Getting Started

By Anna Maria Virzi  |  Posted 2007-10-01 Print this article Print

The search engine GlobalSpec has faced a lot of challenges, but now has 3.6 million registered users and is profitable. It's a reminder of the good that can sometimes ensue when new management comes in and changes direction.


In 1996, General Electric design engineers John Schneiter and Thomas Brownell, who had been managing major design and development efforts for jet engines, robotic manufacturing, locomotive controls and the like, met at what is now known as the GE Global Research Center in Niskayuna, N.Y. At the time, engineers and purchasing agents aiming to buy manufacturing products and components— pressure sensors, industrial pumps, motors, accelerometers— had to comb through an endless variety of vendor catalogs. In some cases, the vendors even had their product listings locked behind firewalls on their own Web sites on the so-called "dark side" of the Web, so they were unavailable to potential customers, at least online.

Schneiter and Brownell, who later resigned from GE, came up with the idea of using the Internet to build a database of products and vendors for the engineering community with parametric search capabilities. "This enables users to search by attribute and product specification as opposed to typing in a generic key word," Killeen explains. "For example, a user might enter 'brushless DC motors (motors used in variablespeed and torque applications) from 15 to 90 horse power.'" By 2002, GlobalSpec provided visitors access to more than 700,000 searchable product families representing 35 million parts from more than 1,300 searchable suppliers, making it the world's largest online database of technical products and services searchable by detailed specification.

Under Killeen, GlobalSpec redesigned its Web site, adding functionality to streamline the search process. "It's all about the content," Killeen says. "It has to be fresh, vibrant and constantly changing. And it has to be totally relevant to the community you're seeking to engage."

From 2002 to 2004, GlobalSpec also added new partners to provide additional product information to its database and had users register so vendors could better follow up on sales leads. "We're not e-commerce and we're not a transaction model, as OEMs sign up for annual service contracts," Killeen explains. "We're information brokers. We make our money connecting the buyer—the engineer—with the seller—the OEM—which we provide with a stream of sales leads."

GlobalSpec charges companies $5,000 to $500,000 to post their proprietary databases and catalogs. To protect the buyer's privacy, however, GlobalSpec will only pass along the name of the customer to the OEM after it has received permission from the customer, Killeen says.

Next page: Extreme Makeover

Executive Editor
Anna Maria was assistant managing editor Forbes.com. She held the posts of news editor and executive editor at Internet World magazine and was city editor and Washington correspondent for the Connecticut Post, a daily newspaper in Bridgeport. Anna Maria has a B.A. from the University of Rhode Island.

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