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Factal co-founder Cory Bergman talks risk intelligence and resilience on Disaster Empire Quick Views

Ashley Goosman and Cory Bergman speak on a video call

Factal’s co-founder and VP of News and Product appeared on the October 27 edition of Disaster Empire‘s Quick Views, a series where host Ashley Goosman talks with thought leaders about the changing and expanding world of resilience.

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Read the transcript below:

Ashley Goosman: Hey, welcome everyone to another edition of Disaster Empire Quick Views, where we enable thought leaders and innovative vendors in the space to join us on this channel to talk about the interesting things that they’re doing. And please, for the audience, don’t forget to like and subscribe to help build the channel. We’re going to jump in, I’m really fortunate today to have Cory Bergman here from Factal, which they’re doing some interesting work in their space. I wanted to have him on to talk to you about it. Before we jump in, I want you to know a little bit more about Cory and his background. So you understand how we got into the industry and what he has to bring to the table. So I’m going to throw it over to Cory. And if you could share a little bit about your bio, that would be great.

Cory Bergman: Thank you, Ashley. Thanks for having me on. Yeah, my background is odd in that I have a sort of fascination with breaking news and my entire life, which began when I was young. And I remember either I would listen to police and fire scanners and drive around in my car and show up at different fires and police activity and I’d call the local television stations and tell them what was going on. Very bizarre behavior. And then ended up working in local TV in several TV stations in California. And then went into network news for NBC News and did breaking news in the US on a network basis. In some cases, field producing, in other cases just coordinating coverage and spent some time a few weeks at Ground Zero after 9/11 coordinating coverage there.

Then I moved to the digital side from television, where [my job] was about solving breaking news problems on the internet. And there’s lots of problems to be solved with breaking news on the Internet, because it’s actually not very good typically. So I created a company with a partner of mine, called Breaking News. And that was the actual name of the company, if you can believe it, so you had breakingnews.com, it was @breakingnews on Twitter, the Breaking News app. And so what we did is we look for breaking news around the world, curated it verified it, and then let you customize what was important to you as a person. So that’s in your location, that could be about topics you care about. So you get your own breaking news notifications. And then so that’s kind of led into the world of Factal, where we are now. It’s a focus on organizations, on how we can improve the breaking news experience mostly around critical events that impact them.

Ashley: Thank you for that. And so before we dive right in, is there a fun fact or something else that you’d like to share with this audience that would help them to get to know you a little better?

Cory: Sure. It’s funny, we were just talking before we started recording about how you have a blog and work for you have a day job. And I did that for a while too when I was at NBC, I had a blog on the side that was about media and television. It was really kind of interesting about how to juggle that that side blog with your real job. And make sure that your employer is happy with what you’re doing. And even though you have this self publishing model on the side. It’s really cool, and it really does help the industry and like you said, it helps you get better as well, in learning what everyone else is doing.

Ashley: I really do feel that’s the case. Thank you for that. And how long did you have the blog for?

Cory: Oh my gosh, this was over 10 years. ’99 was when I started.

Ashley: It’s like the heyday of the internet too.

Cory: A little break when the dot-com burst, but…

Ashley: A little different, a little more pioneering. Well, hey, with Factal, I started really getting introduced to it when I saw it jumping into my LinkedIn feed, particularly over the last few months. I really wanted to have you on to talk about what you guys are doing in this space. Can you share a little bit about Factal for those who don’t know what you’re all about?

Cory: So what we’re doing is looking for breaking news events that are are going to impact anybody on the ground. So we’re not talking about politics, but we are talking about geopolitics, severe weather, violence, conflict, any any events that happen in a way that could impact anything from stores and offices to supply chains. And so what we do is we look for these emerging events in very early stages, and then we use technology to identify them. Then we apply a newsroom of journalists who are staff journalists that work with us to identify which are the most impactful ones and then to verify the information, geolocate that information, and then tell companies when anything happens in near any of their locations anywhere in the world in real time. So it’s really focused about helping our customers make sense of what’s happening in the world, and kind of really drop that noise level. Because right now, there’s just so many things happening. It’s so hard to keep track of everything.

Ashley: Yeah, I think definitely hard to filter through all of the information coming through from all of the various different channels. So we’ll talk a little bit more about how Factal can help companies and practitioners to really wade through that information. But before we do that, just talking a little bit about Breaking News since that was one of your companies. And obviously, it’s been an area of interest of yours since you were a kid. Can you talk a little bit how the industry has changed? Or how “breaking news” has changed over time?

Cory: Yeah, back in the olden days, it was just your media sources and social media obviously, became, you know, millions of voices on top of that. And back when social media was in its early stages, it was fantastic. Such a great time — you have these eyewitness reports coming out about things, it was a great way to source information much faster. And then over time is, what tends to happen, communities they kind of degrade a bit, they become more noisy, they become politicized. And now you have an environment where you just have a massive volume of information. A lot of people twisting the facts and trying to use information for their own gain, whatever that might be.

