How Mattermark created a premier information database on startups and private companies

Mattermark has created a go-to service for information about startups and private companies, curating relevant data for experts and investors.

Image: Mattermark

A simple web search can show you almost everything you want to know about a specific public company. Information on private companies, however, can be much more difficult to find.

With the advent of private company markets such as the NASDAQ Private Market, and the growing popularity of young tech startups in the media (e.g. The Social Network and HBO's Silicon Valley) widespread interest in private companies is on the rise.

Mattermark, a company that CEO Danielle Morrill said has been described as a "Bloomberg terminal for startups," is capitalizing on private company popularity by aggregating and curating all the available data on startups that they can find.

"Investors in the public market have these great research tools they can log into to get a view of what's going on at any given moment, and that's a lot harder to accomplish with startups," Morrill said.

The company is currently serving thousands of customers and has over $1 million in projected annual revenue. The funny thing is, the company started out with a completely different mission in mind.

Creating value with data

The Mattermark team originally set out to build a media company. They quickly realized that they couldn't compete with other tech news organizations on the latest and greatest startups, so they wanted to write about companies and tech trends that were up and coming, but that no one had heard about yet.

Morrill and her co-founders figured that they would be able to find more up and coming companies if they had more data on private companies, so they built their data collection process and list of companies for that reason. They didn't see many story options, but they did notice that a lot of people were asking for data, many of whom were investors. So, they decided to follow that rabbit hole instead.

"The value we can create here with data is much higher than the value we can create with content," Morrill said.

So, they launched early with a minimum viable product (MVP). Mattermark was a pivot out of another startup, so it had a few hundred thousand dollars left. At this point, the team tried to build the company with revenue, instead of fundraising again so early.

Image: Mattermark

Morrill said the idea was to stay together for a year and work on the product. So, the co-founders paid for an apartment up front so, even if they couldn't pay their salaries, they would have somewhere to live while they worked on Mattermark. Morrill describes the company as nontraditional. She said it has been profitable at times, and it has 25 employees now. Morrill said that, while she recognizes Mattermark is a startup, it doesn't feel as much like a startup.

"We know we have a viable business and now, when we talk to investors, it's very, very clear what their money is going to be doing. If they give us money, it has goals. It's not a guess," she said.

The company has raised $3.4 million, and Morrill refers to its most recent round as a second seed round. She said that the team intentionally raised money from people who were already customers of their products, including heavy hitters such as Andreessen Horowitz, NEA, Y Combinator, Felicis Ventures, and Flybridge Capital Partners.

"We've raised, primarily, from people who pay us already," Morrill said. "So, when we go to raise from them, they know that they are going to benefit directly from us putting this money to work."

Answering questions

One of the goals with Mattermark is for users to be able to get answers to specific questions surrounding a particular private company or type of investment. For example, being able to determine which companies raised a series A financing round in Q3 of the previous year. Plugging that same question into Google will return a slew of articles, but not a specific answer.

"Mattermark has their pulse on the startup industry," said Doug Feirstein, a co-founder at Hired. "Their product aggregates great data that you could not get all in one place with other analytic and business intelligence tools. In addition, they have built a beautiful dashboard that makes it easy to filter and search on the data."

Mattermark customers are using the data primarily for investment research and business development. They use it to figure out which companies they should call on, or what companies are in a particular stage so they can target them early with their specific products.

The type of data that Mattermark provides could be useful for mergers and acquisitions (M&A), recruiting, partnerships, sales, and marketing. Fundamentally, Morrill said, most folks involved with startups want to know if the company is healthy and if it's going to be around for the next few years.

"At Hired, we have used Mattermark for valuable insights on the marketing, sales and data science team," Feirstein said. "The customer facing people we've met with know the product inside and out, which is unusual to have such an educated salesforce at an early stage company."

Image: Mattermark

Mattermark licenses AngelList and Crunchbase, as well as crawling the web and news for data. A lot of data sources are dirty, especially Wikis, which requires diligence on the part of the Mattermark team. To manage data sources, the team built a mediation layer to check data against multiple sources and flag pieces of data if they don't match up. If it's wrong everywhere, that can make the cleaning process more difficult. Funding data is regulatory, so it is much easier to verify.

The team regularly takes samples of data and contacts companies to see how dirty a particular set of data is. The biggest challenge is categorizing a company into the sector or vertical it subscribes to, which Mattermark is using machine learning to better deal with. Obviously, the team trusts some sources more than others, and they can programmatically account for that.

"What we see is there's a massive inefficiency in the world around the companies that get notoriety, and also the companies that get funded," Morrill said. "So, what's exciting to me, personally, is I think I look at data everyday that no one else has seen."

The site was built with Python and MySQL on the backend; and PHP, HTML, JavaScript on the frontend. The majority of the infrastructure is built on AWS. According to Morrill, they ping customers for feedback on what features will make the product more valuable, and they use that feedback for features and updates.

The company follows a subscription-based model. Plans for an individual, professional user are $499 a month per user, entrepreneur plans are $99 a month per user, and enterprise plans for teams start at $1,999 a month.

As the company grows, the founders are realizing that the Bloomberg analogy isn't big enough.

"The ultimate outcome for Mattermark to be successful is that it will be the go-to place for business people to ask the questions that they can't find answers for on Google," Morrill said.

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