If the explosion of social media in the past decade is any indication, it’s probably safe to say that modern human beings like to share their thoughts online about pretty much everything these days.
We post on Facebook about our favorite meals or movies we loved or hated. We Tweet about our problems with the cable company, and we Instagram about new products that we spot at the grocery store. We post on Urbanspoon about our experiences at local restaurants, and we’re quick to review the things we bought on Amazon.com.
Fayetteville-based startup DataRank realized there’s a business to be built around capturing these opinions that we so readily share on the vast social media networks and online message boards.
That business – of listening for and then packaging that data into usable consumer insights for companies – appears to be booming.
What is DataRank?
The premise behind DataRank is actually pretty simple. The company mines information from a variety of online sources, from publicly available social media posts to the reviews on consumer sites like Amazon.com or Walmart.com. They then package the information in an easy-to-digest format for their customers – mostly large consumer product companies – to use as they see fit.
The company tracks data using a multi-dimensional approach, taking into account relevance, sentiment, social interactions, influence of the communicator, and other factors of the communication. Their biggest competitive point of difference, according to co-founder and CEO Ryan Frazier, is the way they organize that data in usable ways.
The real world uses of the data are far reaching. Instead of conducting expensive focus groups to gauge public reaction to a new product line, DataRank customers get those same consumer insights from information that people freely post on the web.
The model works best for bigger companies, mainly because there’s a larger availability of data around morely widely-distributed products.
Currently, the company works for a host of the world’s largest brands. Names like Clorox, Con Agra, FootJoy, and Epic Games are some of DataRank’s clients.
DataRank began in 2011 when recent UA graduates and company founders Frazier, Chuong Nguyen, and Kenny Cason decided they wanted to return to Fayetteville after leaving shortly after graduation.
“We really like the culture here, and we saw a lot of startup rumblings forming that we thought would be fun to be a part of,” Frazier said.
The three friends left their jobs, moved back to town, rented a house together near campus to live and work, and began building the underlying technology and the business model behind DataRank.
Frazier said the company “bootstrapped it” early on.
“When we started, our goal was to be as cheap as possible,” he said. “That’s why we all moved in together, and we funded it ourselves with just our savings for a little while.
DataRank’s success has come quickly. The company grew 350 percent in 2013 over the previous year, and more big things are on the horizon this year.
In February, the company raised $1.4 million to further develop their online dashboard.
The company now employs 13 engineers and sales/customer service positions in Fayetteville, and two employees that work outside the market. It has already outgrown its 1,000-square-foot office on Church Avenue, and will soon triple its space after moving into a new office above Maggie Moo’s on College Avenue.
“We definitely have been doing a lot of hiring,” Frazier told us. “We have a vision for another product that we know we want to build, so we need more additional engineering to help us build that faster.
“On the sales and customer support side, we’re growing sales so we have to grow support as well because they definitely need and want that.”
The perfect home base
Frazier said that despite the fact that DataRank recently hired a sales position in the New York market, and has operated an office on the West Coast, Fayetteville is the perfect place for his company.
“As far as startups go, there’s a lot of community here for companies like ours,” he said. “There are companies like Acumen Brands that become mentors to the younger generation of entrepreneurs like us.”
Being centrally located in the U.S. helps, with several major metro markets within a few hours drive. And with nearly 1,400 Walmart-related consumer products companies with research teams in northwest Arkansas, it helps to be just down the road.
“With Bentonville being so close, you see an opportunity to be in Fayetteville to be near those companies,” Frazier said.
“Plus we really like it in Fayetteville,” he said. “We’re invested in the area now, and we plan to stay here.”