University of Pittsburgh

Alumni Spotlight: Greg Petro (MBA ‘00) Removes Distance Between Consumers and Retailers

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Greg Petro

If the Silicon Valley founder’s myth is to start your own tech company from your garage, then Greg Petro did the Pittsburgh equivalent: starting his from his basement.

Petro (A&S ’85, MBA ‘00) is the founder, president, and CEO of First Insight Inc., a solution provider that partners with retailers and manufacturers to eliminate the high cost of new product failures by enabling them to design, select, price, and market winning products. His clients include some of the world’s largest retailers and brands such as The Limited, Helzberg Diamonds, Maurices, and Things Remembered.

“Most companies in predictive analytics use historical data and mine it. We don’t do that. We’re the only company in the world to have created an elasticity curve without a sales history,” Petro says.

Petro cut his teeth in the retail apparel industry. He worked in managerial and buyer roles for such heavyweights as Saks, Inc., Bradlees, Inc., and Macy’s/Federated. In the late 1990s, he went back to school, earning an MBA with a focus on finance and information systems from the University of Pittsburgh’s Joseph M. Katz Graduate School of Business. He also worked for one of the world's leading supply chain management software companies before starting First Insight.

From the basement of his home, Petro began laying the groundwork for First Insight. He wanted to combine his insights from retail with his focus on technology and finance.

“I was trying to figure out how to create technology that could create customer intimacy. I had walked the sales floor and talked to customers, but how could you do that with technology and talking with the right people?” Petro recalls.

First Insight eschews the traditional market research survey, instead collecting its data through online games that give consumers a voice in product development. The interactive experience provides more realistic data since customers are highly engaged. First Insight then applies its proprietary analytic models to convert the information into data that decision makers can act on. The information is then shared in an easy-to-understand dashboard.

Companies that use First Insight receive an average of 3-9 percent increase in gross margins, and now, with over 30 million data points of proof, First Insight can say that 11 percent of the items in the market can bear a higher price.

“We put our money where our mouth is. There’s no question about it,” Petro says.

Since its founding in 2007, First Insight has grown leaps and bounds. The company opened additional offices in San Francisco and London, and is now active in more than 30 countries, including China. Earlier this year, First Insight moved into a new 13,000 square-foot office building in Warrendale, which will provide extra space to hire additional personnel.

Petro’s Pitt connections run deep. His daughter graduated from Pitt, his son is enrolled in the Swanson School of Engineering, and his father graduated from Pitt as well.

Even as the company grows, Petro has no intention of moving it from his Pittsburgh home. Several years ago, he traveled with former Gov. Tom Corbett to Silicon Valley on a trade mission trip. It was clear to him that Pittsburgh’s low cost of living, strong talent base, and absence of a mercenary-like culture among the top workers gave it a unique advantage.

“We have an excellent ecosystem of esteemed universities and a vast talent pool in the Pittsburgh area, giving us the advantage of bringing exceptional people into the organization, thus creating an innovative cultural mindset.

Petro has used that advantage to grow First Insight from his basement into one of Pittsburgh’s top-performing tech companies and a world-leading new product testing and consumer analytics platform. First Insight received the 2014 Pittsburgh Technology Council Tech 50 Award for Solution Provider of the Year and was a finalist in the 2015 Pittsburgh Business Times Best Places to Work. Mr. Petro was also named a finalist in the 2015 Ernst & Young Entrepreneur Of The Year.