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Tiny Cortera swings for Dun & Bradstreet

Data about credit has made Dun & Bradstreet a huge company. Cortera says to D&B: Your time is up.

I think I just found the dullest company at DemoFall 09 to write about. But you know how these things go: Often it's the block-and-tacklers that find huge success while the science-fiction dreamers end up manning ski lifts.

Cortera is taking on the old, stodgy Dun & Bradstreet credit rating company and launching its new crowdsourced competitor to it. Through an earlier and expensive ($10 million plus) acquisition of eCredit, the company gets the "trade tapes" of payments made on credit terms to many major companies. This is largely the same data D&B uses to establish its ratings. But Cortera's strategy is to focus on small businesses that can neither afford D&B services, nor that submit data to credit rating companies for analysis.

Jim Swift, Cortera's ambitious CEO Rafe Needleman/CNET

Cortera will ask small businesses to rate their business customers on how quickly and consistently they pay their invoices; it will also at some point be able to take in data automatically from accounting applications. This data will then be leavened with Yelp-style reviews of companies as business partners. The goal is to make available to small businesses the kind of intelligence that large companies have had about each other for years, to help even small businesses work with companies in their supply chain more deliberately and effectively.

The company will charge $3 for a full report (some data will be available for free), or, for heavy users, $49 a month for a subscription. D&B reports range from $39.99 to $179 each.

It sounds like a simple business but it's expensive to do well. Without extensive and reliable data you won't get repeat customers. But data about money and credit has always been valuable. Cortera has raised $19 million for this venture and CEO Jim Swift believes he can take D&B head-on -- though not initially. He hopes to get small businesses hooked on his service first and then work up the food chain, eventually undercutting D&B's prices so much he puts them out of business. Swift doesn't believe D&B can compete on price without murdering its own stock price.

Swift says the company's site has already attracted a million visitors thanks to its search engine optimization efforts. The biggest market so far for the eCredit data, he says: companies in the construction business.