Mining data

09 Jan 2013

Author: Heather Jacobs

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Anthony Goldbloom had no idea how to code until he taught himself, but his start-up has become one of the most exciting companies in the hottest field in tech today: big data.
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“I read a book called ‘Joomla for Dummies’ over a summer holiday and started tinkering,” he says.

His invention Kaggle allows organisations with data-related problems to access a global online marketplace of talent comprising over 45,000 of the smartest scientific minds in the world.

Goldbloom, who previously worked for the Reserve Bank of Australia and the Australian Treasury building econometric models, came up with the idea while researching an article on big data for The Economist magazine.

Speaking to CIOs he was struck by how their enthusiasm for big data far outstripped anything they were actually doing.

Holed up in his apartment in Sydney’s Bondi Beach, he knocked together the first iteration of the website. He then emailed “every statistical blogger and newsletter I could find and posted to every mailing list” – and before long his fledgling invention was taking off.

Kaggle has since raised $US11.25 million in Series A financing from some of the biggest investors in Silicon Valley, including venture capital firms Index and Khosla Ventures, PayPal co-founder Max Levchin and Google chief economist Hal Varian.

Organisations use Kaggle to run “predictive modelling” competitions, and the site’s members – typically PhD-level – compete for cash prizes ranging from $5000 to $3 million. Their solutions, known as algorithms, are tested against historical data, with leaderboards ranking them in real-time.

Among Kaggle’s earliest successes was using genetic markers to predict the progression of HIV viral load in patients. It also produced an algorithm that could predict the winner of the Eurovision song contest and helped the World Chess Federation improve its official chess rating system.

Now based in Silicon Valley, Goldbloom, who holds a degree in Economics and Econometrics from the University of Melbourne – and represented Australia in sailing while in high school – says Australian start-ups with global ambitions tend to be more creative than their Silicon Valley counterparts.

“Being outside the Silicon Valley echo chamber gives Aussie entrepreneurs the environment to approach problems from a different perspective.”