Models of Excellence Winners Share Love of Data and Some Key Strategies

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After speaking with all four Models of Excellence winners for this year’s Business Information & Media Summit, I can confidently say three things:

– Becoming a data company allows you to expand perhaps easier than most other businesses.

– Old-school meets new school for these companies. While their paths to glory can sound quite high-techy, their strategies also involve talking to customers, publishing blogs, meeting face-to-face with employees, and finding parking.

– Don’t miss their presentations on Wednesday, Nov. 11, at 3 p.m.

For 13 years, the Models of Excellence (MOE) program has answered one question: Who is re-setting the standards for data excellence? Each year, InfoCommerce Group reviews the data industry landscape to identify the products that are pioneering or perfecting new business models, exhibiting best practices or offering technological innovation.

And by hearing them, BIMS attendees also win.

The parking solution doesn’t only pertain to Parking Panda, which I wrote about a few weeks ago and continue to see getting more partnerships with venues. Trucker Path also wants to solve a parking problem, for truckers who may come upon a full-up rest stop.

Quorum apparently wants to solve any problem a legislative person has ever had, federal or state, and they just may do it. After loading all bills, votes, press releases, floor statements, caucuses, committees, and staff contact information from the U.S. Congress, they’ve set out to now cover all 50 state legislatures.

“The great thing is that having built this underlying infrastructure, it’s easy to add more information,” said Quorum co-founder Alex Wirth. “It requires more work to write scrapers and process and present algorithms. But it’s not like we’re copying/pasting or doing anything by hand; it’s all done automatically.”

Joseph Musacchio, founder and CEO of People Ticker agrees. “Once you have the formula, you can accumulate the data,” he said. “For us then it’s the combination of global growth and local touch that’s most important.” He calls it “glocalization.”

Here are quick glimpses of Quorum, Trucker Path and People Ticker:

Quorum – the young are the restless

After 15 minutes speaking with Wirth, it is hard not to be impressed. Not so much by his age—he and co-founder Jonathan Marks are in their 20s—but about the way they’ve gone about things.

Working on Capitol Hill after graduating from Harvard, Wirth spent time talking with potential users about what their needs are. He ran into challenges first hand. “I recall talking with lots of our current clients and prospective clients,” he said. “They would talk about hand-tallying bills—checking hundreds of pages of hard copy. Or they would compare two versions of a bill by eyeing them.

“I knew we could help. Part of what made us so successful is that we worked hard to ask, ‘what are the challenges you’re facing?’ Instead of just let’s build stuff for the sake of it. You learn what the problems are for people by going out and talking to 30 people in the industry.”

Among those pay­ing Quor­um’s an­nu­al sub­scrip­tion price are Fortune 500 companies like Toyota and General Motors, law firms, lobbying companies like the Podesta Group and the Glover Park Group, and four con­gres­sion­al of­fices. As for their secret sauce, Wirth—the great-nephew of former Colorado senator Tim Wirth—said that three big things make them unique:

1. They have the most comprehensive database of tweets, press releases, census information, Facebook posts, and data mission. “We have 800 million points of data,” he said.

2. They’ve built a quantitative analytics layer that members work with for the issues they work with.

3. They’ve put it all into a really easy-to-use interface—one that is very accessible.

Most of the Quorum staff are or were Harvard students—if they are now they’re taking time off. Wirth said he has “an incredible network of mentors” to help guide him.

“We’re still working on the product—we’re going from Washington, DC to all 50 states now,” Wirth said. “How do we add more productivity tools and functionality tools. How do we make a difference?

Trucker Path – dates and data

“The best way to describe us is an online dating service for loading trucks,” said Charles Myers of Trucker Path. “Looking at available loads can be like looking for a date.”

Trucker Path’s app has been downloaded more than 800,000 times, and 450,000 users deploy their navigational aid app. “We’re mostly catering to the truck driver—over the road, hauling regional or long haul,” said Myers. “Our average trip is 750 miles. It’s not a navigation platform. It’s more like a travel app. Sometimes I use it between Richmond, Va., and Selma, Alabama.”

