Business information company DueDil started life because of a “chip on my shoulder,” according to co-founder and CEO Damian Kimmelman.
A bad experience on a past company left the American expat feeling burned and wishing he’d known more about what he was getting into before it all got started.
“In the end I didn’t get ripped off, but I could have,” he says. “I was very, very lucky to get out of that cleanly.”
DueDil — short for due diligence — started out as a way to stop people falling into the trap Kimmelman had. With just a few clicks on the startup’s website, you can easily see the health and wealth of who you’re dealing with.
The startup’s platform pulls together data from thousands of sources including company websites, financial filings, news reports, registry data, trademarks, and country court judgments. Then it crunches through all this and presents it in an easy to understand way, letting you see information on companies and their directors.
Customers of the 4-year-old business include Royal Mail, Dell, Stripe, Unicef, and private equity houses like HG Capital and Providence Equity. As well as due diligence, companies use it for research and lead generation.
The Financial Times dubbed DueDil the “Bloomberg of private companies” and Lex Fenwick, the former CEO of both Bloomberg and Dow Jones, also sits on the company’s board. All customers pay a subscription fee of £100 ($US156) a month “per seat” — the same model as Bloomberg (although below its $US24,000 annual charge).
I sat down with Kimmelman, the company’s co-founder and CEO, for an hour recently to get the inside story on the company that some think could become a tech success story for London.
‘Most VCs at the time thought what we were doing was illegal’
32-year-old Kimmelman enjoys the Bloomberg comparison but is keen to point out a big difference.
“Where Bloomberg focuses on the 1% of businesses, we focus on the other 99%,” he says. “Increasingly, businesses are staying private. 99.8% of businesses are private and they make up 50% plus of GDP across any developed economy.”
DueDil’s pitch is that it can supercharge business between private companies in the same way Bloomberg accelerated activity in public markets. It claims its platform can make doing business faster and safer by making information clearer and more accessible.
Investors were initially sceptical. Kimmelman says: “There was this common misconception that the ‘private’ in private companies referred to privacy, when in fact it really referred to privately held or limited liability.
“Most VCs at the time thought what we were doing was illegal. They thought you had to pay for that [the information] and you couldn’t expose it — we’d be shut down immediately.”
One early investor was Jonty Hurwitz, the former CTO of short-term online loans company Wonga.
“It was actually Damian’s personality that drew me,” says Hurwitz. “You see good ideas everyday as an investor. It was Damian’s creativity combined with his single-mindedness that drew me to him.”
The company proved VCs wrong and stayed in business, proving its worth in 2011, the same year it launched. Charity Action Aid approached it to help with an expose of FTSE 100 companies with subsidiaries based in tax havens and the resulting data generated headlines. Kimmelman says: “We tried to keep out of it because those were going to be our customers.”
As DueDil began to pick up customers, raising money became easier. To date, the company has raised $US22 million (£14 million), most recently raising $US17 million (£10.8 million) last March.
London seed-fund Passion Capital is an investor and, like Hurwitz, Passion partner Eileen Burbidge credits Kimmelman for spurring the investment.
“When we originally invested in DueDil, we were drawn by the ambition and vision of Damian,” says Eileen Burbidge over email.
She adds: “The company’s value and impact potential is difficult to quantify — because if delivered, it brings unprecedented transparency to private company information which unlocks value in sales opportunities, commercial development, lead generation, partnerships and other corporate transactions.”
DueDil recently took on debt and isn’t looking at another equity raise any time soon. Kimmelman says: “We’re doing really well. We’ve well-exceeded targets every month for the last 7 months.”
If you do a DueDil on DueDil its latest accounts for 2014 show turnover up 416% to £805,896 ($US1.2 million), but mounting losses of £3.5 million ($US5.5 million).
It’s not clear how much the recent debt round was given that the accounts only go up to December 31, 2014. At that time, DueDil had £940,363 of debts due within a year.
