So what criteria do you go for? I’ve been racking my brain over the last 24 hours (and I forgot my notebook which didn’t help).Going back to the eHarmony way of doing things. There’s a ton of spade work already done over many years before they even got to doing any software. Remember the founder of eHarmony, Neil Clarke Warren, was a marriage counsellor many years previous.I keep going back to eHarmony as it’s the one system I’ve read about time and time again when it came to analytics and data mining. It uses 261 bits of information and refines that in to its 29 core criteria working on a like for like match basically.So I’m looking for 5000 business partners/CEO’s/entrepreneurs who are will to answer a lot of questions at the start. Good research if nothing else.5000 * 261 = 1,305,000 bits of information.Meyers Briggs profiles… data, it’s all there. Just need to do something with it.
So much for the quiet long weekend. I got into a fairly long Twitter conversation with Nichola Bates (@growsalesonline), Chris McCabe (@maxer08), Jackie McGonigle (@whatsonni), Lyra McKee (@LyraMcKee) and Mary McKenna (@MMaryMcKenna) about something that really makes me tick… data!Well I was looking at the data angle of it I’m pretty sure the rest were looking from another angle. It was triggered by a blog post that Mary did a few days ago about having two pros of having two heads at the helm of the business (you can read it here). The question then was raised, how do you find the perfect match of a business partner?There are some sites out there like LinkedIn and Collab.ie which do provide a start but nothing that could actually predict anything. The key to all of this are two simple things: rules and knowledge.eHarmony works in the same way. The questionnaire when you sign up is the key bit, it’s the data gathering that figures who you are and what you are prepared to put up with. The next key is figuring out what you are actually looking for.The following is an actual advert (why they listed on Gumtree I’ll never know but there you are, each to their own and all that).We are an angling retailer based in manchester. We are a new breed of retailer, with a great USP. We have a vision for future growth and are now looking to grow the business.We are looking for a partner/Investor/Mentor. Preferably someone who has an interest in angling. The ideal person is someone who would like to take an hands on approach. Experience in the retail trade and IT.We have been trading since June 2009, much work has already been done.We have a website already up and running, ecommerce site, 200+ Customers.Business name, brand name and trademarks have already been registered with IPO.This is a great opportunity for the right person.Ingoing is 10K.Quick return is predicted and all targets are seen as highly achievable.So the jump out points:
- Hands on investor in sales/IT
- Min invest of 10K
- Likes angling (call it active interest in the investment)
- Based in North West of England
- Early stage startup
- Retail experience
You could network your brains out for six months getting to every event you could, shaking loads of hands, doing lots of meetings and it could all come to nothing. Or you could go the eHarmony way plough all your wants and needs into the system and let the site whittle the list of eligible partners down for you. That filters the wheat from the chaff. Then it’s a case of meeting them all (pink carnation and a newspaper job) and doing the rest from there.Obviously a system like this is only as good as the data it has from potential plenty-of-fish-in-the-sea business partners.Weekends off, who needs them?
I suppose everyone has “a book”, it might be a journal or a word document. It’s the place where everything goes into. For me I have an A4 sketch book, it’s coffee stained and a bit bashed around the edges, not great to look at it but it contains every note about Datasentiment’s development from day 1 (and the previous four months from that). I started this book during unemployment, it was a horrible time as well. On the positive side this was the time I started meeting likeminded people in the startup arena, ones who I will keep in contact with wherever I am on the planet.
It’s got screen shots, market research, quotes, everything that got planned and binned, everything that got planned and implemented. Rough business plans, projections, customer segmentation, buying patterns, phone numbers, interested customers. It’s got SQL statements, recency/frequency/value calculations…. I’m sure you get the idea.
Most things I’ve been involved with never start at the computer, it starts with pen and paper. It forces me to start with a bunch of notes and ideas and refine them into something usable that I can produce. Every month I revisit the black book (today is my scheduled day) and I’ll go over notes from 12 months ago and see if there’s anything I’ve missed. Oddly enough things that I’ve put on the back burner (but are in the book) are now starting to emerge into something usable again. It didn’t go in the direction I’d originally planned but it’s good to see it’s not wasted. This book makes sure I don’t forget.
I hope my doctor isn’t reading this…..My morning commute to work involves me passing a Subway store. As I have the Subway card (500 points and you get a free 6 inch sub, or £50 for a sandwich) I’ll use it pretty regularly to get the points. My breakfast is pretty much like clockwork, a 6 inch white sausage bacon and egg sub. Simple, nothing on it.
