Tag Archives: Import Genius

Import Genius Part 4: Competitive Strengths and Needed Improvements

When I asked Ryan how he saw Import Genius relative to other TI providers and what were Import Genuis’ competitive strengths, he recounted the following:

  • Innovation and product development.
  • Visual Mapping utility.
  • Customer service with 24/7 a day phone support.
  • Overall cheaper than their competitors so you get more for your money.
  • Easy to use search tools created for “ordinary” people.
  • LOVE: They demonstrate more practical care for their customers.

Customer love is sweet

Since I’m not a customer (nor have I spoken with Import Genius customers), I can’t speak to the reality of the last claim.  I will, however, say that talking to Ryan on the phone for an hour or so and “feeling” the love, passion and conviction that he has for his company and product… well, he made a believer out of me.

As far as customers are concerned, Mr. Petersen said that about half are composed of small to medium-sized importers.  Another 30-40% are overseas suppliers looking for U.S. buyers (mostly from India and China). The third segment is primarily composed of freight forwarders (looking for prospects) and lawyers (checking for intellectual property violations and compliance type issues).

The two biggest areas of improvement needed to the Import Genius interface are:

  1. Data normalization and refinement.  U.S. Customs data needs a lot of tender loving care and many refinement processes in order to yield its succulent treasures.  Despite good intentions, passion, vision and street smarts, the beginning, middle and end of the matter has to be about the DATA.
  2.  Dimensionality and depth.  Much of Trade Intelligence is about connecting the dots.  The greater number of important dots you connect, the greater the smarts.  Statistical data, reverential data, company data, third-party credit data, tariff data, there are a plethora of sources and lots of dots to connect depending up on your particular business application.

I also don’t know IG revenues compared to those of the other Top Tier TI providers. They didn’t start with VC partners like Panjiva or Datamyne did.  They don’t have the infrastructure and history of PIERS.  However, if they can figure out a way to better refine the data, connect the dots and get more traction in the marketplace, I’d say they’d be pretty dangerous… to their competitors that is.

Import Genius Part 3: Target Markets, Product Demos and Pricing Plans

Each TI provider approaches the market a little differently. In the case of Import Genius, they have one all purpose interface which can be applied to several business purposes, as stated on their website:

  • Evaluate Suppliers. If you’re importing from overseas, we’ll help you find high quality suppliers. Our shipping records reveal customers, product lines, and exporting volumes for factories around the world. View Demo.
  • Monitor Competitors. Would you like to know where your competitors source their products? Our data reveals suppliers, product volumes, and industry trends for U.S. importers and distribution companies.  View Demo.
  • Find Sales Prospects. If you sell products or services to U.S. importers, our data lets you qualify prospects based on their shipping histories. View Demo.
  • Research Markets. If your livelihood depends on having the most accurate and up-to-date economic data, you need our business intelligence. (No specific Demo.)

Import Genius web site in Chinese

Although not specifically called an application on their website, they have produced an interesting video on how U.S. Customs data can be used to analyze publicly traded companies.  In addition, they provide videos illustrating three actual business cases where Import Genius was utilized by Apple, 3M and Travertine Imports.

Two other items of interest: First of all, their website can be viewed either in English OR Chinese.  Kudos!  They have an affiliate office in Shanghai.  Way to be culturally savvy and strategic!   Secondly, their headquarters is officially based in St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands.  Great idea for corporate retreats!

Import Genius is very reasonably priced.  They have three pricing options: $99, $199 and $399 per month, allowing 40, 80 and 300 daily searches on datasets of 45 days, 1 year or multi-year (all records since 2006).   No visual mapping is provided for the $99 plan.

import genius pricing plans

Import Genius Part 2: Product Demo with Cool Visual Mapping Utility

Instead of enduring a canned demo, I asked Ryan if we could use Import Genius to search for a product of my choosing, in this case Mopeds, 50cc or under, sourced from China. Coincidentally, motor scooters were one of the products that Ryan and his brother had successfully imported in times past.  He was more than accommodating.