And so for companies, we just want to know what’s actually happening so we can make operational decisions. We don’t really care about the politics, just want to say, “Okay, how bad is this? Where is it? How does it impact me? What should I do next? I really don’t have time to deal with all the noise.” It’s at this point really evolved, I think, to the world of millions of voices, and trying to understand which ones are correct. And because it’s challenging enough in the environment that we’re in, where the same old breaking news events have changed as well. It’s not the same old wildfires, it’s not the same old heat waves, it’s things that have become much more complicated that compound each other. And so it’s those kind of factors coming together that we felt really set the stage for a tool like Factal.

We just want to know what’s actually happening so we can make operational decisions. We don’t really care about the politics, just want to say, “Okay, how bad is this? Where is it? How does it impact me? What should I do next?” […] The same old breaking news events have changed as well. It’s not the same old wildfires, it’s not the same old heat waves, it’s things that have become much more complicated that compound each other.

Cory Bergman, VP of News and Product at Factal

Ashley: Yeah, I think that’s such a great point. Like you said, so much of the information out there is slanted or coming from a specific lens. And I think that’s okay, but like you said, it can be really difficult sometimes to gauge where that’s coming from. And as you said, really kind of getting the chaff from the wheat — maybe I’m using that phrase wrong, but you get my point!

So you can actually break it down to actually what is usable and what’s factual, because that is definitely a challenge. And I think it’s taking whole teams of people, as you’re seeing with building up Factal to really provide those nuggets, those kernels of real information to be able for practitioners to respond to, either from a risk perspective or from a crisis management perspective. So what’s your approach, really? And what makes [Factal] different from your competitors out there today?

Cory: Yeah, I think the first thing is verification. There’s been a lot of tools for a long time that surface information from social media, and then leave it upon the user, the consumer to make sense of what that is. For us verification is more than just saying, is this true or is this false? It’s about connecting the dots and saying, okay, these sources are saying this, we’re going to publish an iterative update that there’s this new information about this, sourcing the best source. Now, there’s another new bit of information about this, that we’re seeing three sources say and that certainly falls within reason, and so we’ll publish that.

It really is condensing this ocean down into bite-size nuggets of things that are new, that we have cross-compared against trustworthy sources, sources that we know have been right in the past. If they’re eyewitnesses, then we’re looking at the background of eyewitnesses to be able to see if they’ve been consistent, or they at least look like they’re there, and what they’re saying agrees with other eyewitnesses who are there.

That does a lot of really blocking and tackling that so many teams already do, but it just takes so much manual work. And for us, we can automate that through a combination of our own technology and our own newsroom, to help companies come to these decisions faster. They don’t have to duplicate that same manual work over and over across the board. Hurricane Ian [starting this process] 16,000 times across all these companies, we can help companies get to decisions faster in real time.

Ashley: So if you don’t mind, I’d like to stay on that topic a little bit more. Because there are other companies out there – and I won’t name names – that have aspects of that, that do verify data, which is great. There are others that are more straight social media feeds, and still others that are combining that risk intelligence with mass notification tools. So can you talk a little bit more about Factal and really what space you’re looking to target right now so that my peers out there have a good understanding of that?

Cory: Sure. Where we began was in security. It came out of Breaking News, when we had the breakingnews.com, back at NBC, they shut us down, because we weren’t making revenue on the advertising side. But we had so many companies come to say, “Hey, you know, we relied on you for corporate security and crisis management and all these other comps, can you come back and create a paid product?”

When an event occurs that impacts seven companies at the same time, How can those seven companies connect and communicate and help each other become more resilient through that whole process?

Cory Bergman, VP of News and Product at Factal

We started with security, because that was a place that we knew well, and were able to talk to and operationalize. But we’ve seen really kind of that market beginning to expand, especially after COVID, where the definition of what is security and what is safety and crisis has become, especially for these larger events that impact every part of the org. And as you know, companies are adapting in different ways to to handle this. We’ve certainly seen a growth on the resiliency side for us, and that’s been a big area of growth. For us, one key thing is not only do we verify information, and help companies operationalize all the news and critical details that are out there. But we also provide collaboration tools alongside of that. And so not only collaborating internally within a company, but company-to-company, which I think is an area of tremendous promise. As companies tackle climate change, a problem that’s bigger than all of us, what can we do in collaborating together? Both from a planning perspective, and from when an event occurs that impacts seven companies at the same time. How can those seven companies connect and communicate and help each other become more resilient through that whole process?

Ashley: That’s a great perspective. And I love the idea of collaboration. I’m thinking of fusion centers in the cybersecurity space, and that thought hadn’t really occurred to me in this space, but makes a lot of sense. Sharing information across companies could have a lot of value as well, for various events. I was just talking to a colleague earlier today, and we were just sharing notes on Hurricane Ian, and our experiences there. Wouldn’t that be great to be able to share that in a wider perspective at a time of crisis? So definitely an interesting idea.

Cory: It’s funny, because first of all, companies are very reticent about talking with companies that are competitive in any way, for obvious reasons. So, there’s always been that barrier, but I think COVID kind of paved the way there a little bit, as there was a little bit more information sharing. There’s a lot of ad hoc chat groups, and people have people on their phones and email groups. I think we’re seeing more of that.