The point of sale (POS) system uses an internet connection back to a server to add the points. The interesting fact though happened when I walked in one day and they didn’t have white bread. Now let’s remember, I’m English and quite set in my ways (Corn Flakes, THEN THE SUGAR, then the milk) so for someone to run out of white bread I’ll not really go for anything else, I like my routine. It gave me opportunity to ask a few questions though and the big surprise for me, the POS doesn’t take into account the bread that’s being purchased. It knows the name of the sub, cost etc but not what type of bread is being used.Worse case scenario is that the manager over makes on a type of bread that will not sell. This leads to wastage. If you can track the bread then you can start reducing overheads against a period of time.And the perception on the customer is bad, I don’t really like the taste of the other breads. So I have the option of getting second best or coming back (by which time I’m at work so it’s too late). Subway has less that 2 minutes to get my attention and it all starts with white bread. The can then compound to me not returning the next day under the perception that the store might not have the bread in stock again.Ultimately, if Subway could track the bread type transactions they’d potentially save money in the long run and keep the customer happy.Points loyalty systems are pretty useless unless there is some correlation between the requirements of the customer and the knowledge of the retailer. It’s one of the main reasons that the Tesco Clubcard works so well and the Sainsbury Nector card doesn’t. One can do something with the data and the other can’t. WalMart/Asda look through transactional data from the POS to find changes and patterns based on location and date.Getting the data is easy once you have seriously defined what data you want, then what you are wanting to gain from mining that data. An exchage of points for fractional money value is all very well but you don’t really learn anything from your customers.
There are just days when you have to go it alone. For those who don’t know I’m bootstrapping a company from scratch. I thought it might be a good idea to chip in some blog posts along the now that I can talk about some of these things.Since my last job finished at the end of June I’ve been wondering the best way to take things forward. Ask anyone who really knows me and I can have a list of ideas that are ready to be coded. The most interesting thing for me is that this is first start up where I’ve been asking a lot of opinion of the product I’m doing (it’s still in stealth, there’s only a chosen few who know). So here we go, the bold pointed things to keep in mind.Writing it down on a one pager – It’s vitally important to write down on one page what your product is going to do, who the target market(s) are and what the total size of the market is. From there you’ve got focus and what you think it’s all worth. Ignore this step at your peril.Blag, steal, borrow and blag again – If you design, get a good back end coder. If you code then get a designer. This also goes for business advice. Some of the people I hold in high regard are willing to chip in and keep me on the right path. Finally, don’t forget a polite thank you goes a long way. Crap code is fine – Product first, coding refactoring later. There’s no point going over the finer detail of SCRUM or Agile methods if it’s not generating revenue. Market share or revenue? – In the initial stages it’s all about generating revenue (especially if you are a service company). If you’re hellbent on creating a brand or a world changing-everyone-has-to-have-this iPhone app then market share is your aim.What time do you realistically have? – If you are already working then it’s extra hours. I know some that are up at 5am and work through ’til 9am. I know some who do the late shift. There are times I do both and within time I suffer for it. Also, if you have family they will only put up with your Branson like enthusiasm for so long.Learn to do a basic cash flow forecast – Yeah it’s boring but I bet if I asked you now you wouldn’t have a notion what your costs are for the next 12 months. A simple spreadsheet is fine. There are a loads of good cashflow templates out there on the internet.Get an advisory board of people you trust – Ultra important this one. I have three people that I bounce stuff off in various parts of the world. I also have a number of industry contacts who I bounce ideas off. I have one friend who I can just cyberly puke on when I’m having a bad day (and they with me if needed). Don’t over do the networking while you are developing the idea – Any networking event the obvious question is, “what do you do?”. When you are just about to beta test fair enough. From day dot without a single jot of code, forget it. You could be using your time on better things. One thing I’ve noticed over the last five months is that there are an awful lot of people who can talk the talk but when you really press them…. you pretty much know it will come to nothing.Some of the above I actually covered in my talk at Barcamp Derry in October but they still ring true whatever the time of year.
Though it’s not officially confirmed that this will happen, a number of the newspapers are reporting the fact that the FSA want to push through new checks for mortgage applications. The main one is that applicants will be “forced” to prove their spending habits including such wonderful matters as childcare and drinking (not that the two are linked).In the good old days anyone with an ounce of sense could cobble up a basic spreadsheet with their income and basic outgoings and that normally kept the bank manager happy.
I was thinking of taking it a little further. Opt in to carry a Tesco Clubcard or Nectar card with you from 3-6 months and prove your spending habits. Then let the bank mine your data prior to getting a decision. Yes it can be mildly fixed that everyone is on their best behaviour for those six months but you’d still get an idea of what the general basket size of the applicant is each week. It won’t be long before a quick mine of Twitter and Facebook data will also show predictive modelling. If you are posting up photos of yourself pee’d up to the nines on Facebook on a Sunday afternoon then there’s a good chance you went on a bender Friday/Saturday night. Just check the timestamps of new activity in the photo stream and you can get an idea of the drinking patterns in no time. Sweeping generalisations, yes. All in the realms of possiblilty? Yes.
