Relationship Science: CEO Neal Goldman on the business of relationship capital

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Relationship Science (RelSci) is an information platform dedicated to making relationship capital accessible to individuals and businesses. In an exclusive interview, Founder and CEO Neal Goldman spoke about the value of human connections and gave advice for young and new CEOs.

“I don’t know if there’s anybody who’s born good at everything. I had a unique skill and passion for building products, and for me to do that, there were other things which had to be done, hiring people, raising money, selling, dealing with investors and the board and all of these things — I had to figure all of that out.”

Before RelSci, his first business Capital IQ was born as a reaction to misspent time working as an investment banker, having spent, “Ungodly amounts of hours staying up all night finding information.”

“I had to get some information from libraries, some from other sources, some would be in print, some online. I spent probably a better part of eight hours pulling data out of large documents and putting it into a cell, then at five in the morning you can look at a single page of output and draw some conclusions.”

During this time, he started to wonder what the process would look like as an automated system. As he discovered his own untapped skills in information architecture, Mr. Goldman began developing the skills he would need in order to create and market Capital IQ.

Capital IQ became ubiquitous in many areas of corporate finance, and sold to McGraw-Hill for $200 million in 2004. His experience as CEO of Capital IQ would then become the basis for developing RelSci.

“The relationship between Capital IQ and RelSci is quite interesting. I found myself at 28 being CEO of Capital IQ, we had a lot of headwind, the .com bubble burst in the US economy and it was a terrible economy to be selling services. I had to get very creative about how we were going to market and sell our product, and unbeknownst to myself I created a system for relationship building, optimization, and selling, and after selling Capital IQ a few years back, I realized that I had created the tool I always wanted in a relational capacity.”

Relationship Science

“Relationship Science is essentially a very large-scale information platform, we’re aggregating all sorts of information about people and companies, but also we’re extrapolating from that, relationships, who likely knows who, and how. This is not dependent on anyone that’s joined any sort of social network or user-contributed data, it’s all information we’ve aggregated.”

RelSci’s algorithms track 300 different relationship types including indirect relationships, giving organizations a complete picture of the internal and external web of relationships. Profiles are built from an aggregate of hundreds of thousands of sources, and from a relationships basis. An organization can find out what skills they can access, what markets they should consider, and can inform business strategy and direction as a whole through functions offered by the RelSci program.

“We’re fortunate that there’s nobody that really does what we do. We’re not a contact database in that a contact database isn’t modeling who knows who and how.”

“We had to build a very unique system that would be able to aggregate data from hundreds of thousands of sources and algorithmically tag, match, clean and make decisions of how to resolve that data. We have a team of people, including our own operation in India where they look at some very limited exception, but the vast majority flows algorithmically.”

RelSci draws from a global data set of around 7.5 million people and 1.5 million organizations. Their varied clients include large and small investment and commercial banks, hedge funds, venture capital funds, corporates, pharmaceutical companies, law and accounting firms, Ivy league schools and non-profits.

Selling and Storytelling

Having successfully started and ran two businesses, Mr. Goldman is able to look back at the skills he has needed to acquire along the way, and gave insights on what skills he had to develop, saying, “Any good executive is trying to recognize the skills they need for what they need to do.”

“I think a tremendous skill of the CEO, salesperson, and businessperson is storytelling. Storytelling is talking to someone you may or may not know well, and with your words taking them on a journey to imagine what could be. To do that you have to get a sense of where they are in relation to what you want to talk about. You have to use words and pictures and gestures and whatever it is to methodically help someone join you in the picture of what it could be. Storytelling is what humanity is built on, it’s how we really communicate, being able to immediately be able to connect with someone and see the story you’re going to connect on is an amazing skill.”

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Relationship Science CEO Neal Goldman believes communication and relationships are among two of the most under-considered and important aspects of his role.

“When you story tell, you’re actually connecting with another human being, which is one of the great pleasures of being alive, even when you’re selling.” he said, adding that possessing a genuine interest in other people is critical, “I think if you’re trying to sell and you’re not interested, it’s really laborious. If you are interested, it’s quite interesting to learn about someone and their business and trying to show how you can get together and do it better. It’s fascinating.”

Mr. Goldman also mentions that personal dedication to his own company has been vital in encouraging him to develop the skills necessary to further his product, “My passion is building amazing products people love, which make their lives better. I’ve started companies I’ve been passionate about, so to actually tell someone how that works and to engage in that interaction is actually quite enjoyable.”

Facing New Challenges

“I started my career in banking, it would be like, if you just change the number on cell 29, you’ve solved your problem. People are not like that, there are hundreds of things you have to execute, interdepartmentally to get anything done.”

“There is no such thing as the absence of problems when CEO of a company. For a big part of my career, I would fret every problem in an emotional way, it wasn’t very helpful for me, and I realized, I’m actually in the problem business. I’m supposed to have new problems every day, that’s why I have this job, that’s how we create value. I started to look at it, thinking, okay what are my problems today. At the end of the day, I criticize my book of problems, rather than having to take every one home with me.”

Mr. Goldman was happy to share the difficulties of building a business, from unsolicited advice to unexpected challenges. Detailing the difficulties he experienced moving from investment banker to CEO, he sees communication and relationships as among two of the most under-considered and important aspects of the role.

“Something I didn’t really appreciate is that the people part of business is really hard, managing a team, getting people to work together on the right things is not easy.” Mr. Goldman said, “I really had to learn a lot about people and communications: Communications is awfully hard. You can be trying your best to talk so clearly to another person and they can think they’ve got it and they just don’t. The nature of communication is all about imperfection and misunderstanding, trying to get all people in your company on the same page requires a great deal of energy.”

In addition to detailing the importance of the human factor in business, he gave insights into how he approaches investors. Strategies which were employed when he was able to raise $60 million in funds to start RelSci.

“When you meet someone you want to introduce yourself, I like to have some well-organized slides, and then you get to it. It’s a process. Nobody’s going to invest in one meeting, your first meeting is essentially to get a second meeting.” Mr. Goldman said, “It’s ten or twelve slides to cover everything from what product you sell, how many clients you have, who are your clients, your projections, your performance, strategy, team, why you need this money.”

“It’s always important to put yourself in the other person’s shoes. The reality is that you made this meeting some time ago, they may have forgotten what you are talking about, they have a hundred things going on in their life, literally everything from a personal emergency to a business emergency to they didn’t sleep well last night. You have to come in and recognize that you don’t have much time to capture their imagination, you have to understand where they’re coming from and get the point across in a really efficient way. Regardless of how long a meeting is scheduled, I think of it as, you really have twenty minutes to tell someone what you’re up to, and get that confirmation that they’re interested in more.“

For Mr. Goldman, working on your own skill set is vital to any CEO. He credits his discipline and ability to learn, along with his ability to perceive good businesses and work with good people, as key factors to the success in his role founding and running both Capital IQ and RelSci.

“If you are the CEO, I think you have to be committed to really working on yourself and your skill set. You have to recognize that you’re about to jump into the void, about to do something you’ve never done before. By definition, you’re about to learn all sorts of things you never knew before, and work very hard at it.”

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