From Bankruptcy Brink to Leading the Market: CB Insights’ Tale Crafted by Anand Sanwal

Despite facing financial struggles in the early days, CB Insights, under the leadership of Anand Sanwal, has since grown to become a trusted source of market intelligence. Let delve into its uncommon “five-year overnight success.”
CB Insights CEO Anand Sanwal speaks on stage
Courtesy: CB Insights
By | 9 min read

In 2008, the world was undergoing a significant period of change and disruption, with the global financial crisis impacting many industries and causing major shifts in the business landscape. At the same time, there were rapid advances in technology and major shifts in consumer behavior, creating new opportunities and challenges for businesses and investors. Against this backdrop, entrepreneurs and investors were looking for new ways to navigate the complex and rapidly evolving business environment.

Anand Sanwal was one of them, too outstanding to be missed out. Sanwal and his co-founders set out to build CB Insights, a platform that would use data-driven insights to help investors and businesses navigate the rapidly changing business landscape. They focused on developing a product that would be easy to use, reliable, and provide users with the insights they needed to make informed decisions.

Sanwal’s vision and dedication paid off, and CB Insights quickly gained recognition for its unique approach to data analysis. Let’s explore how CB Insights, under Sanwal’s leadership, has developed into a valuable tool for businesses and investors seeking to make data-driven decisions and flourish within the ever-evolving business environment.

Anand Sanwal’s CB Insights Leads the Way in Data-Driven Solutions

Anand Sanwal’s journey as an entrepreneur officially began when he co-founded CB Insights in 2008. Prior to that, Sanwal had worked as an analyst at American Express. He has a strong background in finance and strategic business analysis, having previously served as the Vice President of Investment Optimization and Strategic Business Analysis at American Express Company. 

In this role, he was responsible for managing the company’s Corporate Performance Management effort, which involved capturing over $4 billion of per annum discretionary investment spend across the organization. He also oversaw the CFO’s strategy and analysis group, providing strategic guidance to the company’s financial decision-making process.

It was during that time that he noticed a gap in the market for reliable data on private companies, particularly startups, which were becoming increasingly important in the wake of the financial crisis.

Sanwal saw this gap as an opportunity to create a platform that could provide investors and businesses with real-time insights on emerging technologies and trends, as well as to identify potential investment opportunities. He co-founded CB Insights that aims to be shaped as a full-rounded market intelligence platform enabling businesses and investors to make more informed decisions.

Talking about this “brand-child” in an interview with Forbes, Sanwal shared similar idea, “I was an investor and I was looking for a data-driven way to make investment decisions. There wasn’t any data out there on private companies. We saw a gap in the market and decided to build CB Insights.”

CB Insights staff interview a high-profile tech icon in the conference
Courtesy: CB Insights

Under Sanwal’s leadership, CB Insights has become a leading market intelligence platform, with its innovative approach to data analysis being a key factor in its success. The platform uses natural language processing and machine learning algorithms to extract insights from unstructured data sources such as news articles, patent filings, and social media, providing real-time insights on emerging technologies and trends, as well as identifying potential investment opportunities.

CB Insights has been recognized by several media outlets for its innovative approach to data analysis and its impact on the business world. In 2020, CB Insights was named to Forbes’ AI 50 list, which recognizes the top private companies in AI, and was also named to the Inc. 5000 list of fastest-growing private companies in America. 

Understandably, CB Insights’ unique approach to data analysis has gained traction in a flash, with the platform getting adopted by over 1,000 organizations, including Fortune 500 companies, venture capital firms, and government agencies. Sanwal’s leadership has been instrumental in driving CB Insights’ growth and success, and he has grabbed the headlines with his proven contributions to the industry.

Microsoft is one of the many Fortune 500 companies that have employed CB Insights’ platform and hit the jackpot. Specifically, the giant tech guy used CB Insights to track emerging technologies and identify potential acquisition targets in the AI, cloud computing, and cybersecurity sectors. By leveraging the platform, Microsoft was able to grasp the ins and outs of its target markets and make more informed decisions on potential acquisitions.

Besides, in a press release announcing a partnership between CB Insights and Nasdaq, it is stated that the partnership will “offer a comprehensive, data-driven solution to help corporate clients and venture capital firms identify and evaluate potential acquisition targets.”

