Relationship Science, a new company that bills itself as “the ultimate business development tool,” has been in the news because it recently raised $90 million from a set of marquee investors and, perhaps even more significantly, it is the follow-on act for Neal Goldman, whose first company, Capital IQ, was bought by McGraw-Hill for $200 million in 2004. RelSci (as the company nicknames itself) helps you find relevant business contacts through people you know. At first glance, it looks like LinkedIn, but there are some big differences:
- Focus on the upper crust: Like LinkedIn, RelSci allows you to see how a target contact or institution may be linked to people you know. But in contrast to LinkedIn’s 225 million members, RelSci’s database currently contains information on only 2.2 million people that it deems “influential” based on such factors as their executive levels and board memberships in corporations as well as non-profits.
- A reference database, not a social network: RelSci is a highly-structured source of relationship information, but offers no social networking. Unlike LinkedIn, there is no facility for linking or communicating with potential contacts or asking existing contacts to provide introductions to the people they know. RelSci claims that 40% of the people in its database are not LinkedIn users anyway and therefore are not reachable through online social networks. There is, however, one social-network-like aspect: As part of the set-up process, users can upload their contacts from Outlook, LinkedIn, or other sources. These relationships then get added to the user’s virtual database, enabling the system to include those contacts privately in the pathways that it displays for reaching targeted contacts.
- Curated content: In an age of user-contributed content, RelSci built and maintains its database the old fashioned way with hundreds of data analysts (mostly in India) using publicly-available sources from the web, company documents, and news articles as well as from commercial databases, including FactSet, LexisNexis, Morningstar, GuideStar, and Noza. (The latter two databases provide information on non-profit organizations, boards, and contributors.) Not surprisingly, this is the same approach used by Capital IQ in its database of relationships for the institutional investment community.
- Subscription business model: LinkedIn uses a freemium model, providing a free service for everyone as well as premium tiers for people who need extra information or functionality. Advertising is also an important revenue source. By contrast, RelSci operates entirely on a subscription model which starts at $9,000 annually for a minimum three-seat license.
- No approval required for links. LinkedIn’s relationships rely on users agreeing to link to each other, whereas RelSci assigns connections based on known (or implied) relationships from its database. This more restrictive approach means that RelSci has fewer connections overall and lacks the serendipitous connections that occur in LinkedIn (e.g., friends and neighbors). At the same time, RelSci’s approach mitigates the noise in social networks from the high number of weak connections that results from “promiscuous connecting.” It also means that users do not have to do anything in order to start using the product.
In all likelihood, curated products like RelSci will co-exist with social networks like LinkedIn. Meanwhile, RelSci is off to a fast start. The company is targeting law firms, accounting firms, consulting firms, and others that do high-level prospecting, and already claims to have 1,000 users from 175 companies since its launch at the end of February.