Bigger may not always be better, but smarter is. At least, that’s what startup consultancy Altimeter Group is hoping. Staffed by some of the brightest minds (and brightest stars) in technology analysis, Altimeter has very quickly attained some serious altitude.
The firm has only been around since June 2008, when it was founded by former Forrester Research analyst Charlene Li—named one of CRM’s Influential Leaders that year along with her Forrester colleague Josh Bernoff for their work on the best-selling book Groundswell. Altimeter expanded in 2009 to include not just Li’s former Forrester colleagues Jeremiah Owyang (who followed Li as an Influential Leader in 2009) and Ray Wang (one of this year’s Influential Leaders), but also Deborah Schultz, an expert in enterprise social media. In 2010, the firm doubled in size, adding four partners: supply-chain specialist Lora Cecere, formerly of AMR Research; digital communications analyst Michael Gartenberg; ex-Forrester analyst Alan Webber, who focuses on e-government; and Marcia Conner, an expert in collaborative learning.
The star-studded roster turned heads. “I thought [Altimeter] would be a big deal, but never imagined how big of a deal,” says Esteban Kolsky, founder and principal of consultancy ThinkJar. “The market was perfectly ready to trust someone other than the large research houses when it came to the social world…. The name recognition, smarts, and collective work of [its] partners…make Altimeter the most influential research house for the social world.”
Strength in social media certainly raised Altimeter’s profile. Li, Owyang, and Wang all placed among the top 15 twitterers in the TweetLevel rating system developed by public relations giant Edelman, and Owyang’s blog often receives more traffic than the Web site of an entire analyst firm. Fast Company named Altimeter one of its 10 Most Creative Small Businesses, and Li as one of its 100 Most Creative People in Business.
There’s no shortage of thought leadership in the social sector, but Altimeter has established itself as a source of some of the best. As John Ragsdale, a vice president at the Technology Services Industry Association, says, Altimeter’s analysts have the distinction of being “the smartest people in any room”—and their early success has restored value to what had become an Enron-era taunt.