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Import Genius Part 1: Early Beginnings With Roots in the Importing Process

I recently interviewed Ryan Petersen, co-founder of Import Genius and got a good walk-through of their Trade Intelligence interface.  Import Genius is one of the five (what I have labeled) “top-tier” TI providers who offer U.S. Customs data.  The other four are PIERS, Datamyne, Zepol and Panjiva. There are well over a dozen “second tier” providers strewn across the planet.  Each top-tier provider has their own particular slant and angle toward the data.  You could say that it represents the unique personality and objective that the company takes.  The data is all the same.

In the case of Import Genius, true to the personality, background and experience of the founders, they take a direct, pragmatic approach.  In effect they are the street-smart version.  Prior to establishing Import Genius, the founders were importers, getting hands-on-experience locating and vetting acceptable sources in China as well as the multifarious details involved in importing and distributing products in the U.S.

It was during their ten years as importers, in their efforts to secure reliable Chinese sources, that they ran across the U.S. Customs data.  They observed that the data could be manipulated in a much better and efficient manner and set off to make it so.  They wanted to incorporate to their interface the lessons learned and obstacles encountered in the real life learning lab.

Initially, they dreamed of creating a YELP for international trade, including customer feedback on suppliers, etc.  Unfortunately, the scope of their vision and initial launch date in the wake of the global meltdown of  ’08/’09, caused them to scale back a bit on the original plan.  Notwithstanding, they remained true to their core intent, which was to provide an easy way to do business across borders.

Ryan mentioned to me, while explaining the origins, design and unique competitive position of the Import Genius TI interface, that they really attempt to “plug into the existing processes” of their customers.  Thus, when a client initiates task “X”, the interface responds with “Y” throughout the client’s business processes.   He repeated the phrase, “plug into people’s process” a couple of times during the interview.

Essentially, Ryan and crew have created tools that they wish had been available during their importing days. Tools that could have made their job easier and more profitable.

Taking to Ryan was a déjà-vu experience.  As he shared his vision and passion for their product and the innovative, rogue, street-smart company culture they maintain, it took me back to the early days of CenTradeX almost 10 years ago.  I haven’t heard anyone speaking with such conviction and zeal for a long time.  His enthusiasm was, as they say, contagious.

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