The free app highlights pilot truck stops and rest areas, as well as general points of interest. It’s monetized through advertising. Advertisers can not only highlight themselves, but provide special offers as well. Users are alerted to advertiser offers based on proximity.

“We’re putting the power of the computer in the palms of truckers’ hands,” Myers said. “There’s a severe parking shortage for truckers. For a car, it’s no big deal. But a truck has to have lots of space. What we’ve done in the app is crowd sourced it. For example, say you’re driving down the road and you see a pilot truck stop. You can look at our app, find the pin and get all kinds of information on the stop—how many showers and if there’s even parking available.

“For this particular industry, it’s difficult to penetrate the driver market. We’ve used different companies to help us try to get the word out. It becomes more of a viral marketing effort.

They’re also working on a marketplace that would be more of an Uber-like platform. The users would be brokers and shippers—each would have their own private network. To support all this, Trucker Path has a “robust” support center of 60 people, including many developers.

“This issue [of parking for trucks] is so critical that a government task force started to look at it,” Myers said. “In this industry data is king. Fortunately, we’re a data-driven company.”

People Ticker – glocalization and disruption

Joseph Musacchio
 is fun to talk to probably because he says he’s having fun. “I really enjoy this; I just love the startup world,” he said. “And disrupting the industry a little.”

He also says things like “original skills village”—an advisory team that evaluates various data for them—an “Italy compensation team”—they add information about Italy—and yes, that “glocalization” word.

“You don’t want to have an American company in Brazil,” he said. “You want to open a Brazilian company in Brazil. To get powerful globally, you want to get local.”

People Ticker aggregates salary and labor rates for direct and contract workers worldwide, allowing employers detailed and dependable insight into market rates. They collect salary and hourly data for both direct and contingent workers globally and in real-time, aggregating over 100 million rates.

“We have really evolved in the last year,” Musacchio said. “We used to be an internal tool for a business process outsourcing company—creating internal analytics for clients. Then a couple years ago, we decided to bring it to the world. Collecting more data was not difficult; parsing the data is the big challenge.”

The idea, Musacchio says, is that with many search engines, eight out of the 10 people returned to you in a search aren’t what you are looking for. “Say you’re looking for a project manager, a lot of software will bring you to a person who has worked on the project and happens to be a manager. But our process is much more sophisticated, our proprietary parsing technology will always bring back a project manager.”

They will bring you directly to the right item—or person in this case. They cover 16 verticals in a number of countries. They have a simple approach—if the client wants to pay for it, they build it. The disruption comes because they are giving out prices or opening up the staffing industry “playbook” for the client, but Musacchio says they are validating rates and creating a better-working market.

Initially they thought we were opening the playbook, but we are trying to help the whole industry to have access to true market pricing.”

He believes in sitting down with his employees, “finding out what you’re doing, what you’re seeing, how you fit into the cog,” he said. “A mentor of mine for years used to teach me management by walking around. Every day he took a stroll and sat at [a person’s] desk.

“I’ll also talk to [our virtual employees] quite often. I like picking up the phone. ‘What did you do today?’ I’m not really one for ‘I’d like to have a chat with you—can we schedule this?” (I hope he excused me for doing that.)

Musacchio believes that the key to today’s business model is creating inbound calling for demos or needs. “It’s a viral world,” he said.

He added that “we all need advisory committees” and loves crowdsourcing models. “People aren’t wrong. What’s the show? Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? The studio audience is right 95% of the time. So we put out questions to the crowd: What’s the next big skill? What’s the next disruptive job? What jobs are going extinct? I think that’s fun.”

So what do the customers think? “We are seeing tremendous interest in our product. We believe that we are rapidly becoming the defacto standard filling the void in the industry’s ‘how much’ question.”

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Ronn Levine began his career as a reporter for The Washington Post and has won numerous writing and publications awards since. Most recently, he spent 12 years at the Newspaper Association of America covering a variety of topics before joining SIPA in 2009 and SIIA in 2013 as editorial director…