(The company’s page also reveals, amusingly, that DueDil started life in 2009 as Bantr Ltd.)
Investors seem happy with performance. Burbidge says Passion are pleased with “everything [Kimmelman]’s been able to achieve to date, as well as the promise of what’s still to come.”
Hurwitz says: “I’m finding the evolution of the company super exciting. One of the things that DueDil do, as an investor, on a level I haven’t seen in any other investment of mine, is the reports. The reporting is exquisite.
“Every month we get these beautiful reports telling us exactly what’s going on. Damian and Justin [Fitzpatrick, DueDil’s co-founder, CFO & COO] are fantastic at investor relations. They do it like none other.”
‘One of our competitors used to say data is the new oil — it’s not at all’
Detractors speculated that Companies House, the UK’s central store for financial filings, opening up its records for free this year will kill the business, but Kimmelman says this is far from the case.
“We were predicated [on the belief] that this would happen. Take the Bloomberg example — a lot of the data that Bloomberg is built on is free or completely commoditised. One of our competitors used to say data is the new oil — it’s not at all. It’s the worse analogy you could find. The value in data is context — it’s information, it’s insight.”
The more information is free, the lower DueDil’s costs. Still, is it really sustainable to charge £100 a month for free information?
Kimmelman is keen to show it is, saying: “I really want to prove to customers over the next year their return on investment. We’re doing that already, but we want to do that across all our customers.”
Hurwitz, who was responsible for building Wonga’s data-driven lending engine, says: “In the world we live in now, the gathering of extensive data sets is where all the value will lie. I think there’s enormous value in the collation and curation of data.”
Flipping properties, hedge funds, and Mahjong
DueDil’s offices occupy two floors of an old block in East London, with around 70 staff there.
The building is near an outpost of a heavyweight in the financial information field: Thomson Reuters.
The proximity is just a coincidence, Kimmelman says — they got the space from an architecture firm who were downsizing (the firms models are still on the walls) and it was a good deal.
While DueDil is Kimmelman’s best-known venture, it’s hardly his first. The New Yorker has a tinkering, entrepreneurial nature that has seen him dabble in a number of fields.
After attending boarding schools across the US, he came to Scotland in 2001 to study International Relations at St Andrews University, a course he says he found undemanding.
“I had a lot of time at University so I bought and sold properties, I flipped a lot of student properties,” he recalls. “I built an online gambling engine for Chinese Mahjong with a friend. I worked for hedge funds doing risk assessment on credit default swaps. I tried to get involved in as many things as possible.”
His eclectic CV is reflected in his personality. Hurwitz says: “He’s quite brilliant in a very strange and eccentric way. There’s everybody else on one stream, then on another stream, that’s slightly periphery, is Damian. He just sees the world differently to everyone else.”
Kimmelman speaks in an unhurried, methodical manner at a volume just low enough to merit comment. He often pauses mid-sentence to gather his thoughts.
‘It’s all about the opportunity’
As well as the UK Ireland, DueDil now carries company information for 18 other European countries and is planning expansion.
“I can’t go into that much detail, but it’s pretty obvious that the biggest markets present the biggest opportunities. There’s Germany and there’s France and what have you.”
Kimmelman is more wary about expansion into his home market: “The US is like doing 50 countries. Europe is one of the most exciting opportunities and it’s often the one that’s overlooked.”
Kimmelman is also hugely confident of his company’s potential. When I ask if he thinks the business can fulfil its promise as “Britain’s Bloomberg” and one day reach a valuation of $US1 billion (£640 million), a much-vaunted level for tech companies he replies: “I’d like to be a lot bigger than that.”
“I think that what we’re trying to solve is much bigger than that. If you were to say what the size of the mobile music market is in the early 2000s you’d say maybe $US200-300 million — you’ve got the Walkman, the Discman. But out comes the iPod. It’s all about the opportunity, not the size of the market as it currently stands.”