By  on November 27, 2007

Panjiva wants to make the sometimes grueling process of finding an overseas supplier as easy as picking a restaurant.

The Web-based service, which was launched this year at Panjiva.com, offers detailed information on more than 40,000 apparel suppliers and includes a ratings system that measures the apparel business much as Zagat critiques the culinary world.

Josh Green, Panjiva's co-founder and chief executive officer, conceived the idea two years ago while working in the electronics field.

"I was looking for a supplier in China and was incredibly frustrated because I couldn't find solid information about all the suppliers in China," said Green, a 29-year-old Harvard Business School graduate. "It seemed to me that in today's world there should be an information resource that can provide companies here in the U.S. with the information they need to do business around the world."

Green consulted with executives in several industries, including his sister and brother-in-law, Rory and Elie Tahari.

"They said this is a huge problem in the apparel industry because there are so many suppliers all around the world and so little information about those suppliers," Green said. "With that, I, along with a friend, James Psota, set out to build the world's greatest information resource for apparel companies trying to figure out who they should be doing business with around the world."

In addition to cofounding the venture, Psota, who received an undergraduate degree from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, is the company's chief technological officer.

Panjiva offers contact information for each supplier, its areas of expertise and the caliber of its customers. The service relies on constantly updated information about suppliers from more than 140 countries. To compile information, the company uses more than 200 data sources, including organizations such as the World Bank for country contacts, certification agencies that can disclose whether a supplier is socially or environmentally certified and shipping data from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, the Ministry of Commerce of the People's Republic of China and Social Accountability International. Panjiva processes about three million shipments and repeats the process monthly to have an up-to-date view of businesses.

Suppliers are rated on customer loyalty, quality management and social and environmental responsibility. Panjiva developed patent-pending technologies to transform data into metrics, which, according to company information, "weights the ratings to account for the fact that some dimensions are more important than others." For instance, a score of 90 and above would constitute an excellent rating, and 70 to 90 a good one."Our belief is that it's unnecessarily difficult to do business across borders and it's so important in today's world, and we want to make it easier," Green said. "Panjiva cuts down the time and cost of trying to find a supplier, and it helps you monitor your existing suppliers. One of the things we hear a lot from companies we talk to is that there is much concern with the risk that comes with doing business overseas. It's very important to have up-to-date information on the companies you're doing business with, so that if there is a risk and the company is going to go out of business, you have as early a warning as possible."

The online service has different membership levels, ranging from $500 to $50,000. Buyers can even share their experiences with suppliers on the site and rate them, with detailed scorecards.

"We go through a series of checks to make sure that the person who did the rating has actually done business with the supplier," Green said.

"Panjiva" is a made-up term based on Pangaea, the supercontinent that existed 225 million years ago when all land on earth was joined together.

While there have been many databases of suppliers around the world, Green pointed out that much of the information about them usually came from the suppliers themselves. Panjiva, he said, aims to provide information from other sources to serve the buyers. There is no advertising on the site and the profit model is subscription-based.

Green said he could envision taking the concept beyond apparel. "Our customers have already started pulling us into other industries or other areas," he said.

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