Inflection may be the hottest Silicon Valley company you’ve never heard of. That’s largely because they’ve invested all their time in just building a big business, and almost none of it in talking about it.
True to that culture, rather than just tell me they’d amassed one of the largest databases of information about people on the Web– flush with hundreds of millions more records they’re announcing today– they showed me. They sent me an email including a PDF of my parents’ wedding announcement, and the census records of all eight of my great-grandparents, dating back to the 1850s.
Wow. Always grabs my attention when a company knows more about me than I do.
Inflection collects everything from court documents, census records, newspapers, yearbooks, phone books, business filings and more to build its own proprietary big– really BIG — data platform all about you. They have more than five billion records and counting, some from just digitizing public records and some of that information they’ve purchased.
The company has built two branded verticals on top of that massive platform: One called PeopleSmart that enables you to search public records, and one called Archives.com for family history. Both charge a fraction of what competitors charge, but importantly they do charge something to hundreds of thousands of members. “We believe there’s huge value in this data,” says CEO Matthew Monahan.
Archives.com just got a lot more powerful: It is announcing this week the addition of hundreds of millions of family tree records from FamilySearch International. Archives.com is the first website to make this particular data-set available outside the Mormon Church. It’s one of the largest family tree collections ever published online, increasing the number of trees on the site fifty-fold immediately. And this isn’t user-generated data; it has been painstakingly vetted by expert genealogists.
This week the 1930 census is also going live at Archives.com, including three million images. Ancestry.com also has this data-set, but it charges $300 a year, versus $40 a year for Archives.com. Six million more images from the census years dating back to 1790 will become available on Archives.com in the next two months. The company describes it as a “goldmine of genealogical information with names, ages, birth locations and family relationships” enabling people to trace back several generations of their family trees.
This is the second in a recent one-two punch at Ancestry.com. In addition to an limited-time exclusive on this data, the National Archives & Records Administration picked Inflection to develop the official US Government website displaying all the information from the 1940 census, scheduled to be released in April 2012. This is a very big deal in genealogical circles and will vaunt Archives.com in name recognition and credibility in the community. “We were sort of like, ‘We won? Really?’” says Monahan.
Matthew Monahan’s brother Brian Monahan started Inflection in his Harvard dorm room in 2006. True to cliche, he dropped out and moved to Silicon Valley to build it, roping in his brother — also a drop-out who’d already sold one company– to run it with him. Contrary to cliche, the company is profitable and growing 70% year-over-year with more than 140 employees.
Inflection is one of three genealogy companies to watch in an escalating three-way battle for family tree supremacy. The giant of the space is publicly-traded Ancestry.com. Ancestry’s edge has long been its ties with the Mormon community, but those have been fraying in recent years. Several reports and sources tell us that the Church wants their data to be more open than Ancestry is willing to make it. So the church has been increasingly willing to make deals with outsiders, like Israel’s MyHeritage and Silicon Valley’s Inflection.
Both MyHeritage and Inflection are nimbler and taking aim at Ancestry from two different angles. MyHeritage has a far greater volume of profiles and users and is much more social. But it has lacked historical records– a weakness the company has recently been trying to shore up with its recent acquisition of FamilyLink.
Meanwhile, Inflection’s playbook is more similar to Ancestry’s, but it dramatically undercuts Ancestry on price. That’s why today’s announcement of the family tree info from FamilySearch International is so important: Inflection is increasingly closing the gap in terms of the size of the underlying database, and as a Valley-based company it is more technologically savvy.
Ancestry can’t really fight against either threat very well, in my view. Social just isn’t in the company’s DNA, and that’s nearly impossible to successfully bolt onto a pre-existing product. If Google is having challenges with that, Ancestry.com most certainly will. Meanwhile, Ancestry is struggling to grow users as it tries to tap into the more “arm-chair genealogist” market, with a splashy TV ad campaign and a sponsorship of NBC’s “Who Do You Think You Are?” Inflection’s dramatically lower price point isn’t going to help, and the win of digitizing the 1940 Census gives them a big boost of credibility and momentum.
Ancestry still has the home-field advantage as the only Salt Lake City-based company of the three. It may not be cool to be a Mormon on the campaign trail, but MyHeritage and Inflection both know they have to win there to win this market. Look for the marketing and data slug-fest to continue in Salt Lake City as these players fight it out.