Data, Data and more Data

I had planned to title this post “If you have a data intensive business, don’t forget to look at your data.”  But when I thought about, really all businesses are (or should be) data-intensive. And as a result all businesses should be obsessed with the data their systems generate. Measure. Track. Analyze. Adjust.

Years ago I remember sitting in ServiceMagic board meetings when Rodney or Mike (the co-founders) would pull out a Blackberry and announce: “in the 45 minutes since this meeting began, we’ve made 62,135 dollars and 37 cents!” They were obsessed with their system data and they had designed their platform from the very start to allow them to pull out any and all data they wanted. They had access not just to revenue data, but to leads, customer contacts, call center calls, sales funnel changes, site visitors, marketing spend, etc – really anything that had an impact on their company. As a quant-geek myself, I really appreciated what went into the design of their systems that would allow them to surface these operating metrics so easily (not to mention the mindset of Rodney and Mike to insist that they had access to this information at all times).

Fast forward to today and many of our companies have a similar attitude towards the data that drive their business. From the daily digests that report progress on key metrics, to obsessively watching data to look for early warning signs of system problems that their operations alerting hasn’t caught, to posting key operating and engineering data in the lobby of the office, these companies realize that the patterns revealed in the data around their companies will help make them more successful. Several of our particularly data intensive businesses have hired business analysts whose entire job function is to comb through databases and pull out interesting stats and trends. In one of my favorite examples, one of our portfolio companies includes not just business metrics on their lobby data-monitor but also tracks the latest engineering build and bug list. In another of our companies weekly meetings they’ve instituted a “data first” policy, where each department lead reports on their key metrics (against the plan for that week). There’s plenty of time to talk about the meaning behind the data, but by reporting the metrics first the company 1) reinforces it’s data-driven culture and 2) gets the entire company on the same page about what they are tracking and how they’re doing.

Love your data. They’ll love you back!

  • TIB

    This is a great topic and something that I don't think receives enough attention in the early-stage (or any-stage) world. One point that I would add is the importance of understanding what data is important to your business. The truly great data-driven cultures that I've seen have the following characteristics:

    1) The employees are more knowledgeable regarding their departments data than the executives. This is key and often lead to employees both finding new/better metrics to track and initiating the change to improve the metrics.

    2) The executive team encouraging data-driven initiatives to the point they don't even have to know about them until they've tested the initiative.

    • i completely agree. instilling an organization with the “data are important” message is key to building an organization from the bottom up that values (and helps source) key data on the company (and, to your point, helps you sort through what’s less important).

  • Data is the most important ingredient. However the end results are varied depending on how you are able to mix and cook it into a palatable form. Data has to convert to Information, with Relevance. This transforms to INFORMED decisions. Now the decisions based on the information are the crux of any business success!!

    So we do go back to Data, Relevance, Information and finally Transforming it into equitable Decisions.