CB Insights staff celebrate with Nasdaq trade platform
Courtesy: CB Insights

By partnering with Nasdaq, CB Insights is able to provide even more value to its customers, offering a well-rounded solution that combines Nasdaq’s expertise in financial markets with CB Insights’ market intelligence platform. This partnership is just one example of how CB Insights is working to provide innovative solutions to its customers and stay on the crest of the market intelligence wave.

It’s also worth noting that under Sanwal’s guidance, CB Insights has expanded its services beyond market intelligence, with the company now offering a range of tools and services designed to help businesses made great strides.

“We’ve gone beyond just market intelligence to build a range of products that help companies stay ahead of the competition. We’re helping companies monitor their competition, track emerging technologies, and identify potential acquisition targets,” shared Sanwal in an interview with CNBC.

The expansion efforts have made the front page, with several business insiders evaluating CB Insights’ new services as a valuable resource for businesses seeking to gain a competitive advantage.

How the Market Intelligence Provider Captures 1,000+ Signups a Month

What strategies has the co-founder and CEO of CB Insights implemented to capture over 1,000 trial signups per month for his company?

CB Insights has a content marketing strategy that has been instrumental in attracting new signups. They publish 15-20 pieces of content per week, focusing on hot topics in the venture capital industry. Their content is data-driven and provides insights to back up their opinions. 

 “The biggest thing, no matter what type of content you put out (longer form or more snackable pieces) is to figure out what’s trending and interesting to the market and applying their data to create something interesting.” He emphasized.

Conference attendees collaborate in a networking event
Courtesy: CB Insights

Instead of measuring metrics like page views or the number of tweets, CB Insights tracks the number of trial signups they receive. This is the only metric that really matters to them. By focusing on the number of signups, they can accurately measure the impact of their marketing efforts and adjust their strategy accordingly.

In an interview with Mixergy, he stated, “We focus on trial signups. We don’t care about page views, we don’t care about the number of tweets or social shares. We just care about signups, because if people are signing up for our platform, that means they’re interested in what we have to offer.”

This approach has paid off for CB Insights, as evidenced by their profitability in the low seven figures in 2013 and their growth of over 200% in 2014.

More remarkable, Sanwal has successfully implemented a number of strategies that have helped the company to capture more than 1,000 signups a month.

Firstly, CB Insights places a strong emphasis on data-driven content, which is backed by empirical data and provides readers with trustworthy information. By creating insightful and data-backed content, CB Insights has been able to establish itself as a thought leader in the industry and build trust with its audience.

“For salespeople, it’s who is my next potential lead; for corporate strategy, it’s what is the next hot industry; for people in competitive intelligence, it’s what’s Google’s next big move. We want to use data to provide insight into all of these things.” – said Sanwal

Secondly, Sanwal has prioritized identifying trends in the industry and paying close attention to topics gaining attention, which allows CB Insights to create exceptional content that stands out within the VC universe.

Thirdly, collaborating with industry thought leaders and hiring data scientists has helped CB Insights to stay ahead of the curve and provide fresh perspectives on industry developments.

Sanwal stated: “We want to get fresh perspectives from people who are experts in different areas. We want to make sure that we’re assimilating different views and expertise, and that’s where we think the best content comes from.”

CB Insights staff interview guest in a fintech conference
Courtesy: CB Insights

Finally, he prioritizes conversions over social metrics, focusing on incentivizing users to refer new customers and turn visitors into subscribers. These strategies have helped CB Insights to build a large and loyal customer base and establish itself as a leading provider of market intelligence and data-driven insights for the venture capital, private equity, and corporate innovation industries.

Reaching the Brink of Failure: No Outside Funding

Despite its current success, did you know that CB Insights faced financial struggles during its early days?

“In the beginning, we were extremely promiscuous about the market we were targeting and that’s actually helped us.” said Sanwal.

The company initially struggled to generate revenue and avoid bankruptcy. In a medium post by Anand Sanwal, he recounts a particularly difficult time for the company in February 2009 when they were still struggling to sell their research and were in desperate need of funding to build CB Insights. At that point, they were within weeks of going bankrupt.

Anand Sanwal stated, “We were weeks away from going out of business. We had no investors, no funding, and no way to build a product that people actually wanted to pay for.”

Fortunately for the market intelligence provider, the general stock market was in decline, and credit cards had become a major issue, causing hedge fund investors to become interested in their research. This stroke of luck allowed CB Insights to start selling their research and generating revenue just in time to avoid bankruptcy.

They were definitely in the right place at the right time, because for 16 to 18 months, they were the only ones in the market selling this type of research, which helped them generate revenue. 

