Jon Buss, the new UK and northern European managing director of Yext, is sitting across a big meeting room desk from me in rented office space a stone’s throw from the famous neon billboard of London’s Piccadilly Circus. But he won’t be there long. Soon this location-based cloud company will be around the corner in Soho, on the south side of Golden Square, even if he’s confident that office will be outgrown with almost immediate effect.
That’s a characteristic and welcome headache when growth continues to be the name of the game, and for this New York City-headquartered company it certainly is. Annual revenues climbed close to 50 per cent year for the last fiscal year and headcount is over 600.
Yext calls itself the ‘location cloud’ and has compared itself to Salesforce.com, saying it is doing for location data what Salesforce did for customer data. You might prefer to think of Yext as an under-the-cover, more modern version of Yell, putting location information across apps, social networks, maps, search engines, recommendation sites and intranets so visitors to shops, restaurants, offices and other venues can find them conveniently and source key details at a glance.
“If they’re not featuring, they’re missing me [as a prospective customer] so they have to get that final mile,” says Buss who joined a few months ago from digital display ads firm Criteo. “These companies are spending an absolute fortune on above-the-line ads but we’re showing intent to buy. They’re opening places, closing places and holding events and we capture that and put it in a cloud database to make it discoverable.”
Location search and local search has “exploded” over the last 18 months, Buss says, so surfacing attributes for clients to help get them found is critical. Many of those who search on a physical area and see a relevant listing will then visit the outlet and a significant number will spend money. If the data is timely, rich in images, relevant and compelling then the chances of getting that money are increased.
It’s more than making your brand ‘Google-able’, Buss says; it’s about tapping into hundreds of mainstream platforms and keeping information fresh, correct and germane – a shop might highlight its sale or special offers, for example. Location is critical, Buss stresses, but specifics of location too: without this, how can a car rental site show where drivers can pick up keys or a store show where trade deliveries should be dropped off?
The Yext platform took six years to build and can accommodate millions of changes every day, Buss says. The company has raised $116m in funding and has been a talked of as (yet another) $1bn-valuation unicorn in the making. Certainly the trajectory is upward and there is scale: the company disclosed that annual revenues were over $88m for its last financial year. Customers include Ben and Jerry’s, Sears, Premier Inn and T-Mobile.
Yext typically sells to both CMOs and CIOs and works with customers to fix, aggregate and cleanse data on a regular basis. “We provide diagnostics on data consistency and health-checks because lack of consistency gets brands ranked low,” Buss says.
One possible way forward for the company is tightening links to key partners and when I spoke to Buss the company was on the verge of formally announcing a deal with Uber that will make it easier for its drivers to reach the locations of Yext customers. Upmarket brands might even cover the cost of the ride for customers and it’s easy to imagine other moves such as Yext getting closer to the likes of Snapchat or Pokémon Go or to capitalise on the trend towards augmented reality.
Other opportunities may arise from data analytics and understanding customer behaviour. Germany is a big opportunity where there is a “a desire for precision” that fits the Yext model quite well, Buss says; China is attractive although differences in the way that mapping coordinates are structured remain a challenge.
“Location is the pin,” Buss says. There is, quite literally, a world of possibilities.
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