Turning Data into Action: An Interview with import.io CEO David White

Turning Data into Action: An Interview with import.io CEO David White
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In Too Big to Ignore, I explore a term that's been gaining in popularity and increasingly affects our lives: Big Data. There's no shortage of large and small organizations are on the Big-Data train. Among this new wave of technology companies is import.io, a London-based startup rapidly making a name for itself as the must-have tool for enterprise. Last year the company bagged a number of awards and opened up a second office in San Francisco. I recently sat down with iCEO and cofounder David White to find out more about this exciting startup.

PS: What problem are you trying to solve?
We recognized a fundamental problem in business: if knowledge is power, how do you get more knowledge than your competitors? The Big Data conversation clogs up news headlines whilst the practicalities of how exactly you go about getting this data is often glazed over.

The Web is the largest source of data in the world, a single 'public portal' where people consistently display their up-to-date information. Every time we take an action online we are revealing what motivates and interests us, producing a vast amount of data-any company would be insane not to take advantage of this. When broken down and analyzed correctly this information can improve incremental sales and better inform product development. Obtaining this raw data is key to beating the competition. Previously, there were two ways to harness this data: write complicated code, or spend your day copy and pasting - a lot. We wanted to allow the flow of data within companies to be smooth and quick, without having to rely solely on the IT department.

PS: That makes sense. Tell me how it works.
DW: Over the past two years we have developed a web app that allows anyone, regardless of technical ability, to quickly structure data on the web-and turn it into an API. But what does that mean? Using our point and click interface, you select the data of interest to you (for example, all the urls, images, prices on a website), and after a bit of training, our web app automatically picks up similar data across the website. Now you can copy and paste ready-made code into dynamic apps or view multiple sources of live data in one single dataset. That's pretty powerful stuff, and until now, it was impossible.

PS: Tell me a bit more about who actually uses the tool.
DW: This is the day and age where, quite literally, everyone is consuming data, so we have an incredibly vast user base. There are two ways you can get data using import.io get it yourself using our web app, or we can build a Big Dataset for you. A Fortune 500 company will want live data streaming from tens of thousands of sources so departments can chase fresh leads, keep track of competitor pricing or analyze potential outcomes. Our team gather the web data and put into a neat little package, displayed in a single interface, so you can consistently view up-to-date information.

Then you have the people who use our app: Designers, developers and analysts desperate to start experimenting with new and exciting ideas. A web designer no longer has to reply on a friendly developer to write the code to get the data they need. Instead, they can sit with a sandwich over lunch, grab some data and play around with a cool idea for an app. Or maybe there's a bigger ambition behind the data. Our good friends at Oxfam use import·io to get live data on local food prices to compare alongside online news stories. They analyze the data to predict when and where food shortages might happen in order to provide better aid. Data is not longer just about big companies - or talk of NSA - it has the potential to help change the world.

PS: How do you actually make money?
DW: Good question, and one of my favorites, as the answer is always met with a look of disbelief. Our app is completely free with up to 250,000 real-time calls per day (this is a huge amount of data). We recently released our pricing model will include a 'Pro' account with premium support for $150 per month. Then we have our 'Enterprise' level which will be a bespoke data package.

Yes, we realize that it's very cheap, given the volume of data you can get through the system. So, how can we afford to do this? Simple, our platform has been built to scale. We have spent a lot of time engineering the core of the platform to be very efficient which means that we can run the service cheaply and effectively. That means we can spend more time building a product that delivers quality data to everyone.

PS: What do you see in the future for your company?
DW: Everything from the next generation of wearables, journalism, higher education and enterprise will rely on the versatility of web data to feed killer apps and uncover incredible insights. Data has become the everyman's tool for business insights, the must-have for anyone who wants to remain competitive in their industry. Companies and individuals that truly understand the potential of data, extracting and using its predictive value, are set to be the big winners over the next five years. At import.io we aim to be at the centre of this growth, helping people gain the competitive edge by getting the right data, that's affordable, and can be merged seamlessly into your current system.

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