More and more, consumers are looking to the web to make decisions about nearby services, but the data is often incomplete or absent entirely. A number of companies have emerged to solve the problem, but with only 10% of businesses posting information online, it’s still a pain point for consumers. Firms like Locu found early traction in digitizing restaurant menus while larger projects like eBay’s Milo have sought to make brick-and-mortar inventory searchable online.
One of the newer plays is Centzy, a year-old startup that is looking to bring businesses’ pricing and store hours online via a self-built crowdsourcing platform. It initially launched in three major metro cities, but has since expanded to 10, and aims to go national by the end of 2013.
Street Fight spoke with the Jay Shek, the company’s founder and CEO, to discuss how the startup is growing in today’s local data space, why it avoids restaurants, and where the local data industry is heading.
Your goal has been to scale Centzy from a few major metros to the whole nation by 2013. How is progress going so far?
We’re working to expand our coverage nationally as soon as possible. We’re really growing in two directions: we’re growing geographically, and in terms of depth. This includes covering more data points about each business category, and a deeper menu of services. There are different challenges to scaling for each, but we’re working on both.
You’ve said that Centzy could gather all the data for Dallas, Texas, in one week. That’s pretty ambitious. What’s your strategy?
I think how we’ve gotten a sense of where we’re going is a response to the challenges that we’ve been seeing in the local ecosystem. Instead of scaling city by city, which can be extremely difficult for a lot of startups, we scale category by category. Each new category takes us a lot of effort to get into, but then we scale it geographically very easily. We’re basically seeing if this new approach will be more effective in the long-term, but works well in the very beginning.
Over half of your traffic now comes from mobile searches. How has this huge mobile shift impacted the local data and search industry?
I think that mobile changes consumer expectations a lot. In addition to just shifting from desktop to mobile, consumers just have higher expectations and are more impatient. There’s less tolerance for inaccurate and incomplete information, and there’s more emphasis on providing a useful, clear design. They just want to find what they’re looking for —whether it’s a set of store hours, a price, an address, a set of reviews — and to get on with their day.
Initially, people looked at mobile and their first instinct was to scale back the functionality and limit the amount of data presented because it gets too cluttered. But now they look at [mobile as an opportunity] to give people just what the need, and figure out what things they couldn’t do on a desktop before. Everybody’s kind of moving that way.
How do you feel Centzy fits into the current search and local data ecosystem?
People have compared us to other data plays like Locu and SinglePlatform, but we’re really focused on the consumer space. We’re betting on the value proposition that useful and objective data (such as prices and store hours) will draw consumers. And we’re trying to tackle part of the market that needs more help. We intentionally chose not to cover restaurants because there’s already about half a dozen companies already doing really useful things there, so it’s a solved problem. We want to help people find businesses and categories that aren’t well-covered.
Where do you feel the local data space is heading?
One big problem is the standardization of business categorization, basic business information, services, and other areas. For example, in other industries like travel, they’ve standardized information about flights so it can be shared across different departments and networks very easily. It’s going to take a very long time, but I think standardization is a huge thing.
The other thing is, I think that right now the majority of big data centers that you see are people sucking data from a couple of major providers, often based off of traditional data sources, which are very inefficient. You see a lot of companies that used to buy datasets that may already be outdated by the time they buy it. Now they’re actually engaging merchants to add and update their own content, often in real time. Then they channel it to all these partners and other players in the system, like search engines and directories, very quickly. I think that that’s going to be the future: real-time updates and information directly from the merchants.
Max Antonucci is an intern at Street Fight.