Siri, show me fintech companies, founded in the last two years, that haven't raised over the past year but have grown headcount by 100% in the same time frame; and can it be founded by Stanford alumni whose Twitter traction has grown by at least 50% in the last six months?
This is Harmonic’s vision; well, only if you swap out Siri for Harmonic’s text-based startup search query tool. The data platform, led by Max Ruderman and co-founded by Bryan Casey and
Ajay Sohmshetty, thinks it can help executives discover the next big startups without hundreds of hours of manual sourcing and research.
Harmonic is a more specific version of its largest competitors, Crunchbase and PitchBook, which aggregate and organize private startup data. “We go out and look at every nook and cranny of the web where there might be information about companies and we take that structured and unstructured data and figure out how to merge it all together into some canonical representation of a company,” Ruderman told TechCrunch.
Harmonic’s aggregation differentiation, per Ruderman, is the intelligence it uses to help recognize which public data is more accurate for certain fields, and then merges those sources to develop the “most accurate, fresh representation at any point in time.”
Harmonic joins a flock of other startups trying to make venture more data-driven, transparent and equitable. In theory, algorithmic investing hedges against investors’ preconceived notions and pushes emotions to the side. Fintech unicorn Clearco and venture firm SignalFire have spent years implementing data-focused investment processes, joined by AngelList and Hum Capital.
In a landscape where investors are re-learning discipline, data feels safe. But, as other solutions have matured, the cleanliness and reliability of said data has come into question. (One founder even played a prank once, listing that Andreessen Horowitz was an investor in his startup on Crunchbase; when other investors piled on looking to put money into his upstart, he explained it was a joke to show the poor quality of data on the platform, reports Bloomberg).
Another question to consider is if Harmonic truly helps investors break out of their pattern matching tendencies, or just helps reinforce already existent values.
"The core thing is the way they searched for [the ideas they believe in] now is more implicit than explicit, meaning they lean on their networks a lot, right?," Ruderman said. "The associates, networks, and the partners and their alumni networks…they work with founders that are already in their portfolio companies that can help connect them with other people. Step 1 is just bringing all information about all companies into our index so that when they are doing that search explicitly, they end up finding lots of companies that meet that criteria that they may not have identified through their networks."
Ruderman admitted that data reliability and consistency is one of the hardest problems to get right -- and that their strategy is a big differentiator for them. “We’re able to keep data up-to-date at scale, and merge together fragmented bits of structured and unstructured data from all over the web with confidence,” Ruderman said, adding that its main measure of success is an internal score they use that captures freshness, inventory and taxonomy.
When asked for more specifics on how they gain an upper edge on freshness, Ruderman didn’t share many specifics (and given that it's a competitive moat, I’m not too surprised by this). He also said that pricing will evolve as the product evolves, but currently the startup charges licensing and API usage fees.
Ruderman's background adds some color to why he is confident in a better way to search. The co-founder was at Google for around six and a half years -- with his last role being a senior software engineer on a team in Search that was all about building tools to help Google do UX research and design at scale. Before that, he spent time learning about behavioral economics in the people operations department, technical infrastructure on the business intelligence team, machine learning on the finance team and, ultimately, Search.
So far, his direction and the company behind him has landed Harmonic at least 150 customers, including SaaS startups such as Brex, Vouch, Notion and Carta, and venture firms such as Floodgate, a16z and Accel. Some of those early adopters have even turned into the startup’s largest investors. Harmonic announced today that it closed a $23 million Series A round led by Sozo Ventures, with participation from Craft Ventures, which led its $7 million seed round last year. Floodgate, another customer, was Harmonic’s first investor.
"By creating a really powerful discovery tool in venture, it lets capital flow out to more innovation in a more efficient way...if we bring this to sales teams, it lets teams bring their service and push forward at the right time," Ruderman said. "And then eventually, we want to make it the case that talent can find startups to match their talents, driving startups forward."