Jigsaw Data-as-a-Service: The Next Billion Dollar Player?


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At the recent CRM Evolution / SpeechTek conference in NYC, I caught up with Jim Fowler, the irrepressible founder/CEO of Jigsaw.

For those not familiar with Jigsaw, this is a crowd-sourced information service that provides business contact information. Inspired by Wikipedia, it was launched in 2003 and since then has grown to 15+ million contacts. Users can join for free and acquire contact data by contributing their own contact data, or pay for contacts with a premium account.

Now, as I told Fowler, when I first heard about this idea I wasn’t a big fan. Trading business contacts like pork bellies seemed unethical. Immoral, even. I almost wrote a post like this one by Michael Arrington of TechCrunch—Jigsaw is a Really, Really Bad Idea.

Privacy is an illusion

But social media is changing norms for sharing personal interactions on sites like Facebook and MySpace. And now its impact is being felt on the business landscape, too. Increasingly, most everyone (even top executives) would like to be find-able on the Web, which is one reason that LinkedIn and Twitter have grown so fast.

I’ve also come to realize is that privacy is an illusion. As Fowler points out, your contact info and a lot of your business and personal data is already being collected and managed by other information services. D&B/Hoovers, LexisNexis and OneSource—just to name a few—are widely used already. So what Jigsaw is doing is making contact sharing explicit and managed.

One really Smart Thing that Jigsaw did was to enable any individual to opt out of its service. If you don’t want to be found, you can remove yourself from the Jigsaw directory.

The next Big Idea?

In a nutshell, Fowler wants to be the Salesforce.com of business contact data, used in B2B marketing and sales. And apparently, his investors see huge potential because so far he’s raised nearly $18M in 3 rounds. Fowler maintains that Jigsaw could one day be a “billion dollar player” and says that continued very rapid growth could drive revenue to the $100M mark in 2-3 years, where an IPO becomes more viable.

While Jigsaw does offer premium accounts to acquire contacts, it seems that the main strategy for growth rests on the success of Jigsaw Data Fusion, an automated service to manage (read: clean) Jigsaw contact data and integrate directly into CRM systems like Salesforce.com and Oracle now, and more later.

But both traditional and newer competitors are also eying this opportunity. Last year the venerable Dow Jones acquired Generate for its “relationship-mapping technology and trigger events” capability. Generate co-founder Tom Aley says there is a role for social content, but questions whether the quality will be acceptable.

Then there’s NetProspex—proving that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. The service looks very similar to Jigsaw’s business contact trading service. NetProspex co-founder and CEO Gary Halliwell came from ZoomInfo, another player to watch.

Lessons from Wikipedia

Wikipedia was launched with the Big Idea that anyone should be able to post or edit content. That resulted in explosive growth and development into a mostly useful service that competes well with editor-driven encyclopedias. But there are limitations to this approach, especially when there are conflicting points of view. So recently Wikipedia instituted new editing rules to require “experienced editors” to approve changes on selected pages.

Increasingly, I think we’re going to see these data information services offer a blend of approaches. Social media to generate a lot of contacts at no editorial cost. Crawling technology to mine public information on the web. And traditional editorial services where real humans can add value. Bottom line: Customers are going to be looking for a service that gives them reliable information at an attractive cost.

In short, data publishing seems destined to go through the same sort of wrenching changes as newspapers and magazines. Social and other automated methods have encroached on traditional journalism, but the old and new ways can live happily together in new business models.

So far, it looks like Jigsaw is well positioned (and funded) to leverage social-driven strategies in this market. Jigsaw could become another big player, or get an offer its investors can’t refuse and end up integrated into other large services. Either way, social media will help bring costs down and provide a useful service for marketing and sales professionals.


  1. I have been a strong user and supporter of Jigsaw for approx 3 years now and have found it to be a GREAT advantage to me in the business space. I have many collegues talk about using their competitors, but why? Companies such as D&B, Hoovers, NetProspex, and others actually get their data from Jigsaw! Don’t believe me? Ask them! Why would you pay for a service that is simply getting their data from the same place you could for free?

    From the eyes of a VP of Information Technology and Director of Business Development: I recommend Jigsaw over ANY other data source. Take that Data Dinosaurs!

  2. Doesn’t Spoke do a similar thing?

    The invention of Social Networks could possibly make Jim’s model redundant unless he embraces it. On Social Networks, people (including business people) are happy to not only offer their contact information and other rich data for free, but also fairly frequently type “I need…”, “Who can recommend a…”, “Do you know someone who can…” etc. In other words, express a business need which is a lead for someone else.

    Who needs to buy, or exchange, vast swathes of unqualified contact data when Social Networks provide a mechanism for people to express a specific need to which someone else can provide a solution?

    There’s no sales lead without a business need. Contact data is cheap these days. Real sales leads are where the value is.

    Ian Hendry
    CEO, WeCanDo.BIZ

  3. Ian,

    As someone who has founded a company in a similar space I’m surprised you don’t understand the difference between Spoke and Jigsaw.

    That said, I think it interesting to look at the history of Spoke, especially vis-a-vis LinkedIn. When they started back in 2002/2003 Spoke was the market leader. They were bigger than LinkedIn. Now, LinkedIn is a global brand and Spoke is continuing to evolve its business model and is a fraction of the size.


    Spoke concentrated on sales and LinkedIn concentrated on Recruiting. At the time I predicted Spoke would fail. Professionals will refer people into their networks all day long to hook someone they don’t know up with a job. Referring sales people into your network so they can sell something is socially unacceptable and almost never happens – except for people with huge amounts of relationship capital, like VCs.

    What we do agree on is that getting a referral for a sale is manna from heaven. What I think you’ll find, as Spoke did, is that it just doesn’t happen often enough for 99% of all sales reps to make a number on it.

    At the end of the day sales reps need contact data with which they can contact prospects directly and attempt to establish a relationship. This is the starting point. If you can get a referral you should absolutely do it, but I sure wouldn’t bet my number on it.

    One last point: We do embrace Social/Business networking, but we do it as any good wiki should – by providing a link to the best social networking information commercially available. Every business card on Jigsaw has a link to the LinkedIn profile of the record. LinkedIn currently owns business social networking. As other emerge we’ll link to them too.


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