Jim Fowler of InfoArmy: Creating An iPad Army of Competitive Intelligence

Imagine an army of iPads marching towards you, about to hand you all of the valuable research data you’ve been searching for in the blink of an eye. Sounds great, doesn’t it? Even better, that vision has actually manifested into reality. Tune in as Jim Fowler, CEO and Founder of InfoArmy, joins Brent Leary to share these latest developments in the world of technology, data and research.

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Jim Fowler of InfoArmySmall Business Trends: Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and InfoArmy?

Jim Fowler: After we sold Jigsaw, I took some of my winnings and funded InfoArmy.  We just launched about a week ago. The concept for InfoArmy is recruiting an army of disciplined global researchers to build a data base of what we call competitive intelligence reports. In three words, the concept of the company is “crowdsourcing competitive intelligence.”

Small Business Trends: How does this compare to what you did with Jigsaw?

Jim Fowler: The concept is similar.  InfoArmy is just a much bigger and more ambitious project than Jigsaw. Jigsaw was about business card records.  InfoArmy is about taking a big form that we have our researchers fill out about a company. In particular, we are looking for specific things like what other companies like this particular company competes with.  We call this a competitive eco system.

We are looking for people at the company.  We are looking for estimates of revenue and a number of employees. Each one of these competitive intelligence reports is completed by the researchers and then we compare the data and track them over time.  So our ambition is to create a really, really invaluable set of data that can be used broadly across many industries.

Small Business Trends: How does the iPad figure into this?

Jim Fowler: We have built our product from the ground up for consumption on the iPad.  Meaning that these reports are designed to be read on the iPad. Our basic thought is information on an iPad is a living, breathing thing.  On paper, it is as dead as the tree that it is  printed on. You can learn in two minutes what it would take two days or more to learn on your own with the ability to move through data quickly on the iPad.

Small Business Trends: Do you foresee changing the way that the analyst community works because of the approach you are taking with InfoArmy?

Jim Fowler: You know, I do Brent. At the beginning there is no question we are creating a set of data we think no one really wants to collect. Our researchers update these competitive intelligence reports every quarter so we think it provides a baseline of information everyone can use.  It just does not exist right now.

Over time, we do believe that we will start offering higher end products that start encroaching into where the analyst lives today.  But for now, we just have to build a critical mass of these reports.

Small Business Trends: What are your expectations for InfoArmy, if we look out a year or two, or even five years from now?

Jim Fowler: Eventually, we want millions of these reports globally in multiple languages.  You have a global set of data and you can read a Twitter report in English, or German, or Swahili, because we will have tens of thousands of researchers that are building these reports.

The other big goal is to have a platform that researchers can literally earn a living on. We have a vision that there is a lot of need for business information.  It is a multi-billion dollar business.  We would like to see the old rules change, where you can use the crowds, and crowds can actually earn a living as researchers on this platform.

Small Business Trends: Would you have been able to do something like InfoArmy five years ago?

Jim Fowler: I think the technology existed to do this concept, but people would have been reading these reports on the web. Now the web is a step up from paper and tablets are a step up from the web from a consumption standpoint.

Our researchers are building these reports on the web as it is too difficult to actually input the data on an iPad.  So the input is done on the web. But I truly believe there is no way they can have the power of consumption and the power of readability that living, breathing data has on an iPad.

I’d encourage people to download the free InfoArmy on iPad app. We have a bunch of free reports available. Look for ones that have trend analysis.  Every quarter they’re updated and you can literally just swipe through quarter over quarter and see the change. That is really when you see the power of the mobile device.

Small Business Trends: We are now at a point where we are actually able to provide the kind of things that we always wanted for consumers?

Jim Fowler: I think so.  But I think the crowdsourcing movement is the bigger change here. The tablet is the next step of the technology, but crowdsourcing is the next step of how people work, think and build information together. To me that is the part that is most exciting.

Small Business Trends: So technology is the enabler of the crowd being able to collaborate and the outputs of that collaboration is more exciting to you?

Jim Fowler: You nailed it.  Exactly Brent. You think about the massive transformation and information, and then look at Wikipedia. I mean the crowdsourcing model has taken this industry and completely changed it. It’s like Encyclopedia Britannica is basically dead.  They have quit publishing books on paper.

I think if you look at business information, models like Jigsaw and InfoArmy have the ability to take big established brands like Dun & Bradstreet down completely.  I think we are going to see that happen.

Jigsaw had great success in taking an old industry like business contacts and making it into a crowdsourcing play that had a lot of value. Jigsaw was purchased by Salesforce.com for $175 million dollars.  It was a relatively small database of 21 million records.  You can put that on a flash drive now.

Small Business Trends: Where can people learn more about InfoArmy?

Jim Fowler: Visit InfoArmy.com and you can go in and see the reports or you can sign up and become a researcher.

This interview is part of our One on One series of conversations with some of the most thought-provoking entrepreneurs, authors and experts in business today. This interview has been edited for publication. To hear audio of the full interview, click the right arrow on the gray player below. You can also see more interviews in our interview series.

This is part of the One-on-One Interview series with thought leaders. The transcript has been edited for publication. If it's an audio or video interview, click on the embedded player above, or subscribe via iTunes or via Stitcher.

Brent Leary Brent Leary is the host of the Small Business Trends One-on-One interview series and co-founder of CRM Essentials LLC, an Atlanta-based CRM advisory firm covering tools and strategies for improving business relationships. Brent is a CRM industry analyst, advisor, author, speaker and award-winning blogger.