An early test for Vincent Gray to keep technology jobs

The start-up newBrandAnalytics was founded by proven entrepreneurs, recently raised $26 million in capital and has five times the number of employees it did four months ago.

In short, it is the type of company every mayor or county executive would be happy to have and it may provide an early test to District Mayor Vincent Gray’s efforts to retain tech jobs.

The idea behind newBrandAnalytics is to aggregate all the information posted online about restaurants, bars and hotels — including from social media, newspaper web sites and the like — and sell that information to those companies so they can meet the stated requests and desires of their customers. Hundreds of comments on Twitter about a certain restaurant can be sliced and diced into more than 60 categories to show exactly what customers liked and what they didn’t, whether regarding restrooms, service, noise levels or food. As co-founder Kam Desai says, “The Internet has become one big survey.”

Desai, Ashish Gambhir and Neil Kataria launched the firm in the Bay Area in 2007 and would likely not be in Washington if not for $26 million in capital from local investors including former AOL executives Steve Case and Ted Leonsis. Now they have small offices on 7th Street NW, near the Verizon Center, in space rented by Venturehouse Group, and former District mayor Adrian Fenty is on their board.

“I never in a million years thought that we would have a tech company in D.C.,” Desai said. “It’s just counter intuitive.”

With 30 employees today, newBrandAnalyticsis is hiring and looking for bigger offices, and Gray is trying to prevent them from following the long line of technology firms that began in the District but moved to Fairfax County, Arlington or elsewhere, in what could amount to a dry run in the city’s efforts to find a place for LivingSocial to consolidate. If newBrandAnalytics stays in D.C., it will follow HelloWallet, which recently signed up for 10,000 square feet in the West End.

In a meeting with newBrandAnalytics founders and executives Tuesday, Gray asked, “What is going to make this area attractive vis-a-vis the West Coast or Chicago or other places?”

“It’s infrastructure and quality of life,” said chief executive Sean O’Leary. “Those are going to be the big things that draw people to the company.” Acquiring talent, he said, was key.

That gives the District, with its revived neighborhoods and public transit, a leg up. But Arlington County has already come calling, asking what can be done to lure the firm, and that suburb has its own advantages — schools being one. Desai and Kataria both have young children; Kataria has settled in Arlington, while Desai

is looking for homes in Arlington, Georgetown, Tenleytown and other places.

Mark Ein, founder of Venturehouse Group and owner of the Washington Kastles tennis team, has watched other District-borne tech companies up and flee. He said Gray’s willingness to sit down with the founders was a good start.

“When you know the mayor of a city, it’s harder to leave,” he said.

Follow Jonathan O’Connell on Twitter: @oconnellpostbiz

Jonathan O'Connell has covered land use and development in the Washington area for more than five years.
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