As LinkedIn inches closer to completing its $26 billion acquisition by Microsoft, smaller rivals have stepped up their game building viable alternatives for those who might want more independent products when it comes to managing contacts in their professional networks. FullContact — one such competitor — has now raised a further $25 million.
The big elephant in the room for FullContact is LinkedIn. Fast approaching 450 million users, the company is one of the bigger players in the area of online professional identity and has become the go-to place for people looking to connect with people in their professional networks. On its own it was already a competitive threat, and its acquisition by Microsoft may be even more so, as it speaks to the bigger company’s ambitions to leverage LinkedIn’s social networking in its own enterprise-focused products, from sales through to productivity services.
But rather than wilting under the obvious challenges that this poses to FullContact and others in the space, FullContact’s CEO has a more constructive view on the deal and what it means for his startup.
“The LinkedIn acquisition demonstrates the power of the single ID and a unified contact record in the ecosystem,” Lorang said in an interview.
The key thing for him is that Microsoft remains a proprietary platform, and LinkedIn has not demonstrated itself to be particularly happy to share its data with the rest of that ecosystem, either. “FullContact’s strategy is to create an open platform that is owned by humanity. We allow and invite developers to integrate with our platform, unlike LinkedIn. It has been rather closed off. They very much want to build a wall,” he added a little mischievously, borrowing a phrase more commonly (and controversially) associated with something and someone else.
Led by Foundry Group with participation from Baird Capital, Shea Ventures and Blue Note, FullContact’s latest round will be used for acquisition — “I see a lot of distressed startups out there in our wider field unable to raise more money for sure,” said Lorang; and also hiring, business development, and adding in new features that will expand FullContact beyond contact management and into new areas.
One of those new features, Lorang said, sounds like a way to use your contact information in FullContact’s database as an identity card across the wider web.
“We have quietly been working on FullContact Connect, our next-generation platform capabilities where you will have your own ID, your own contact record, and you can use it to consume and control content online,” he said. “We are working on that. We do have ambitions.”
Founded in 2010 in Denver (where it is still based), FullContact has built itself out as one of a group of companies that is trying to tackle the issue of managing contacts that you make through your normal business life, as well as growing that list through intelligent searches based on the people you already know, and turning piecemeal contact info into more complete profiles.
The company has its own primary data that it augments with data from across the web, and using algorithms — both built in-house and also picked up by way of acquisition of competitors like Brewster — it merges all of it to create a database of some 40 billion contacts that its users can access. (FullContact does not disclose its actual user numbers, except to say that they are in the ‘millions.’)
FullContact today makes revenues from three categories of customers: individuals, businesses and software developers. It taps the first of these groups via freemium-style iPhone and Android apps that let you do things like scan and digitize business cards and then augment that information with more data about those people.
Meanwhile, the business and developer solutions let third parties tap into FullContact’s database by way of APIs to help create more complete customer profiles. The latter of these is a smart area for the company to develop to pick up developers and others who found themselves in a lurch when LinkedIn shut down similar API functionality in 2015.
Ironically, while FullContact has built its business on the concept of being able to enhance contact information, another area where Lorang also agreed it might move in years ahead might be in helping manage that info for those who don’t want it out in the open.
This is a trend that we see picking up some speed with the recent surge in interest in online privacy and data protection. For example, in Europe, you have the “right to be forgotten” development, where Google and other search engines are required to remove search links on people’s names when requested to do so by those individuals.
“I love the trend of being more transparent,” said Lorang. While Lorang said you can already claim and manage a profile on FullContact, it’s now working on ways of expanding that to other data repositories. “We are just starting to roll out that type of capability to remove yourself,” he said. “You’ll see more from us on this in the next year.”
For now, FullContact and its investors are happy to keep the startup in Denver and well outside the Valley bubble to grow.
“With over 40 billion contact records under management, FullContact was already on track to more than double recurring revenue for the fourth straight year,” said Brad Feld, MD of the Foundry Group, in a statement. “The funding will be used to support the company’s rapid growth by further expanding sales, marketing and engineering as well as pursuing strategic acquisitions that bolster our technology and data assets.”