When he founded Kinz back in 2009, Marwan Juma set out to convince Jordanian companies they were sitting on an untapped treasure trove of information. The data mining firm now has hundreds of clients across the Kingdom, and is setting its sights set on regional expansion.
By Rebecca Irvine
Time and time again during his long and varied career in Jordan’s ICT sector, Marwan Juma said he’s witnessed how companies have been held back by a dearth of usable data. “How can we work in a country if there’s no data?” the former ICT minister asked. “On what basis are we deciding what our market share is? How do we know where we’re heading?” Frustration with these questions spurred him to found the corporate data mining firm, Kinz.
At the start, Juma began building a database from information he could glean from whatever official sources were at hand, such as government ministries, chambers of commerce, and trade unions. The information from these CDs contained hundreds of thousands of records and formed the cornerstone of Kinz. However, there were fundamental problems to address with this data. “Data was missing, numbers were missing, things were wrong,” Juma said.
The process of cleaning up the data was a huge undertaking, involving 20 members of staff working for four years in a call center to clean up and collect all the necessary data through painstaking research. The result was the most comprehensive database of company information in the Kingdom: data pertaining to around 90,000 individuals and 60,000 companies or organizations.
Having compiled this mammoth database, the question arose of what the data could be used for. The database itself is highly searchable, with the option to narrow down searches by employee numbers, location, sector, and more, with flexible and original tools such as selection areas on a map to search within, and the display of other companies based in the same building.
Beyond this, though, Juma has focused on sales and added to Kinz innovative software solutions for sales and marketing departments to use. In trying to solve the twin pains of not-fit-for-purpose customer relationship management software, and ineffective reports from salespersons to managers, Juma and the Kinz team developed the software integrated into the platform. “We got the data but I wanted to use it—I wanted people to easily manipulate data,” he explained. You cannot force people to use software applications, Juma argued, and all too often companies and their sales teams fail to utilize expensive and complex systems.
The result was simplified and user-friendly systems for sales teams to record their progress, and automatically generated reports on a dashboard for management to review up-to-date progress in terms of leads and closed sales. “[Managers] don’t have reports that they need to tell if their companies are healthy or not—they only judge by financials which are like looking in the rear view mirror and that’s useless,” Juma said, explaining the thinking behind the types of reporting Kinz provides.
Moreover, the whole system is also available in both Arabic and English, to further extend its potential reach. “I’ve simplified the technology so [someone] who shies away from anything technological can use it, too,” Juma said.
Juma also had to consider the value of such a resource. Data is undoubtedly important in so many areas of a company’s operations, but the monetary value can be harder to pin down. “How do you price data? It’s never been priced before and I didn’t know how to price it [at first],” Juma explained. With no direct competitors in the market who combine both data and software, both Kinz and their potential users found they had no point of reference to compare the unique product and its cost to.
“It took us a while to find a number that works with the smallest players,” Juma said, with the company eventually settling on JD480 per person, per year. The intention is to provide accessibility to as many companies as possible, with monthly payment options available for those who lack the budget upfront.
Furthermore, for big players such as banks and large telecom companies, there are special options called data right of use agreements. In exchange for annual subscriptions and five-year commitments, these companies are permitted full access to the database while it remains Kinz’s intellectual property. In this way, then, Kinz aims to appeal to as many companies as possible, and become an integral piece of their operations. The company now has over 200 clients. “But the market is substantially larger,” Juma said.
A potential issue the company faces is users extracting the data and discontinuing their subscriptions—something that Juma hopes to avoid. However, the fluidity of data and the need to keep it updated so frequently helps Kinz to largely side step the possible pitfalls of this.
“People might steal the data and it’s like, fine because if you don’t update it then the data will quickly be obsolete,” Juma said. In practice, this is reflected in the company’s growth. According to Juma, the loss rate of clients is less than 10 percent, and he is keen to reduce this to just five. Not only do clients find the data invaluable, once the systems are integrated into their company’s day-to-day operations, it’s hard to drop them.
After becoming fully operational in 2012, in early 2016 the newest iteration, Kinz 2.0 was launched. This second generation of the database has seen improvements made in the interface and added the option to search for individuals as well as companies, allowing for increased flexibility in the data’s usage.
Looking to the future, Juma has plans to expand Kinz across the region. “Since the model is profitable and works in Jordan—usually if the model works in Jordan, you replicate—we are trying to build it outside,” Juma explained. The problems that Kinz aimed to alleviate are by no means unique to the Jordanian market and so the team is confident that they can have success beyond. The potential to enter the largely untapped markets of the Gulf, and particularly the UAE and Saudi Arabia, mean huge growth may be on the horizon.
It may not all be plain sailing, however, and the potential for expansion may raise difficult issues surrounding data and its commodification. One such complex challenge lies in navigating the data laws of different countries. In particular this is in terms of privacy and the selling of data. “These are things we need to look at—what can and can’t be published,” Juma said.
Perhaps more immediate than these concerns is the somewhat astronomical challenge of collecting the volumes of data required in markets so much larger than Jordan. “Of course the investment will be bigger,” Juma conceded, acknowledging the scale of the task comparative to Kinz within the Kingdom.
Both the time and the monetary investment will be higher but with the available market also comparatively larger, Juma hopes the rewards will reflect this. This is also something that Juma hopes will get easier with time. “Once you connect to a second and third country the model will start moving faster,” he said. For this reason, in April Juma began talking to possible investors, and is keen to attract “smart” money that can help to tackle these challenges and provide access to data within larger markets.
At present expansion in the Arab world is on the cards and Juma is keen to look even further afield. “From what I’ve seen there is very little competition [providing these particular services],” he said.
Data is so important to so many businesses; so expanding to western markets is something he has his eye on for the future. Ultimately the company has reason to be optimistic for its growth, within Jordan at least, and potentially further afield. By addressing so many issues that sales teams face on a daily basis, with accurate, simple and effective solutions, Kinz has managed to create something few other companies have, and made a software solution people actually want to use.