The speed in which information is created and put up on the Web is staggering. It will only get faster as sensors and devices, people, better tools and automation combine to move us further into the Zetabyte Era (22 figure numbers).
While the information being created can help us better understand if our efforts to connect with customers and prospects are actually working, getting that information from all the various sources can be a daunting, time-consuming process.
Dane Atkinson, CEO and Co-Founder of SumAll, a free marketing analytics platform that pulls data from sources like Facebook, Twitter, PayPal, Google Analytics and others, shares why it is critically important to get past the fear of big data, and embrace what it can do from a competitive advantage perspective.
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Small Business Trends: Can you tell us a little bit about your personal background?
Dane Atkinson: I’m a serial entrepreneur. As a teenager I ran an ad agency and I’ve had a dozen companies since then. The company right before this one was called Squarespace which was website publishing. It’s been a long and wonderful life building stuff on the Internet.
Small Business Trends: Can you talk a little bit about being a serial entrepreneur?
Dane Atkinson: Entrepreneurship has some similarities at any point in time. The first company I built on the Internet was at the outset of the Internet age. You had to raise capital and the acceptance of the market and the ability to do things. I would say there is a current trend where entrepreneurship is in vogue. So a lot of people are attracted to it.
It’s one of the best lifestyles you can have if you’re up for putting yourself on the knife’s edge. It definitely teaches you quickly. Not too many people should walk into it entirely blind because it is a lot of work and it does challenge you. If you’re hunting for that, it’s the best place to be.
Small Business Trends: Why did you start SumAll?
Dane Atkinson: Well, we had a lot of competing reasons to build this company. When we first started, we spent a lot of time just developing the culture that we thought would make for a great company. But in the last business, Squarespace, there were many moments beforehand where as a data junkie, I felt this huge frustration of just trying to understand what was happening in our business.
There was a pinnacle moment. We had this public company CFO working for us and he was copying and pasting from some email and I asked what he was doing. He was copying the revenue he had from yesterday so he would have it in a spreadsheet. And he could see what the hell was happening.
That seemed painfully absurd that people would have to do that, copy and paste to see what your revenue looks like on a day to day basis. It seems persistently true for a lot of businesses, not just for their revenue database but for everything. Like all the providers you use, the people who help us to build businesses these days. It created a huge amount of information in the wake of our efforts but we don’t get access to it.
So we thought that a company that brought that information to bear for people who want it easily, it would be a great thing to do and probably a big category that we could enjoy for a number of years.
Small Business Trends: Can you talk about the challenge of today’s entrepreneur getting a real clear picture, but having to do so with all this data spread out?
Dane Atkinson: It’s a real problem actually. And we’re in a world now where data is almost a necessity. You can’t really optimize your business to run effectively unless you know what’s happening in all its different parts. If you look at the way it works for a lot of our customers, we have 125,000 businesses using us. Prior to our tool, most of them were sitting there on a Sunday night or the free moment they’ve got away from their business loading up Excel and copying and pasting from one place or another to see if that social campaign actually had an effect or if their inventory is in line with their expectations.
Which isn’t to say that there’s not a lot of need for understanding of data. But the access to it certainly shouldn’t be hard to get at. I’m sure there will be other companies like us to try to make it easy for folks to see what’s happening in the world around them.
Small Business Trends: Are you seeing companies being able to do a better job using a service like yours?
Dane Atkinson: Our customers have been doing very well compared to the overall market. There’s some self-selection there, but just by embracing information, that very first decision has a lot of benefits. Most companies get a ten to 20 percent lift once they start to understand the KPIs they’re really striving for, the key metrics they’re trying to push, the numbers they’re trying to manage.
Then having easy access to the various things that influence it, it definitely gives them greater agility. So they can see ‘I’ve had a lot of luck on Facebook getting likes, but I haven’t seen any increase in my traffic and certainly no increase in my revenue. I’ve had a little bit of luck in Instagram. I’ve seen some interesting correlating traffic and actually more interesting correlating revenue coming from it.’
You can’t piece those two things together unless the data sits next to each other. You don’t know where to attribute the increase in sales unless you’re actually able to see how those different efforts might actually link together.
Small Business Trends: What are some of the results you’re seeing customers make with this kind of service in terms of better decision making?
Dane Atkinson: The way things really seem to work for our customers is there’s a huge time savings with people getting their hands on the data. There is that definite benefit that organizations start to run with data as part of their philosophy. That tends to make for better companies, so they get a lift there. They start to look forward and see how returning customers are actually changing their potential opportunity. They actually watch how it happens, how it affects things a lot more closely.
I think there’s still a huge need for education which we’re not presently doing very well. People will get a better sense of how to really look at the data, manage it and draw decisions from it. But just having it is a big first step. And the market will mature as it gets more and more exposure to the information. It’s just not there yet.
Small Business Trends: On a scale of one to ten, how ready are small businesses to take advantage of a service like yours? What do they need to do in order to really benefit the most from using it?
Dane Atkinson: I think for us, we feel it’s an eight to ten desire to get at the information. People understand the pain of trying to figure things out the old-fashioned way in spreadsheets. So there’s a lot of relief just by using a tool like us, seeing the information.
I would say there’s still more of a three to four for how much they’re able to take that to the next level and really start to run their business from it.
What we suggest to customers is to familiarize yourself with the data and get close to it. Try to manage towards it so set some goals, bring some internal awareness to your data, share your information, get people thinking about it. That actually creates the right kind of conversations down the road which are, ‘Okay, we see these things happening. What are the questions that we can ask that make sense as to why this is going on?’
It’s an evolution for the small businesses. Our experience with small businesses is they are the smartest people in the world and the hardest working. Really like the best folks you would want to have dinner with. But they’re usually ill-equipped to figure out how to leverage information. They get there in time. I would suggest anyone who’s not using some sort of tool to understand the information around them, embrace something. Just get numbers so it’s not entirely gut instinct.
Small Business Trends: I like that – put numbers in their life. That’s a good one for a business to really begin to follow because with all of this data around, you better understand some of it at least. Where can people learn more, Dane?
Dane Atkinson: SumAll.com. Our site is free thanks to a lot of venture capital, so you can see if it works for you.
This interview on big data strategy is part of the One on One interview series with thought-provoking entrepreneurs, authors and experts in business today. This transcript has been edited for publication. To hear audio of the full interview, click on the player above.