Therefore, we went on a live hunt for Chinese scooter suppliers.  The interface was more than adequate for the task, providing a list of suppliers that could then be filtered and sorted using various criteria.  There was a nifty tag cloud condensation of the manifest files that was particularly interesting.  Of course, the results set could then be exported into an Excel spreadsheet.  Searches could be saved for future reference.

Overall, the interface was clean and functioned well. It was also fast and efficient with the tasks given it.  The Data was less than 1 week old.  Some TI providers take weeks before their data is ready for prime time.  At CenTradeX we could turn it around and have it live within 24 hours, if pressed.

The very coolest, most innovative thing I saw was the dynamic visual mapping utility.  For instance, you can start with a potential Chinese supplier and see a visual map of their top ten customers in the U.S.  Then, you can click one of the displayed customers and, in turn, see their 10 top suppliers.  It’s a fantastic, graphic way to follow the supply chain and vet potential factories.

Several years ago I played with a linguistics version – a free visual online dictionary.  It’s fun to play with.  Try it yourself at SnappyWords.com or Visuwords.  My personal favorite is Visual Thesaurus.  The engine behind the Visual Thesaurus is called ThinkMap, which is available on a license basis and has been used in many interesting applications.  Import Genius has had the genius to apply this type of technology to international trade.

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.

Import Genius: On the Nature of Genius and Intelligence within Trade Intelligence

The last of the “Big Five” Trade Intelligence Suppliers, that we’ll take a cursory look at within the pack of those that fetch, rework and dole out U.S. Customs Waterborne import data, is Import Genius.

UBM Global Trade/PIERS is the undeniable alpha dog of the pack.  Datamyme, Zepol, Panjiva and Import Genius are all hungry, younger but now veteran TI providers who have successfully carved out market niches for themselves, although the fight for who will dominate the foreign sourcing space is ongoing.  Then there are another dozen newcomers, foreign and domestic, that jealously circle, hunting for market opportunities and usually competing on price alone.

Import Genius is one of the "Big Five" TI providers

Like their peers, Import Genius has a well designed website, makes good use of social media and offers a plethora of slick promotional materials. (PIERS, ironically, is the notable exception in those regards. A shortcoming I am sure won’t last long.)  Import Genius’ blog “Making Waves” is getting rather dated though, with the last entry at the time of this writing being 120 days old.  They offer several ways to taste their product through video, screenshots or interactive presentation.  They’ve generated a lot of press, to be sure. Of particular note, is the Spotlight Review by ImportExportBook.com.  You can also find them on Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube.

Import Genius Ingenious Logo

Import Genius, headquartered in Scottsdale and founded by brothers Ryan and David Petersen along with Michael Kanko, came on the scene in 2008 about the same time as their smart Cambridge cousin, Panjiva, hit the streets.  Unlike Panjiva, however, the Petersen clan had to bootstrap their start-up themselves. Like Panjiva and the rest of the “Big Five”, they offer their own brand of search, analytics and reporting utilities sitting atop of the usual U.S. Customs data.  In this regard, Import Genius doesn’t seem offer anything spectacular or noteworthy.

PIERS is currently the ONLY TI provider that integrates other trade related databases, statistical company profiles and export transactions successfully into the mix.  Particularly since PIERS’ acquisition of the innovative CenTradeX TI applications in 2010, they have significantly distanced themselves from any competitors in regards to sophistication and dimensionality.

Until Import Genius and the rest of the pack invests the financial, technical, intellectual and creative resources to expand and integrate other trade databases and develop comprehensive solutions for the world trade industry, PIERS will continue as the dominant player with all other contenders ultimately competing on price alone.  This is chiefly due to the fact that the underlying U.S. Customs data (that ALL the referenced companies base their products upon) is cheap and available, and off-the-shelf business intelligence software is becoming more robust and easier to deploy.

There yet remains vast undeveloped frontiers and opportunities to explore and claim in service to the multi-trillion dollar World Trade Industry for those with the GENIUS, resources and fortitude to pursue innovation within the field of Trade Intelligence.