Yesterday I had the chance to talk to Jigsaw CEO Jim Fowler. Part LinkedIn, part Wikipedia and part Hoovers, Jigsaw compiles user-generated contact information for business professionals. These data are invaluable to salespeople and recruiters who wish to bypass the gatekeepers that stand in the way of their targets, according to Fowler.
Fowler contends that he doesn't directly compete with LinkedIn, however, and that adding a social networking component to the site would be at odds with reaching his target market.
"In a social network, you want your identity known and to openly share contacts and meet people," he says. "Salespeople [conversely] get paid to call people they don't know and ask them for money. It's socially awkward, so it's not conducive to a social networking model." The shared contact information is therefore done on an anonymous basis and those who share contacts are identified only by screen names.
Supplying this coveted contact information for business professionals (sometimes C-level execs) has indeed proved rare and highly valuable to salespeople who don't have a centralized place to find this info. The numbers speak for themselves, as the site has 131,000 registered users and 4.3 million contact records, the number of which is growing at a rate of 12,000 per day.
The company has interestingly followed a popular trend toward online social search and user-generated content. However, it is applying UGC to an area in which it is easier to motivate participation than it is in places where it has already been used, such as local ratings and reviews. Local social search sites have faced challenges in incentivizing user participation and building a consistent library of reviews across listings categories (some sites, such as Yelp, Insider Pages and Judy's Book, have found creative ways to deal with this challenge, however).
UGC is a natural fit for Jigsaw's model because of users’ high valuation of this content and their inability to get it anywhere else. To motivate users to share business contact information, the company has developed a point system where users can only access contacts if they share the equivalent amount of contacts. This has been a driving force in building its vast and quickly growing records library. There can also be points gained for updating false or old information that any user comes across. This addresses a common challenge and major expense in business information databases (such as Hoovers or even InfoUSA) of ongoing data maintenance. Users’ constantly policing this data (with an incentive to do so in this case), brings in the advantages of a wiki.
The site has recieved some flak for breaking social contracts for how contact data should be shared, to which Fowler responds that this information is mostly public and that the site takes down any contact when requested (which is rare, he claims). Further, the site doesn’t list home addresses, cell numbers or personal e-mail addresses (Gmail, Hotmail, Yahoo! Mail etc.). "We don’t touch personal information with a 10-foot pole," says Fowler.
The site has a few monetization strategies represented by different price points. Any user can register for free and begin accessing business contacts by gaining points (sharing contacts). There is also a $25-per-month price point, which buys a package of points. For time-constrained professionals who value this information highly, points can be bought in bigger packages. These companies or individuals — typically salespeople or recruiters — can spend up to thousands of dollars per year to buy this access.
The next step for the company is to use its information to enhance the business databases of CRM systems, which are highly dependent on updated contact data. Fowler foresees this as a cash cow for the company and a big initiative on its horizon. Lastly, the site has a big opportunity based on the unique profiles of its users and its behavioral tracking abilities — to serve targeted advertising. Further, Fowler foresees offering points to users for providing detailed demographic information, which can then be used for more acute ad targeting across the system.
The good news, according to Fowler, is that revenues have been so strong from sales alone (undisclosed amount) that there hasn't been a need to integrate ads yet. There is a lot more to the company’s model, and we’ll keep watching to see how it unfolds. You can sign up and browse its records database here. If you’re as narcissistic as I am and you look up yourself first (kind of like Googling oneself ), you’ll likely find that you’re already in there.