We’re excited because one of the things is baked into Factal is that you can actually chat with our editors, or the journalists who are, are verifying and publishing in real time. So it’s an open chat environment to people who are logged in, but then you can ask them more about, “Hey, did you see this? What do you know about that?” You’re getting answers from a journalist. So it’s very “This is what we know. And here’s why we know it.” It’s not analysis. It’s more coverage and then sourcing that coverage. We’ve noticed that companies began to interact with each other in that environment well, and so we’re really starting to see the early signs of that connecting and collaboration. I think there’s so much more opportunity there.

Ashley: Excellent. Well, you mentioned resilience a little bit earlier. So I wanted to follow up with you on that. So my audience really are resilience practitioners, whether it’s in the security space, business continuity, risk, employee safety, et cetera. So, I’d love for you to share with this audience, what does resilience mean to you, Cory?

Cory: That’s a hard question! Yeah, so we focus on the physical and we’re not looking at cyber, we’re not looking at reputational. It helps for us to be able to be really focused on that. For us, so much of that is about where you are in the world physically and what your risk exposure is by proximity.

But resilience on a on a broader scale, I really do think it’s having a sense of knowing what’s happening, having a sense of knowing what is the best next step. So we do a lot of work in giving our members that edge of the probability of what could happen next when something occurs. So, for example, True Impact is a product that we offer that that looks at an incident and compares all the incidents in the past that were similar to this incident. Then it projects that the geospatial impact area on the ground and then correlates it with all your locations. So it says, you know, “you’re probably going to be impacted here because of this thing just happened because this incident is similar to previous ones in the past”.

We’re giving you that little extra heads up and be able to take that one extra step. Then there’s all the planning pieces, as you well know, being able to look back through historic data and seeing, “What are the shifts? How are incidents behaving differently? Are we seeing severe weather incidents, events in new places with different levels of severity?” And how can we sort of, you know, grok some details from that. Then I go back to the collaboration piece, I still think that that has so much potential is companies being able to connect together. Because you share the best ideas, you share your information in real time from just more eyes on the ground. And that has such a positive impact there.

Resilience is really many different things, there’s so many different definitions. But for us, it’s about: “Hey, make sense of the world as best as you can, how does it impact you? What do you think’s going to happen next?” And then let’s all work together to figure out what the solutions might be.

Ashley: Thank you for sharing that. It’s a great perspective. Keeping that in your space makes a lot of sense. But it sounds like you’re having a lot of sensitivity to the broader uses of the term out there. I think we all need to be open, because there are so many definitions out there right now.

I tend to take kind of a broad view overall, but I know more people in the finance and the operational resilience space, it’s much more tech-focused. But I think it’s great to hear from everyone out there, what they’re thinking about in the space. Hey, along with that, too, because you know, COVID has had a long tail. I’d like to hear from you a little bit how that experience of the pandemic has changed how you’re working with companies.

Cory: Yeah, it impacted all of us. We started a podcast really early on with our friends at Emergent Risk International. It’s a webinar, but now we’ve made it a podcast, too, about just updating people on every two weeks about COVID. We started in in March, right after it came to the US and came in the Seattle area, where I’m located.

At that point, we were very motivated, just being in Seattle. It’s been really fascinating, the whole experience of updating companies along the way. Seeing how, companies have become just more holistic and how they approach different crises. Events that used to be more siloed in the organization now are connected. Now there’s visibility in the C-suite, like we’ve never seen before. My hope is that COVID really lays the groundwork for that level of collaboration for climate change. I think it was a good test run for companies to be able to tackle something that has real macro effects.

COVID was very fast. And I mean, it took two years, but from the time compared to climate change, which has been going on forever and ever, and people want to think of it as not as urgent, so that’s always the risk. Now we’re beginning to see, you know, severe weather events that have all these compounding and cascading effects. I think now, companies are beginning to wake up to it, and I hope that they can structure, how they approach it in that more holistic way that connects departments together.

Ashley: I’m hearing leadership say that COVID brought companies forward in various ways five years ahead of where they would have been if we took the normal progression. It happened really quickly, in what would have taken a much longer span of time.

I would love to keep talking to you. I’d love to have you back on, just check in and see where the company is in a bit. But before we wrap today, would you want to share anything else with the audience in terms of what you guys are up to? Or what you’re looking at for the near future, the longer term as people watch the evolution and growth of the company, and hopefully want to get in touch with you?

Cory: Yeah, it really is looking at what that next thing [could be], the probability of next. We can’t predict a year out. But we might be able to get pretty good at a probability of what could occur in a week or two weeks, coming off of incidents that are occurring or looking at what the geopolitical situation is. There’s a lot of I think, sort of anticipatory technology that we can do and that we’ve been working on that we’re really excited about. A lot of that is geospatial as well, which makes a lot of sense for the supply chain. Work-from-home is another whole big piece of that, right? People distributed all over the place, and how do these things impact them? So those are the things we think about a lot.

Transcript condensed for clarity.