Start-ups Estimize and Kensho Take Aim at Bloomberg
Ambitious, young entrepreneurs like Leigh Drogen and Daniel Nadler are looking to revolutionize the way financial research is done.
In his 2001 book, Bloomberg by Bloomberg, Michael Bloomberg set out the greatest challenge facing the company he famously founded in 1982 with a $10 million severance check from Salomon Brothers: “fighting the stultifying effects of success, the paralyzing result of growth, the debilitating cancer of entrenchment.” Today as Bloomberg LP sits atop the $26 billion financial data industry with annual revenue in excess of $8.3 billion, heading off a growing army of aggressive, nimble start-ups may be equally important.
Daniel Nadler, 30, started Kensho Technologies in early 2013 as he was completing his Ph.D. in economics at Harvard University. Nadler’s co-founder, Peter Kruskall, 27, worked as a programmer at Google before the launch. Together they have developed a suite of browser-based tools that use Google-grade technology to allow financial professionals to perform the type of complex, multicondition analysis of large-scale data sets that until now has been the province of an elite band of hedge fund firms. Say you want to investigate the effect of political unrest in the Middle East on global defense stocks when oil is above $100 a barrel. Kensho promises a world where you can feed this question into a Google-like natural-language search field and an answer will return, fully charted, within seconds (see also “Website Seasonal Odds Is Betting Big on Market Data”).
Nadler, who writes a column for Institutional Investor, puts his firm’s technology spend at $300,000. “If you leverage consumer IT, the cost of doing things becomes very low,” he notes. Kensho has already attracted $9 million in seed funding, with notable venture capital firms Accel Partners, Google Ventures and New Enterprise Associates among the earliest investors. The Johnson family, which founded Fidelity Investments and continues to run the company with a 49 percent shareholding today, also has invested in Kensho. Former Bloomberg enterprise business head Stanley Young joined the advisory board in November; Adam Broun, former chief information officer at Credit Suisse, became the firm’s head of business development at about the same time.
“This type of innovation has the potential to transform the way financial research is conducted,” Broun says.
Another firm generating interest is Estimize, which 27-year-old Leigh Drogen started in 2011 after serving an apprenticeship as a quant at Geller Capital Management, a White Plains, New York–based hedge fund firm. Operating out of a five-man corner room in WeWork, a shared work space for start-ups in Lower Manhattan, Estimize has used cheap, widely available software to build a tool that aggregates and publishes estimates of standard U.S. company performance metrics crowdsourced from an open community of equity analysts. The big market data companies already have data sets that serve that need, but Estimize has a much bigger contributor pool. Drogen says more than 6,000 portfolio managers and researchers look at Estimize data today. With $1.4 million in venture capital to date, the firm has inked deals with four large quantitative hedge fund firms.
I/B/E/S, the most widely quoted company estimate database, is owned by Thomson Reuters, but Drogen has Bloomberg, which leads the market in macroeconomic estimates, well within his sights. “It’ll take us four to five years to disrupt I/B/E/S, but we’ll knock this thing out of the park in six months,” Drogen predicts.
Restless, ambitious and possessed of seemingly inexhaustible reserves of verbal energy, Drogen and Nadler are exactly the type of fast-thinking young men that Mike Bloomberg himself might have befriended and started a company with in 1982. Instead, they are now taking on the incumbent, and, according to Nadler, the innovations seen in the consumer world mean that technology is firmly on their side.
See also “The Race to Topple Bloomberg.”
Follow Aaron Timms on Twitter at @aarontimms.