In business, it's akin to "I'll show you mine if you show me yours." The time when two companies that are thinking of partnering need to see what customers they have in common in order to determine if collaborating really would make sense.
"It's always a very awkward conversation from there," said Rick Nucci, a serial entrepreneur in Philadelphia with extensive B2B partnership experience with his former software company, Boomi, and his current one, Guru.
Awkward because no business wants to disclose its entire customer list or other proprietary information, especially to a company that could be a competitor. He and the companies he partnered with got around that, Nucci said, in an incomplete way.
"We'd go to each other's websites and look at case studies," he said, estimating such testimonials would reflect about 5 percent to 10 percent of a company's customers. "It's far from a representative way of doing it. … The impact is that a viable partner that you should be working with, you end up not [doing so] because you're under the false impression you don't have any customers in common."
Such missed opportunity literally has kept Bob Moore up at night, inspiring his latest tech start-up, Crossbeam.
"At the end of the day, it's one of the really last great opportunities inside the modern enterprise to use data to drive growth in a big way," said Moore, cofounder and CEO. "Partnerships are the last big pillar of the org chart. Every other VP-level executive inside of a modern organization has a software platform that helps them do their job in a data-driven, efficient way. But heads of partnerships still do not."
Moore, 34, who is also president of Philly Startup Leaders, a support group, launched Crossbeam in beta last month, his third tech start-up since he and Jake Stein cofounded RJ Metrics, a business-data analytics-software company, in 2008. When they sold it in 2016 to California-based Magento Analytics, they spun off Stitch Inc., a data-consolidation platform.
Crossbeam's cofounder is Francis "Buck" Ryan, 30, also a repeat entrepreneur. His most recent creation — before Crossbeam — was The Buck Codes Here, a Center City technology consulting firm.
Crossbeam aims to be in pilot phase by the end of the year, with a built-out website and complete branding expected in the next few months, Moore said. Operating out of the Stitch offices on Chestnut Street just off Broad, Crossbeam is looking to hire five to 10 people by the end of the year in engineering, design, and sales.
Its origin dates to Moore's RJ Metrics days, where the focus was on helping companies with data consolidation, warehousing, and analytics with an all-in-one platform. Having access to a "universe of data," however, didn't solve a critical business need RJ Metrics had, Moore said.
"We were working really hard to figure out the best way to partner with companies … to create a tighter customer experience," Moore said. "It was always difficult to figure out how much time and energy to invest in those partnerships."
The only available methods, Moore said, were "a real ad hoc, manual, opportunistic way." He believed there was opportunity for a software platform to help companies better understand who to partner with — or acquire or be sold to. Moore became convinced of it when working 18 months for the much larger Magento after its acquisition of RJ Metrics.
"I saw the same opportunity around partnerships, but 100 times bigger," Moore recalled.
From a notebook of 50 business ideas to pursue after selling RJ Metrics, "on sleepless nights, this is the one that kept popping up," Moore said of Crossbeam.
"In today's technology universe, interconnectivity between companies is at an all-time high," he said, adding that just as important is the ability "to keep your secrets secret."
Essentially, Crossbeam would serve as a clearing house of data from companies looking to partner. Each would feed data into Crossbeam's platform and select which subsets can be seen by the other. For example, a shopping cart platform could see which payment platforms were most used by its customers, enabling more focused and efficient partnership decisions, Moore said.
"In a world where Crossbeam exists, a payment process and shopping cart both feed in [data] and see crossover of customers and see which other technology to integrate that will reach the most customers," Moore said.
The initial industries Crossbeam intends to pitch to are marketing technology, retail technology, and analytics and business intelligence, Moore said. Health care and finance also might offer promise, he said, but will not be part of Crossbeam's early focus.
"When he came to me about Crossbeam, my eyes lit up," said Jake Wallace, strategic partnership manager at AWeber, an email marketing and automation platform provider based in Chalfont, Bucks County. "A lot of what I do is look to partner with different SaaS [Software as a Service] technology partners that integrate into our platform. It's a way to grow our business, a way to tap into another audience for our product."
Currently, such partner-seeking requires "casting a wide net," a lot of time-consuming discovery and conversation, and beta tests to prove a partnership could be fruitful, Wallace said.
"With a product like Crossbeam, we would eliminate some of those conversations, and we'd better be able to understand the effectiveness of how the partnership is proving its value," he said. "A tool like this would help me build and solidify that business case for us to put a lot more resources into doubling down."
AWeber will get to use Crossbeam free as part of the pilot phase. Paying customers will be charged "on the order of hundreds of dollars per month per partnership," Moore said.
The company name was first inspired by the idea of two light beams of different colors overlapping to create a third color. Moore took that one step further, propelled by his theory that "knowledge and data that companies might have might behave in the same way. If you can find ways to collaborate, you might be able to identify something new by working together."
Then the widely recognized datahead really geeked out in our interview.
"The Venn diagram," Moore said, "is kind of our mascot."