Locu snags Google Now exec Keir Mierle to head engineering

By Michael Carney , written on December 3, 2012

From The News Desk

As things heat up in the hyper-local data game, real-time small-business information database startup Locu is beefing up its senior team. The company founded in 2011 by a team of MIT grads has recruited former Google software engineer and key member of the Google Now team Keir Mierle as its new director of engineering.

Since launching its restaurant and small business dashboard on October 2, Locu has seen more than six thousand merchant signups according to co-founder Rene Reinsberg. The company helps merchants organize, disseminate, and sync business information like menus and contact information across the Web via a single interface. In an uncommon win-win arrangement, Locu then delivers this information to developers and other database providers – exactly the type to distribution the merchants want – via its real-time, local data API.

Locu recently signed a partnership to provide the menu data behind popular reservation booking app, OpenTable. Extending the theme of win-win, in this case, OpenTable gets the most accurate and comprehensive menu data available – updated in real-time to reflect specials, item availability, short-term promotions, etc. – and Locu gets access to its 15,000 US restaurants, as well as 4,000 in the UK and an unreported number in Canada.

The addition of Mierle comes at an ideal time, explains Reinsberg, with Locu growing its team rapidly and looking to scale on the heels of a better-than-expected “proof of concept phase.” The departing Google exec says that this new role is all about the chance to do something more entrepreneurial and join a “strong early team in an exciting space whose vision aligns with my own.”

After several months spent discussing the opportunity and getting to know the startup’s product and team, Mierle actually started at Locu on November 1, without so much as taking a day off between jobs. As he continues to settle in and get a clear lay-of-the-land in his new surrounding, Mierle will focus on implementing at Locu the types of processes in place at Google for managing large engineering teams in complicated domains. He will also be intimately involved in growing this already impressive team.

In addition to the new executive hire, Locu also announced the addition of former Paypal Chief Scientist Mok Oh to its advisory board. Like Reinsberg and his fellow co-founders Marek Olszewski, Stelio Sidiroglou-Douskos, and Mark Piette, Oh is an MIT alum. Even prior to formalizing this relationship, Oh has been working closely with the Locu team on “developing our merchant offering, and bridging the online-offline divide,” says its CEO.

Local data is a difficult problem to solve due, chock full of unsophisticated constituents and messy, unstructured data. Others in the space, including Yelp, Foursquare, and to a lesser degree MenuPages, have taken a less big-data oriented approach to solving it. Even in its brief existence, Locu has been the most successful to date – by virtue of combining its sophisticated and proprietary web crawlers, machine learning based classifiers, and crowdsourcing – in providing an organized, comprehensive, real-time updating small-business information database. Merchants want a single, simple yet comprehensive solution to ensure that their online information is accurate and widely available, meaning that it’s likely there will be a single winner in the space.

Locu raised $4.6 million across two rounds of financing from Quotidian Ventures, General Catalyst Partners, Lowercase Capital, Lightbank, SV Angel, and several prominent angels such as Factual founder Gil Elbaz and Facebook co-founder Andrew McCollum. Additionally, the company has filed several patents on its data technology.

The funny thing about Locu is that, although its a business-to-business product, it’s already impacting the lives of millions of consumers who use OpenTable and other “Powered by Locu” services. The larger the company’s database gets, the more detailed and comprehensive information it can deliver, and the harder it will be for competitors to disrupt.

Locu is an extremely young company with miles to go before it’s “won,” but the startup is beginning to get the look of a snowball rolling downhill. OpenTable chose to jump aboard. The remaining companies in its path, including the above-mentioned local check-in and recommendation engines, best decide how they plan to either compete or collaborate.