As a result, CB Insights has become a trusted source of market intelligence, with VCs, governments, and startups providing them with data in the hopes of gaining exposure in their newsletter.  With data on over 650,000 private companies, as well as public companies, investors, they can provide their clients with real-time insights on emerging technologies and trends, as well as identifying potential investment opportunities. 

The company analyzes data on venture capital, startups, patents, partnerships, and news mentions across many industries, with a particular focus on fintech in recent years. “Fintech has been a big area for us…We see a lot of fintech startups and see what banks are doing in fintech as well.” – Sanwal said.

In an interview with TechCrunch, Anand Sanwal stated that “People come to us, VCs come to us, governments come to us, startups come to us and give us data because they want to be included in the platform.”

“Things Work Out the Way They’re Supposed to Work Out” – a Culture of Collaboration and Success

Anand Sanwal also discussed the importance of execution over funding in an interview with Inc. magazine in 2017. He stated, “Money buys you time. It doesn’t buy the ability to execute. We’ve had multiple, more well-funded competitors come into our space. They all die. You have to be able to execute. It buys you time, it buys you some hype, it creates some noise amongst your employees potentially, but it’s not the metric for success”

According to Crunchbase, CB Insights has raised a total of $11.7 million in funding over three rounds. Their latest funding was raised in September 2015 in a Series A round, where they secured $10 million. The funding round was led by Pilot Growth Equity, with participation from the National Science Foundation and several angel investors.

CB Insights staff interview high-profile guest in the investment world
Courtesy: CB Insights

The data analysis platform’s ability to secure funding from reputable investors is a testament to the company’s strong business model and innovative approach to market intelligence. The investment also provided CB Insights with the financial resources needed to continue to expand its services and remain at the forefront of the market intelligence industry.

Additionally, according to PrivCo, as of September 1, 2015, CB Insights had a post-money valuation in the range of $50 million to $100 million. This suggests that the company was in a strong financial position and had significant potential for growth. With this level of funding and valuation, CB Insights was able to further solidify its position as a leading provider of market intelligence services.

Indeed, the market intelligence provider has a company culture that values transparency, collaboration, and intellectual curiosity. They believe in a flat organizational structure and encourage employees to share ideas and take ownership of their work.

The company has a team of over 450 employees who work across various departments, including data science, engineering, product management, marketing, and more. Their leadership team is composed of experienced industry professionals who have worked at companies such as Goldman Sachs, Microsoft, and Google.

CB Insights’ focus on collaboration and transparency extends beyond their own team. The company regularly hosts events and webinars, and also provides resources such as research reports and newsletters to their clients and the wider industry. They have also launched a program called “The CB Insights Councils,” which brings together senior executives across industries to discuss the latest trends and insights.

According to Glassdoor reviews, CB Insights has a 4.6 out of 5 rating for overall employee satisfaction, with 97% of employees approving of the CEO, Anand Sanwal. One employee wrote, “CB Insights is a fantastic place to work with a culture that fosters curiosity, creativity, and ownership. It is an environment where every person feels valued and is given the opportunity to make a significant contribution to the company’s success.”

The company has also been recognized for their team culture and workplace environment. They have been named to the Inc. Best Workplaces list for three years in a row and were named a Best Place to Work by Crain’s New York Business in 2019.

CB Insights staff at a public event
Courtesy: CB Insights

“Things work out the way they’re supposed to work out.” Sanwal believes that celebrating both big and small wins is crucial for maintaining team morale and motivation. He notes that while sales are often the most celebrated metric in a company, there are many other achievements that should be recognized and celebrated as well. This includes milestones such as launching a new product, hitting a certain number of users, or even completing a difficult project.

To make sure that everyone in the organization feels included in the celebration, Sanwal recommends creating rituals or traditions that involve everyone. “If you have a gong or whatever ritual that you might use, make sure that everybody in the organization is ringing that, or hitting that, or whatever it might be.”- he said

Bottom Lines

“Don’t follow whatever the soup de jour of the software world is. Slack is hot. Dropbox was hot. Evernote was hot. We should do what they do and badges or whatever is like the thing. Everybody is super smart until they’re not. You have to do what’s good for you and not what is popular.” – Sanwal said

Anand Sanwal’s leadership has been instrumental in driving the growth and success of CB Insights, a market intelligence platform that provides real-time insights on emerging technologies and trends, as well as identifying potential investment opportunities.

Overall, Anand Sanwal’s journey and success as an entrepreneur and business leader serve as an inspiration to others in the industry.

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