Overcoming The Challenges Behind Private Company Research
Overcoming The Challenges Behind Private Company Research
By Ian Smith, Intelegia, www.intelegia.com
With the advent of the web, the growth of business research services and tools has
increased. On a daily basis, numerous pages of free business content are available to
analysts to make decisions. Furthermore, an increasing number of premium content
providers are packaging information specifically for businesses to cater to their strategic
needs. As a result, there is no shortage of sources for competitive intelligence
researchers to find relevant information on public traded companies. Finding information
on private companies is a different story.
Is it impossible to conduct a successful search for private company research?
Challenging, yes – impossible, no.
Private company research is an expertise that takes years to perfect and may not be
everyone’s cup of tea. Few researchers have the resolve to take on a mandate to find
information that may or may not be online. The first inclination of any researcher is to
conduct a routine search on the web via Google or Bing utilizing the company’s name.
This article aims to cast a spotlight on the challenges associated private company
research and possible solutions to overcome the challenges.
Challenge #1 – There is hardly any information on location of the offices of the private
company in question.
If this challenge is the hardest aspect of the research mandate, consider yourself very
lucky. Overcoming this challenge entails selecting to go down one of the two possible
i) Visiting local or province / state government offices – These levels of
government hold incorporation information that will have the contact details of
the head office of the company.
ii) Website registry – A source such a Register.com will provide an address of
the person that is registering the domain name. Eight times out of ten, the
address used is the address of private company’s head office.
In addition, accessing the white pages of the city that the company is located in is
another option. Chances are there might be a version of the white pages on the web.
Challenge #2 - There is no way that I can find information on the company’s
Not entirely true. If the company seeks to obtain a trademark or a patent, they must
register with the federal government. Records for a trademark or patent will have a
detail description of the product. Some will have drawings of inventions.
Challenge #3 - The company had a website but it is no longer online. There was
some useful information on the site, can I still access the page?
A niffy tool called, “The WayBack Machine” can provide cached version of websites that
are still online or have been removed. Some of the images used on the webpages may
not be still online however the text remains intact. It should be noted that some of the
websites are available courtesy of The WayBack Machine may contain broken links.
The WayBack Machine Search Interface
Challenge #4 - Building profiles of the top executives is impossible to construct.
This challenge is the most difficult hurdle jump over when it comes to private company
research. If the information that is being sought does not exist, creating profiles can be
a pipe dream. At this point, researchers should begin to get creative in terms of the
sources that they can consult. If they wish to remain online, ZoomInfo is a great start.
ZoomInfo is a summarization search engine that finds useful information about people
on the Web. The tool has the ability to collect nuggets of information from pages that
are not indexed by most search engines.
Index Page of ZoomInfo
Another option to consider is interviewing past employees of the private company. Past
employees are often willing to provide the “inside scoop” regarding top management and
past episodes that took place in individual’s offices. It is advised that an individual who
has experience in elicitation techniques should carry out this interviewing option. Keep
in mind that individuals maybe bound to a non-disclosure agreement that will disqualify
them from the process.
Challenge #5 – There is nobody available to talk to provide us with detailed
information on the company.
Not true. There are a number of group of individuals that can be consulted to provide
information on the company. Obtaining interviews with the individuals can be the correct
route to the following:
• Business reporters from the local press – Business reporters are likely to
monitor the current developments on the local business scene. As a result, they
should be able to provide some insights regarding private companies around the
• Securities analysts – Securities analysts may be informed in terms of the
financial status of the company in question.
• Suppliers – Suppliers are very close to companies are very good candidates to
interview. Details such as organization structure, financial status and pricing
structures can be discovered.
• Customers - Under the right circumstance, customers will share whatever they
know about the company. Some will share information that researchers could
not imagine finding online.
If this mode of information collection is selected, be prepared for a very time intensive
and costly task.
Private company research can be a frustrating task for an internet researcher. For those
researchers who accept the task must provide themselves with a flexible framework in
which they must ask the right questions to the right individuals or use tools that may not
come to mind immediately.
About Ian Smith:
With his knowledge of business strategies used in today’s corporate world and internet
searching methodologies, Ian has found his niche as an internet and competitive
intelligence researcher in the past 10 years. Knowing what challenges that business
professionals face everyday to find relevant information, Ian has written several articles
on competitive intelligence research methodologies and analysis frameworks. In
addition, he has authored articles dealing with internet searching applications for efficient
You can read the blog that Ian contributes to, “Tools For Thought” at