Many of the most beautiful, easy to use, and magical apps and products rely on third party databases to interpret and unlock the world around us. Today, Locu, provider of the world’s largest real-time, small-business information database is announcing the release of its Locu Data API to allow developers more granular information than has ever been available.
Locu’s structured database consists of menu and service options, business hours, and other micro data on hundreds of thousands of restaurants and other small business service providers in the US, Canada, and Great Britain.
“We can hardly wait to see what dynamic, creative applications will emerge as a result [of this new database],” says Locu co-founder and CEO Rene Reinsberg. “We envision…apps that help people search for dining based on dietary, nutrition or allergen information; specialized online ordering services; niche-focused daily deal sites; services that help you find dishes or restaurants in a new area similar to your favorites back home; crowd-sourced recommendations for specific dishes and services.”
Locu isn’t the first local data company. Many of the biggest and most successful services like Facebook, Foursquare, and Yelp are powered by databases provided by Factual (whose founder invested in Locu) and Freebase. The company’s largest competitor in this space is SinglePlatform which was recently acquired by Constant Contact. Locu actually began by competing directly with SinglePlatform to help businesses maintain current menus across the Web via a product it called MenuPlatform.
What Locu has done extremely well is solve the challenge of keeping up with rapidly changing local business information like menus and hours of operation. In this sector, the majority of data is largely unstructured, messy, and distributed in ways that automated web crawling and machine-based approaches aren’t sufficient.
The key to creating and maintaining such a rich database of this kind has been the company’s combination of machines with human data gathering and refinement. Locu combines sophisticated web crawlers, machine learning based classifiers, and a crowdsourcing platform. Its use of web crawlers allows the company to detect changes to the original menu or other information and automatically process the update – in the case of businesses other than a restaurant, a menu may be a price or product list.
The company’s crowdworkers are technically skilled individuals who are trained to map data using Locu’s special markup language.
In a press release about its new API, the company discusses its consumer-facing competitors, saying, “With the opening of the Locu Data API, this finely cultivated data can now be harnessed to dynamically connect local business and consumers with granular detail, taking local business search to a much deeper level than Google, Yelp, and their ilk.”
Locu offers a free basic plan, which allows merchant to publish everywhere, but restricts them to a single venue and basic design tools. A professional plan priced at $25 per venue per month or $229 per venue per year, offers multiple venues, as well as advanced design tools and support. For higher volume, VIP customers, Locu offers custom packages as well.
Reinsberg founded Locu with his MIT classmates Marc Piette, Marek Olszewski, and Stelios Sidiroglou-Douskos in 2011 in the graduate research lab of Sir Tim Berners-Lee. The startup now has 15 employees spread between Boston and San Francisco.
Locu raised a $600,000 seed round in September of last year from Quotidian Ventures and a number of individual investors, including Factual founder Gil Elbaz, Google’s Bruno Bowden, Cloudera founder Jeff Hammerbacher, Hubspot’s Dharmesh Shah, Twitter VP of Engineering Michael Abbott, Facebook co-founder Andrew McCollum, and AngelList co-founder Naval Ravikant. In April 2012, Locu followed up with a $4 million Series A round from an equally impressive cast led by General Catalyst Partners with participation from Chris Sacca’s Lowercase Capital, Lightbank, and SV Angel.
With today marking the company’s official launch as a public product, Locu is already on an impressive pace. With the above backers in place, its no surprise for the company to say that it has “a fertile pipeline of partners in the works, to be announced in the coming weeks.”
On its website, Locu says, “The electronic world needs structured data. From search engines to your favorite humanoid electronic assistant, structured data elevates functionality to a new level, previously limited to the realm of science fiction.”
The key to the company’s success will be its ability to deliver deeper, more detailed data than that already available from companies like Factual and that apps have been able to gather themselves. Local search and discovery is among the hottest fields going. If Locu can be the company to succeed in organizing its information, lookout.