Anyone who works in tech knows the value of foresight — the ability to predict the next startup unicorn or sweeping industry trend. CB Insights, a New York-based intelligence platform, was built around this idea and has found success through its unique ability to predict the future of the tech market — backed entirely by data.
The seven-year-old company analyzes millions of data points from across the web on venture capital, patents, companies, partnerships and news mentions. Today, their resources are frequently credited in media outlets and over a million people subscribe to its newsletter. With over 140 employees and hiring, we visited CB Insight’s Midtown office for a behind-the-scenes look at what working for a high-growth, high-potential startup is really like.
We caught up with folks from their content and engineering teams, including Senior Research Analyst Kerry Wu, Analyst and Writer Deepa Varadharajan, Full-Stack Developer Jake Weiner, Software Engineer Shisi Wang and VP of Engineering Mike Bruni. If you’re looking to join the team, check out their open positions here.
What is CB Insights? What are some of the problems you’re solving?
Kerry: We look at the world of startups and venture capital financing and bring a structured data approach to it. I think as we’ve grown, we’ve also evolved beyond that to shine a light on all of the emerging trends in tech, whether it’s startups, patents data, upcoming industries or new developments by existing players.
Shisi: Information on public companies is almost everywhere on the internet, but we’re focused on private companies. The private market has a lack of data so we mine company websites, news article and patents to transform this information into a score so our clients can understand why we are a unique pioneer in this field.
Mike: We’re solving a very challenging technology problem because public companies publish all sorts of information about their doings and private companies do not. The underlying technology we have allows us to get this data, process it and package it up. Now, we’re working on scaling and providing analyses on top of that.
What brought you to the company?
Deepa: I was interested in data journalism and I thought this would be a great place to hone my data and writing skills. I also wanted to know more about startup culture, investment trends and the latest technological innovations.
Kerry: I come from a consulting background. One of the things that I love about our team, and the company as a whole, is that we don’t really have an archetype. I love that we have people with such diverse backgrounds because everyone has a very different experience whether it’s in journalism, investing, et cetera.
Jake: I’ve been with the company for over a year and a half. I used to work for a big bank with hundreds of thousands of employees, but I was drawn to CB Insights because you can make a way bigger difference here.
What tech are you using to build your solution?
Mike: We have a back-end engine that gets data from a variety of sources on the internet. Almost all of it is public information, which also shows how challenging this is. There’s a lot of intelligence that’s built into the back-end software because it’s difficult to make sense of all this information. The information we’re getting off the internet is largely unstructured, so we’re writing software that’s able to handle that information well enough so that almost all of our data acquisition is automated. Basically we’re building an AI consultant. Consultants are highly trained to have a lot of domain knowledge and we’re training computers to do that.
Shisi: As we’ve scaled, we added patent data and we’re thinking of adding academic papers related to patents. We’re also building a news classifier that will be able to tell if news is about politics, sports or about the tech and startups we are interested in through machine learning.
So how do the tech and content teams work together?
Kerry: I always say that I love sitting in the middle of it all when it comes to interacting with the data team. They’ll send us news on financings that have just broke because they picked it up with the data cruncher and the news feed, so we might be the first to see something there. They’ll also let us know when they’re seeing more startups get funded in a particular industry. We’re power users of the product, because we spend all day in it, and we interact a lot with engineers there in terms of helping to improve the product.
Deepa: To give you an example, I just finished doing a report on renewable energy patents. I give the data team a list of keywords to search in the database, such as ‘wind turbine’ or ‘solar cells,’ and then they give me 50,000 rows of data. I then sort through the data to see who are the top patent holders, why do they have so much R&D going into this, et cetera.
Mike: The content team is a critical part of developing and maintaining our core data model. Our content team members are domain knowledge experts so we work with them to update and curate the data model itself.
Shisi: They come to us with questions and we provide them with solutions from deep within the data. For example, the content team will ask us, ‘What are the trending topics in insurance tech?’ We can then tell them what the data tells us and from there, they can write a data-backed story.
What would you say is the most exciting part of being in a space where you’re writing about technology from a data-driven perspective?
Deepa: Noticing trends and writing about them before others. I love that we’re able to deep dive into not just individual companies, but into sub-industries as a whole. It’s the most fascinating part.
Kerry: In the tech industry, we often glorify the first mover —the first one to come in with a novel idea. Being able to sit in a place where we are able to uncover something, through data, just as it’s starting to peak over the horizon, is super cool. The other half of it is being part of a company where everyone is just as passionate about that as you.
What are some projects you’re working on now?
Kerry: We’ve done a great job of expanding our coverage in terms of getting into different tech spaces, but I think an overarching goal for us is to really deepen our expertise into whatever that space may be. We also want to find the right way to leverage some of our new tools, such as our patent and valuation features, in a way that’s helpful for our readers and customers.
Deepa: We also want to have more focused and specialized newsletters for readers who are particularly interested in specific areas, so readers can get weekly funding and news updates.
Jake: There are two things we’re working on to make the user experience better. One of them is better understanding how users are using our site by figuring out what users are doing on our platform, and then explaining that in a way to our product team and our customer success team. We’re also trying to really optimize the speed of the site that makes it more user-friendly. Additionally, we’re taking into account that the majority of our customers work on teams. Collaboration is one thing we notice in the way users use our site and we’re adding more features to accommodate that.
What makes you excited to come into the office every day?
Jake: Getting to work on very challenging problems. When I hear that people are bored at their job I don’t understand that — everyday here poses very interesting problems.
Shisi: Everyday we are trying to solve problems that don’t have any answers. We are doing sophisticated modeling and predictive analysis that no one else in the market is doing, so we don’t have answers but we are still trying. We learn from each other and that’s the most fun part.
Kerry: It’s such a rare combination of having the opportunity to marry data with this public writing element, packaging those together and getting to sit in this place where you’re reading about next-gen tech trends all day. Being in a place where everyone is super passionate about that is great.
Deepa: It’s also just sitting with people who are coming from such diverse backgrounds, academically and career wise. Everyone has unique skills, but works together to produce one awesome newsletter.
Mike: One of the reasons I work here is because our customers specifically like the product. One of the best compliments you can give an engineer is, I use your software and I really love it. We build things that are useful, and having your customers love the product is the highest compliment for us.
Can you recall a moment that reaffirmed your decision to come work at CB Insights? Or the mission of the company at-large?
Jake: The first time I saw someone demoing something I created was the coolest thing. Seeing something that me and my team members built, and then watching someone sell it — that was really cool.
Deepa: Hack day. Hack day is a cultural tradition we have where everyone has 24 hours to complete whatever project they like. We’ve seen some really amazing, creative things come out of it, like automating our data analysis tasks, making new chatbots and Cards Against Silicon Valley.
Mike: There is no one moment. But I would say that, in general, I enjoy working here because I enjoy the people. Everyone is dedicated to their craft. We’re here because we want to build good products and software.
Responses have been edited for length and clarity. Photography by Anthony Sodd.
Want to work at CB Insights? Check out their open positions.