were looking to go overseas and sell their products. But after struggling to find a resource to help them with the process, she decided to create her own.
Janice first looked to Companies House, and downloaded the records of 100,000 Scottish firms in search of more information. By filtering them by SIC code, an indicator of their standard industrial classification (SIC) of economic activities, she was able to narrow down the list to 8,500 businesses with IT-related codes.
From there, Janice began to log and categorise each of the firms in such a way that their attributes would be easily searchable. “So if I wanted to know about a company that was working in a particular sector and used Salesforce, for example,” she explains. “I wanted to have that level of granularity.”
During this process, Janice found that almost three-quarters of the firms listed were non-functional in some way – either as contractor vehicles or firms which had not been fully, or correctly, set up.
She adds: “We eventually ended up with 2,000 companies in Scotland which are working in the IT sector. We reckon that’s probably around 75-80% of the companies – there will be others which haven’t categorised themselves properly via Companies House, and there’s an awful lot of other companies which maybe do work in Scotland but are based in England. But if you really want to know about companies that affect the economy in Scotland, then we have the information on that at a very, very granular level.”
Soon after, a partnership was formed with the University of Strathclyde and a grant was secured from the Scottish Funding Council, enabling the development of a full prototype. Several months of work later, and Company Connecting had grown into a minimum viable product – a still in development beta-test, which had already attracted its first customer.
However, as more information was added, the possibilities for its uses began to grow. “It’s evolved into a significant source of information on the IT landscape in Scotland,” Janice explains. “This could help the government with what areas they could be looking at, or find the hotspots for where various things are and who’s doing what.”
These wider implications of the product have also helped Janice to expand on her original idea of helping firms find an IT company. “That concept is still very much there because I think it’s really important for IT companies to be able to find one another for any reason,” Janice says. “I also considered that large companies would use this resource because often they find it difficult to innovate themselves and are looking for these micro companies with really good ideas.
“So the concept for Company Connecting was that it would be a showcase for these companies to say ‘We’re here, look at us, this is what we’re doing.’ The other idea was that large companies would be able to come onto the site and say what type of technology they are looking for, and the user base would be able to respond to them.
“That is all still there, but the fact that I’ve now got this tremendous resource of information, and also I’m from looking at it from a very different perspective and realising, with the feedback I’ve had, that perhaps people need a little bit of help in trying to figure out exactly what they’re looking for in IT, because many people are not informed. So what we’re moving onto now is assistance with guided searches.”
Janice gives the example of one of her first Company Connecting customers, who was setting up a new business and needed a website designed. “I actually did this over the phone with him, I was in Italy on holiday,” Janice laughs. “He’d gone onto Company Connecting and then contacted me and asked for a bit of help. So you can imagine sitting by the swimming pool in Italy and doing this over the phone.
“He was describing to me what it is he wanted, and I said there was a degree of complexity there. So we searched on financial services, as companies who worked in that sector would have been similar. Then we searched on web design and then on business-to-business,” Janice adds.
The search resulted in four companies, which Janice’s customer then reviewed, finding himself with a choice of two which he felt would be able to do the work for him. “It only took us a few minutes,” she says. “He said himself, although he’s very knowledgeable in the IT sector, to be able to do that could well have taken him several weeks to speak to companies and get pitches in, which is quite a bit of effort.”
Janice also has ambitions of growing Company Connecting into countries across the world, including the slightly unexpected technology hotbeds of the Netherlands, Estonia and Romania. “Sam Altman, who heads up [seed fund] Y Combinator in California, says ‘Go niche, do it really well, but be able to repeat that niche,’ so that’s what we’re doing,” she explains. “We started out in Scotland because we’re based here, and also because it’s a reasonably sized market and is manageable.
“The intention is to roll out Company Connecting elsewhere in the UK on a region-by-region basis. The interesting thing is that the total size of the UK market is huge, and the companies registered in Scotland in IT are probably between 5% and 8% of the total IT companies in the UK, so the rest of it is a big, big jump.
“There’s a lot going on but I think, first of all, going with Sam Altman’s advice, Scotland is the first niche. We’re there, we just want to do it really well, and showcase to people what we’ve done so far.”
This article was written by James Wyllie and was first published in Scottish Business News here
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