A Billion Prices and Counting: Big Data Ambition at Startup Indix

Indix, a startup straddling two continents with an enormous business data problem in its sights, is gradually coming out of stealth.

After announcing a $4.5 million financing round last week, founder and CEO Sanjay Parthasarathy explained how he ended up back in Bellevue, WA, and offered a few details on the big data application Indix is building.

The veteran Microsoft executive had moved his family to India after retiring from the software giant in 2009.

“I had no plans to return and I knew I was going to start a company there, so I started it… with a focus on the Indian market,” Parthasarathy tells Xconomy.

Indix is amassing data on products and services of all kinds, their prices, and events affecting them. As the company began to focus on business applications, “it made more sense that the market was here,” he says.

After raising an angel round last spring—mostly from former colleagues, friends, and family in the Seattle area and India—Parthasarathy re-enrolled his kids in school here and moved the family back last August.

The 35-person company now has its marketing, sales, and customer service functions in Bellevue, while research and development is centered in Chennai, India, though Parthasarathy expects that over time some R&D will be done here as well.

How big is the dataset Indix is amassing?

“We’ve got more than a billion prices and lots and lots of products,” he says. “The next goal is 10 billion, and at some point, we will have a trillion. I don’t know when.”

Indix software engineers have churned through several versions of code since they began writing in January 2012, working to improve efficiency and performance, indexing and search of the large and expanding dataset.

What can be done with such a ponderous amount of information?

Parthasarathy confirms that Indix is targeting business customers, rather than consumers. (Definitely not like Decide.com, he says in response to a question about the Seattle company that’s providing reviews and price prediction for consumer goods.)

There are macroeconomic applications in the style of The Billion Prices Project, the modern inflation measurement at MIT, Parthasarathy’s alma matter. “That was one of the inspirations for what I’m doing,” he says.

But Indix is focused first on microeconomics, attempting to find the connections between product prices and events up and down their supply chains. There are hints of how Indix sees this information being used on the company’s blog.

“It fascinates us that the product manager lives in a world that is largely manual and ad hoc,” an April 1 post says. “Their expertise seems to be to the ability to connect disparate conversations and data into a point of view that creates unique products and services. And then shepherd these products through their life cycles while making a nice profit and building an interesting business.

“What would the product manager be capable of if we gave them the data, the tools and the applications that would help them come up with new product ideas, set the right prices, manage promotions and make their offerings available to their customers in the best ways possible?”

The post hints at a platform and tools for internal and external collaboration with this information, analytics and visualization, suggestions, and more.

Parthasarathy hesitates to go into more detail, noting that the company will have more to say later this year. “The real proof is going to be in the product,” he says.

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