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He sold his home, took $200,000 from savings, and started a company that would harness the combined power of big data and data-driven decision making.

The potential payoff in his strategy was evident to Rajaram, but not to the market he was courting. In 2004, big data was not the household term it is today. He knocked on corporate doors for nine months to no avail. Finally, the head of consumer marketing research at Microsoft Corp. gave him a pilot project: help the company understand the behavior patterns of its customers.