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The next wave of US start-ups are coming

Nick Booth went to San Francisco to get introduced to some firms that hope to make a real impression in the UK market and with British partners

The San Franciscans are the masters of juggling scarce resources. Demand exceeds supply on everything -  water, living space, venture capital - but somehow they always find a creative solution. Even apartments are virtualized, with people sharing sofas at $3000 a month.

All this resource planning expertise is applied to their work in developing better management systems for the cloud. These systems will inevitably be launched in the UK, through channel partnerships and the UK players who get in first on these deals usually make a handsome profit.

MicroScope went to meet some of the new generation of tech pioneers.

Metadata is a small start-up (two men and some hired developers in Ukraine) which makes one of those ‘demand generation’ systems that help you sell more effectively. Its founder Gil Allouche claims it goes further than existing sales funnel systems, like Marketo and Eloqua by getting all the information that matters – like who really influences a buying decision – and automating the process of targeting them. For example, your contact at a client site might be Johnny Hipster-Beard, the IT enthusiast who loves your product, but the real buying decision is made by his boss Colin CIO and their joint nemesis, Fiona finance director.

Metadata finds out what each of these three characters is thinking, by trawling 20 information sources (including all the metadata on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn) and finding out what they’ve been saying and to whom. That information helps you focus your sales targets and avoid the people you’ll never succeed with – according to what their putting out on social media. The ones you do want to target can then be bombarded with adverts which follow them around wherever they go on social media – a process which Metadata makes more efficient by buying ad space in bulk and automating the media buying.

If that sounds a bit Orwellian and devious, Metadata is only harvesting information we were stupid enough to put in the public domain in the first place. All the information is out there already, says, Allouche. Metadata has just automated the process of using it to target your sales.

“Homeland security knows everything about you already,” says Allouche, “Customs officers only give you a hard time at the border because they want to make you feel safe.”

So Metadata just uses all this public information to help clients make better sales campaign decisions, on the strength of all the bad social media decisions made by the customer. 

Another San Francisco start up, Anaplan, has invented a slightly less sinister system that improves decision making.

Founder Michael Gould despairs that in many companies, planning is still done on spreadsheets. So he designed Anaplan to be a more robust, modern, multi dimensional system that helps you slice and dice everything – from salesmen’s commission to territories, from data center resources to the building of 4G network cells. All this cross referencing will eventually make you realize things that weren’t apparent when you were poring over one dimensional spread sheets, according to Gould. HP used it to help plan its sales force and keep them more motivated.

Talking of impossible tasks, Patrick White, founder of Synata, has set out to improve enterprise search. This is a well that was poisoned by the Autonomy controversy, but people are still wasting precious time at enterprises – and making wasteful buying decisions – through ineffective internal searches. White’s idea is have agents and algorithms shadowing your every movement at work. The search system then makes an instant judgement of the sort of person you are, and automatically configures your web search, using your online behaviour as the criteria.

This might not have any value as an enterprise search tool, but it’s a great way of shaming people into concentrating on work. Online shopping and swapping filthy jokes by email will be a bad idea if they start to show up on your search profile.

Maybe that’s the secret application for Patrick White’s invention. If you spend too much time on your computer doing stuff that’s not suitable for work, you’ll be mortified when you find out what the system thinks of you. This Synata system could be a great tool for shaming people into keeping their private lives out of the office.

MicroScope suggested an improvement. Why not let users tell the system what sort of thing they want, instead of being judged by a set of Stasi-like algorithms. Wouldn’t that be a lot simpler, and less brutal? And what about a Goldfish search, where the system allows you to research your holiday, but instantly forgets you ever had this conversation, so it’s not permanently on your work profile. Synata says it’ll be including these improvements in its next version. Now that’s what we call a fast moving, adaptable company.

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