Focused on helping companies extend their sales expertise into the electronic channel, Black Pearl provides a real-time advice engine that matches customer interests and seller expertise to enable richer, more intelligent Web interactions
Imagine you're a brokerage firm trying to take your vast in-house trading expertise to the Web. Today NASDAQ nosedives 140 points. Ouch! What do you do next to help your clients who are heavily invested in technology stocks? Post a news story on your site? This is an alternative but it is probably not the most practical solution to the problem.
Lisa Hammitt, CEO of Black Pearl, says there are far richer, more intelligent ways to support customers in this critical time. "For starters, the brokerage firm could create a course of action to alert investors that their portfolios are out of balance because the NASDAQ declined. Then it could make suggestions and individually guide investors in the process of moving their most risky stocks into less risky sectors."
Sounds reasonable? Yes. Yet to create and maintain such an intelligent, customized e-relationship, a new set of customer care technologies is required, says Hammitt. "What's called for here is a new customer facing software solution that can automate, humanize and guide real-time rich customer interactions."
It's the creation of this next generation customer experience that Hammitt and co-founders John Rafter and Mark Hammitt set their sights on in 1998--the year they founded Black Pearl. "We saw that companies needed a way to harness their existing data and business rules to drive richer, more intimate online relationships."
A new infrastructure to automate, humanize real-time customer interactions
So why the moniker Black Pearl? According to Hammitt, a black pearl is a good fit for the brand personality of the company--one based on the character of Emma Peel from the cult British TV classic, the Avengers. "Our product is smart, it uses agent technology, there's an elegance about it, but also an edge--because it's also aggressive and cutting edge. So Black Pearl connotes something that's very precious, yet something somewhat mysterious too."
While a black pearl may be mysterious, the driving reason for launching Black Pearl is not, says Hammitt. "After interviewing 36 Fortune 500 companies, we saw that most Web technologies were for the mass market--and that there was a need to personalize and tailor a customer's online experience to their needs." Toward this end, Hammitt says the Black Pearl team set out to work on their vision of a new infrastructure--one that would marry a diverse set of technologies, stemming from artificial intelligence to predictive modeling to independent software agents.
The result? In 2000, Black Pearl introduced its Knowledge Broker Software, a product rooted in Java and XML, that combines reasoning techniques with advanced distributed technologies, such as intelligent agents, asynchronous messaging and federated data models. Hammitt says Black Pearl's new class of software allows Fortune 500 companies to create richer online relationships, where they can offer valuable in-house expertise to customers.
Intel 64 Fund invests in Black Pearl
In May 1999, the Black Pearl team went out to pursue a second round of financing, says Hammitt. "It was the middle of dot-com mania and we found all the VCs we talked with were focused on the Internet space--but we're an infrastructure player. So we started asking around to find a better investor match for us--someone who could understand our play. The people we respected recommended Intel (Capital), saying they could help us with software tuning and optimization services among other key services that would help us enhance our product. "
After meeting with the Black Pearl team, it was clear to Intel Capital that the company was a good candidate for an investment by the Intel 64 Fund--a quarter billion dollar equity investment fund that invests in technology companies developing innovative enterprise solutions for Intel� Itanium� based servers and workstations. Black Pearl's analytic application server software enables the real-time conversion of data into business intelligence by applying business rules and analytic algorithms. Because of the compute intensive nature of the solution, it is a good fit for Intel's 64-bit product family, beginning with the Itanium processor. The Black Pearl team was also pleased, "They (Intel Capital and the Intel 64 Fund team) got our story, they worked with us, we went through their process--and it was a great match," says Hammitt.
Following a due diligence investigation, Black Pearl received an investment in 2000 from the Intel 64 Fund. The Intel 64 Fund investment in Black Pearl was made in support of Black Pearl's product focus and their commitment to develop an optimized version of the Black Pearl Knowledge Broker for Intel's upcoming 64-bit product family, beginning with the Itanium processor. The Intel 64 Fund also participated in a follow-on round of funding for Black Pearl in 2001.
A successful relationship
Black Pearl has successfully launched its flagship product, the Black Pearl Knowledge Broker Software, which is being used by four Fortune 500 companies, says Hammitt. "Our clients include Merrill Lynch, Lucent Technologies and Price Waterhouse Coopers, who are now moving into deployment from pilot stage projects."
According to Hammitt, Intel Capital and the Intel 64 Fund team have been great to work with from the start--offering Black Pearl solid introductions and networking opportunities as well as technical assistance in porting Knowledge Broker to the Itanium platform. "They are fantastic at introductions and networking, where they've involved us in a number of different Intel 64 Fund summits and investors' conferences. In addition, they have provided the follow-through we've needed to get an audience with the Fortune 500 companies with whom we want to meet.
"Overall, the investment has been wonderful for business development--which is crucial for a small company. We could spend the next three years building a direct sales force to build awareness for us--but with an investor like the Intel 64 Fund behind us, with the breadth of experience and contacts they have, we can build awareness in a fraction of the time. Intel Capital and the Intel 64 Fund have been tremendous assets to us," says Hammitt.
In addition, Hammitt says that Intel has offered Black Pearl the technical resources to make a successful port to the Itanium platform. "They provided the machines, which we brought in house to complete the port. Then they helped us come up with an end-to-end test, which we demonstrated at the Intel 64 Technology Conference in October 2000," says Hammitt, "From there, we went to an Intel Solution Center, where we brought our software and test case into their labs to tune and benchmark it. Why is this so important to us? Having a third party validate in writing that we could scale to a level that a 64 bit processor allows you to--not only vertically, but horizontally--the credibility for our solution goes way up. As a marketing and sales story, it's absolutely invaluable."
Hammitt says that Intel also benefits from working with Black Pearl. "We are speaking with Fortune 500 companies, learning how they plan to use technology to enhance their businesses, and incorporating these learnings in what we offer to Intel so that Intel can bring together a whole host of solutions to offer a full scale solution to their customers."
" Intel Capital and the Intel 64 Fund team have been great to work with. I think they bend over backwards to offer as much value to their portfolio companies as they possibly can. For instance, they are very responsive. Whenever I mention that we might need their help on something, they're always quick to respond. Overall, they have been a good investor choice for us."
AT A GLANCE...
San Francisco, CA
For more information, contact Black Pearl, .
Last updated: March 2001
* all names and brands are the property of their respective owners