“We’re non-conformists. Our technologies were developed neither in academe, nor by ex-academics,” Dao2Com CEO Gabriel Levi wrote me several days after we met. This statement typifies the atmosphere at the company. At a time when venture capital funds prefer to invest in things that don’t involve too much risk, selling a new idea becomes harder. Unless you’ve got a university background that looks nice in press clippings, it becomes still more difficult.
It’s true that Levi is a systems man who became a consultant, and was appointed company CEO eight months ago. It’s also true that company cofounder and CTO Natty Gur never served in a famous army computer unit. Will these facts consign Gur’s idea to the technology wastebasket?
Insight, not prophecy
”Tao” (pronounced "Dao") is Chinese for “the way”. Dao2Com is trying to promote the related ideas of competitive intelligence (CI) and business intelligence (BI). Quite a bit has already been written about the latter, which is the ability to provide a graphic user interface to data buried in a company database. The goal is to give non-IT personnel access to what's going on in the business at any given time.
The CI concept requires its own explanation. Say you’ve formed your business plan, based on an invention you believe will change the world. What guarantee do you have that company X won’t launch an identical product next week and upset all your plans? This is where the CI program goes into action. It scans, whether constantly or on demand, information sources likely to include information about your competitors – those companies’ web sites, news sites that cover them, and chat groups – and tries to predict the direction of those companies. The results are displayed according to their probability, and can be included in your business plan.
To put it in a nutshell, BI searches and analyzes your enterprise databases, while CI searches and analyzes databases outside your enterprise. You get insight, rather than prophecy.
If, for example, Microsoft (Nasdaq: MSFT) decides today to transfer from technology X to technology Y, the measure will be accompanied by several operations, signs of which can be found on the Internet. Three examples are 1. looking for suitable personnel, which can be found on manpower placement sites; 2. activities of that company’s employees in various forums; and 3. comments by those employees in various publications. Users define the questions they want answered, along with the importance assigned to each source (one sentence in some chat forum isn’t as reliable as a press release on a company site. Or is it?), and get their forecast.
”Our goal isn’t to replace an analyst; we want to provide a tool that will mimic an analyst’s information search process. We let the customer determine whether these signs justify a given conclusion,” Levi says. “On the other hand, I claim we can provide marking capacity. What we do is equivalent to using a magic marker for various sources, and it’s quicker than an analyst.”
Is bin Laden in Utah?
Dao2Com’s initial financing of several hundred thousand dollars came from Gur’s projects for various companies and an investment by David Reuven, a businessman specializing in optics (eyeglasses, not networks). Gur and Reuven looked at existing technologies for 18 months in order to find out whether their work was of any use. They employed seven people, until it was decided to cut expenses and leave only a core of three workers, including Gur and Levi, in the company’s Bnei Brak offices.
”We recently applied to several Israeli funds, but they want things that already have sales, not innovation,” Levi says. “On the other hand, in the US and Canada, we had a welcoming response from local funds, and we hope to get an investment from them.”
Gur adds, “When we went to the Israeli funds, they immediately tried to define us as BI, because it was convenient for them to put us in a category with which they were familiar. No one had enough patience to what we’re really doing and see how it differs from BI.”
The company will decide on its future direction according to the amount of capital it obtains. A large sum will enable them to continue developing the interface and develop models for a drop and drag interface. A smaller investment would mean continuing to sell the existing product, which will require an adjustment of the initial models to the customer’s requirements. The company currently sells a product in a project format – the customer defines the models required, which are translated into definitions in the program.
To prove that is product is practical, the company has put on its web site a search mechanism purporting to locate the geographic route taken by Osama bin Laden. The results display the hypothetical location (probably in Afghanistan, as you’d expect), and the source that led the query to settle on that location. One of the fields we found listed Utah. Clicking on the link led to a story describing the route of US citizen John Walker, suspected of cooperating with Al Qaeda, which seems to indicate that Dao2Com’s software is incapable of distinguishing between the locations assigned to various persons appearing in the text. On the other hand, several lines later, the story’s writers take note of a number of urban legends put on the air after the September 11 terrorist attacks. These include a theory that bin Laden also hid out in Utah for several months.
Another click on the sample site’s analysis mechanism gives a relationship tree – a graphic description of the relations between bin Laden and the people in his organization, as gathered from the sources. This tree is immediately reminiscent of another Israeli company, ClearForest. Levi’s answer is already ready. “With all due respect, we already have quite a few documents that explain how different we are from ClearForest. They analyze the connection between several sources in fixed databases. We’re trying to take it a step further by guessing what the next move will be.” President Bush, take note.
Another pilot is being implemented at the Israeli branch of the Roche pharmaceutical company, which told Dao2Com it planned to issue a certain drug on a given date, using Gur’s system of analysis. Dao2Com hopes that the impression made on the local Roche branch will reach the ears of the international parent company. Still another project is already in process with an Israeli government authority, which prefers to remain anonymous.
By early 2003, the company hopes to complete a financing round from foreign funds. Levi lists the company’s possibilities: “A $500,000 investment will enable us to begin marketing operations on a larger scale and continue selling the product in its original format. A $3 million investment will enable us to hire more employees and expedite development of the next version. In any case, we won’t abandon the current projects – they’re our bread and butter.”
Founded: June 2000
Founder: Natty Gur and David Reuven
Product: A software system for analyzing information about competitors
Previous financing round: Several hundred thousand dollars in private financing.
web site: www.dao2com.com
Published by Globes [online] - www.globes.co.il - on August 21, 2002