At Lightspeed, we talk a lot about entrepreneurs that have the “X-factor.” The X-factor is the uncanny cleverness and ingenuity an entrepreneur possesses that gives him or her the ability to capture the power of an idea and transform it into a incredibly valuable product…and ultimately an incredibly valuable company. The rare breed of entrepreneurs that possess the X-factor are called X-men or X-women.
One of my early encounters with X-men was with Gaurav Dhillon and Diaz Nesamoney who transformed the data warehousing industry at Informatica. Data warehousing at the time was a services-intensive business where most projects failed. Enter Gaurav and Diaz. They reasoned, why build a massive intergalactic data warehouse and why do it by using code? They went to business department heads and said: “Forget about waiting for the corporate data warehouse initiative. With our product, define the analytics you want and be up and running with a data mart in 90 days.” Gaurav and Diaz transformed the data warehousing market overnight. Competitors followed suit over the next couple of years. Showing their X-men powers, they then announced the ability to weave their data marts together into large data warehouses. Gaurav and Diaz had anticipated this move and built the right architecture in their data marts right from the start. Competitors could not readily re-architect their products especially with their existing base of legacy installations. Game over. Even after more than 20 years, Informatica still dominates the space.
Enter Vincent Yang of EverString. When I first met him two years ago, I knew I was in the presence of an X-man. Vincent was a mathematician who grew up in China. After graduating from Jiao Tong University, he went to work for JP Morgan in Hong Kong and then was hired by Summit Partners to prospect (cold call) investment opportunities in China. After some exploration, Summit decided not to pursue investments in China but told Vincent he could keep his job and call on U.S.- based companies. The problem was that Vincent’s English wasn’t very good and he had to compete against his colleagues from Yale, Princeton, Stanford, etc. But X-men are not easily deterred, and Vincent responded by using his mathematics background to build a software system that combed the web and applied algorithms to uncover investment prospects. Instead of making 100 calls like his colleagues to find an opportunity, he would only have to make 20. Vincent thrived and had a very successful career at Summit.
Then while at Stanford Graduate School of Business, Vincent took this basic idea and thought why not apply this to any B2B company — use data science to help any B2B company identify its best customer prospects. That was the genesis of EverString. Using his X-man vision, Vincent saw that leading scoring was just the tip of the spear of a much larger opportunity. He built an architecture which anticipated the bigger follow on ideas. That allowed EverString quickly to introduce predictive lead generation capability — not to just score leads, but to generate new leads. Competitors have tried to cobble together a competing offering, but are held back by their underlying architectures. This vaulted EverString into a leadership position early on.
A number of months ago I got together with Vincent over breakfast. He revealed to me his concepts for EverString’s next move and some breakthrough data science that could make it reality. Over the next few months, Vincent and his extraordinary team honed the ideas into a ground-breaking new product. Today EverString is unveiling it: the EverString Audience Platform. (You can read more about it at www.everstring.com).
With this new platform, the B2B marketer defines a segment (i.e. audience) he/she is pursuing and the lead scoring and generation is all performed vis-a-vis that segment. This is essential because marketers work everyday — from positioning to messaging to creative to targeting — in the context of segments. Before, leads were scored or generated in isolation, and marketers could not then act on them in concert with their day-to-day activities. The new product greatly enhances the power of lead scoring and generation. Extending beyond that, EverString uses data science and machine learning to discover new segments that a marketer may not be aware of explicitly. For instance, a marketer may be simplistically marketing to segments defined by geography and vertical. EverString’s data science uncovers segments that are delineated by the target customer’s growth rate, increases in hiring, use of a competitor’s product, or other dimensions that may not be obvious to the marketer. By targeting these segments, the precision and effectiveness of marketing activities is greatly increased.
With this breakthrough capability, EverString will be able to expand its markets, increase customer value, expand price points, sell higher and broader in customer accounts, and accelerate sales cycles. Vincent, the X-man, has changed the game again, catapulting EverString forward and creating separation from competitors. This is the work of X-men — peering into a murky emerging market, capturing the essence of customer needs, and continually innovating breakthrough products that create sustained market leadership.