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Quant5 angling to become the Nostradamus of 'big data'

Posted by Scott Kirsner  July 3, 2012 10:16 AM

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Can the right mathematical models, coupled with oodles of business data, predict the future?

That's the belief at a quiet new Cambridge startup, Quant5. The company has been working since last September on a new software-as-a-service offering that will perform "predictive analytics," and this summer, it is conducting beta tests with eight customers.

The team includes Doug Levin, formerly CEO of Black Duck Software and Ayeah Games; Monster and HP veteran Todd Wildman; and Marcelo Ballestiero, founder of Spirits Tecnologia in Brazil. They've been collaborating with a group of PhD candidates at MIT's Operations Research Center, Wildman says, "to take cutting-edge academic research and turn it into working solutions." (Wildman is on the left in the photo, Ballestiero on the right.)

"At a high level, we're trying to take the data that companies collect — whether it's from business intelligence tools, customer transactions, social media, or financials — and help them use analytics and visualizations to find new revenues," says Levin. Quant5's first application will focus on helping companies analyze their customer base, looking for opportunities to cross-sell other products to existing customers, reduce customer churn, or identify products that should be priced differently. "We've been working with a bed and bath products retailer," Levin says, "and one thing they'd like to know is what is the next product they should offer to a customer who has just bought a set of bed sheets. We looked at 90 million records of purchases, and applied some very sophisticated math, to get at these really interesting relationships between one purchase and the next."

dlevin2.jpgThe company can also examine customer data to try to forecast churn — for instance, customers shelling out a lot for a software company's product, but not using it very extensively. Levin says Quant5's software-as-a-service offering will be complemented by a professional services group that can help link the software to various existing sources of data at a company. "Many companies have these Fort Knox data depots, where they collect enormous amounts of critical data that's inaccessible, or just not analyzed regularly," he says. He touts the company's "Fisher Price" approach to user interface design, allowing users to easily alter the factors that shape different predictions using sliders, for instance. (Levin's in the photo at left.)

The 10-person company has been boot-strapping so far, but has been in discussions with angel investors recently. Quant5 operates out of the Cambridge Co-Working Center in Kendall Square.

Some examples of Quant5 visualizations are below. The first looks at the likelihood that a customer who buys one product (a digital camera, say) will buy another (memory cards) in the future. The second highlights, in the upper left corner of the graph, customers paying a lot for a software product but not using it much, and toward the upper right, customers paying a lot and using it a lot.

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Scott Kirsner was part of the team that launched Boston.com in 1995, and has been writing a column for the Globe since 2000. His work has also appeared in Wired, Fast Company, The New York Times, BusinessWeek, Newsweek, and Variety. Scott is also the author of the books "Fans, Friends & Followers" and "Inventing the Movies," was the editor of "The Convergence Guide: Life Sciences in New England," and was a contributor to "The Good City: Writers Explore 21st Century Boston." Scott also helps organize several local events on entrepreneurship, including the Nantucket Conference and Future Forward. Here's some background on how Scott decides what to cover, and how to pitch him a story idea.

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