With a staff of 33 developers and data scientists working in cities around the world and a just-closed, oversubscribed $1.25 million from high-profile investors, PredictifyMe
is getting ready to bring its predictive analytics platform to major retailers, insurance, education and healthcare companies.
If this Raleigh company sounds familiar, that’s because it grabbed national and local headlines in March when it inked a deal with the United Nations
to provide its software to schools in Pakistan, Nigeria and Lebanon, helping them predict and prevent suicide bombings. The company has a culture of social impact, and will continue to execute on that partnership as it expands into the commercial market.
But today’s news is all about bringing analytics never before used or understood in business to the fingertips of marketers and sales teams, educators, insurers, human resources managers and more, eliminating the need for sophisticated data scientists and many other existing tools.
The team and vision was impressive enough to land as lead investor the founder of a $9 billion private equity firm as well as a lead partner at a large Silicon Valley law firm and Miami-based Silver Platter LLC, a member of TIGER 21
, an angel group of high net-worth individuals with the ability to invest $10 million or more in startups. None of the money came from local investors.
Leading the PredictifyMe team is Rob Burns (middle in photo), a serial entrepreneur who started a healthcare-related research company that grew from three to 100 people in eight offices around the world in the mid-2000s. He met co-founder and chief data scientist Zeeshan-Ul-Hassan Usmani (pictured left) during the prestigious Eisenhower Fellowship in 2011 and the men stayed in touch as they moved on in their careers (Burns into venture capital, Usmani to launch his predictive software for Pakistani government use).
Prior to the fellowship, Burns had moved to Raleigh for “better weather, reasonable taxes and good people” and always wanted to start a company in his new town. In 2014, he got in touch with Usmani to bring the Pakistani man's analytics software to the global commercial market. They brought on as president Marcy Bucci (pictured right), a former GEP, Gartner and IBM executive with deep experience in the supply chain of consumer packaged goods companies. All three founders have a background in retail and they chose other verticals in which they had interest or experience, the customers were early adopters of new technologies and predictive analytics could have "an order of magnitude impact," Burns says.
$315,000 from Burns, Bucci and friends and family helped launch the company in November 2014. They started putting together a team and developing the platform called Hourglass in January.
Burns says that the software his team is building is “dramatically different” from the analytics tools in the market today. It responds to feedback from several dozen soon-to-be clients who say it's incredibly difficult to find the right expertise and staff to make sense of all the data accessible today. Backing this up, McKinsey recently identified a 1.4 million-person shortage in the field of data science.
Most companies are also laser focused on their own data, not on the hundreds of thousands of publicly-available data sets online today—Data.gov alone has 132,000 sets. Part of the secret sauce of the Hourglass platform is that it can both determine which data sets are most relevant to a client's problem or challenge, and makes sense of that data with a simple user interface.
“What clients realize is, 'Wow, we had no idea there was that much data out there that we can use to augment our analysis,' It’s already slightly overwhelming and that makes it massively overwhelming,” Burns says.
Part of PredictifyMe’s job is to educate on the potential of the data. For example, for retailers, the platform can help identify where buyers exist today and where they will in five years using demographic, income, household size data along with building permits (to see where construction is occurring), educational level data (depending on the product they're trying to sell) and historical consumer purchasing data.
For human resources managers, PredictifyMe could help predict when employees are going to leave, which potential employees might be the most successful or which are cyber risks because of their behaviors online. The insurance industry is a target too—the software can help determine the optimal customers for a firm’s offerings.
And for educators or vendors to that industry, the company already has a project underway to look at the impact of technology adoption on student outcomes, and long-term, on the economy of a city or state. So far, that work is happening overseas.
The investors will be helpful in landing future customers, Burns believes. The private equity investor and lawyer prefer not to be identified and partners at Silver Plate weren’t available for comment.
“It substantially elevates the level of financial sophistication and credibility both domestically and internationally,” says Burns, who only planned to raise $1 million but took an extra $250,000 when his lead investor brought his friend, the lawyer, to the table.
And though Burns doesn’t plan to raise money any time soon, if ever, that Silicon Valley investor “can make connections very easily on the West Coast.”
The next steps for PredictifyMe are to get the platform in the hands of at least three paying customers this summer. To do so, Burns is taking an agile development approach by sending teams of developers and data scientists to vacation settings to work together to complete iterations of the software quickly. There’s a team of nine people working now in a lake house in Sri Lanka. Similar sprints will happen every three to four months.
He's also working to build a culture of global and social responsibility and awareness within his fast-growing and moving team, as well as in the communities in which PredictifyMe operates.
"We're going to open offices in developing economies and we're going to service markets that are emerging—we have a core philosophy of treating everyone with respect," he says. "We'll be active in the ecosystems we're involved in. We will mentor on university campuses. We will teach a class or two. And we'll work with other startups to help them understand the global ecosystem they are operating in."