I have worked in IT for twenty one glorious years, never thought I could see the day. Programming languages come and go, fads, fashions, websites I’ve pretty much seen it all. There is one thing that has constantly cropped up in my profession, fake advertisements.To start off with it was agencies posting fake IT positions on JobServe (and hey, it still happens). In Northern Ireland they calculated that 50% of the agency positions are made up. No shock there. But it’s not just the IT job market, oh no. If you have a Boeing 737-200 for sale, for example, you’d expect any sort of “exchange and mart” sort of sale to happen. I’ve got a plane, you want a plane, let’s talk! No. I’ve got a plane, and ten brokers want a piece of the action as well. And in time and honoured tradition of the fake job ads in the IT world there’s a bunch of made up aircraft for sale or rent notices as well. I’m sure it happenes in every other domain that exists. Back to my Boeing 737. The senario is: Owner -> Broker->Broker->Broker->Broker->Broker->Broker->End User You could add an infinate number of brokers in that chain, it would eventually end somewhere. Each of them is trying to claw their 1% commission for referring a sale. It’s the same as estate agent and just as sleasy. Letters of intent mean nothing…. neither does an NDA. Money is not made on data alone, it is made up on the quality of data. I’ve used the aviation industry as an example as it’s one that I know an awful lot about from the startsup I’ve done over the last four years. It’s all about signal to noise, something I’ve blogged about before with Twitter and the alarming number of data I seem to amassing. To gather meaningful data is becoming more of a pain. I’m working on some tools for the aviation sector but I am constantly aware of just becoming another signal to noise service, providing more noise and what constitutes as free advertising (“as long as my phone and email address are on the site, that’s all I care about!” sort of mentality). The question should really be how to cut out the noise.
I’ve been umming and ahhing over this one for a week or so and the immediate answer just wasn’t in my field of vision. There’s lots of talk about data mining Twitter feeds as a use for company feedback. SAP already have something called the “sentiment engine” as part of their Business Objects Text Analysis suite that was using the Twitter API’s to gather information on a company or product and predict what the buzz was.Twitter signups are lacking one major piece of information and that’s an age range for user accounts. It makes slicing any form of decent information a real challenge. Facebook at least asks you for a date of birth but extracting it something I have never tried. Tesco learned the hard way about not knowing age segmentation when the Clubcard was in its early days. Pensioners were not wanting money off vouchers for Coca Cola as they simply didn’t drink the stuff. They weren’t quiet about it either. Localisation would work well with Twitter analysis as you can define a geocode radius to the result set. So we can easily find out what people think about our products but never find out what age they possibly could be. Original blog post on the Sentiment Engine in the Insurance Technology Blog.
More on the SAP BOTA here.
In 2004 I worked on a project with a company called Rippledown Solutions, later their app became System42 then it got totally rebranded into Erudine. One of their demo pitches was loyalty card data and it’s something I’ve been fascinated with ever since. To mine that amount of data takes some doing.Anything with large datasets has the potential to be a cloud goldmine (if it’s not already) including web usage data, video, photography and music. The main problem with loyalty card data is getting your hands on it… not the easiest thing in the world to do. At the end of the day it’s a lot of numbers: date/time, store location, item, offer code… Tesco go deeper and create more data and a better idea of how to target their data. In the UK there is one clear market leader who knows what they are doing with the data, and that’s Tesco. That’s more down to Dunnhumby who put a lot of backend consultancy together. Tecso mines the best part of 18 million customers data. From my dealings with Rippledown the reason, we found out on the grapevine, that you only got vouchers every three months was that’s how long it took to mine the data. This left the rivals in a complete state of non starter. The Nectar card scheme never really did anything and upon that Asda pretty much gave up on loyalty cards altogether. Nectar in the end got Peter Gleason to go from Dunnhumy to Nectar, he was one of the team who knew data analysis. Not a programmer that I’m aware of, just a smart marketer. Consumer data is big money to the supermarkets as they can sell it on. And the faster they can process it means they can monetise it quicker. Sounds like a perfect elastic platform waiting to happen. There’s a good chance it’s already happening. One company that stopped selling their data though was Walmart, selling competitor information about suppliers is never a good thing. Wal-Mart operate their own data centre with over 460 Tetrabytes of data storage and boy do they know how to do stuff. CIO Linda Dillman could use the data to predict buyers strategy for hurricanes (PopTarts sales increase seven fold and the pre hurricane favourite was beer), predicting is much better than analysing after. What doesn’t come out in the wash is the speed that this data can be collated and processed. The Tesco problem was always sheer volume to process over a three month period, I’m not sure how Wal-Mart latency would be in all of that. Instance replication is the big plus point here, getting servers to replicate during high loads of data processing. The processing of the New York Times archives (now a Cloud Computing must read) gives the sense of what’s possible with instance replication. Sainsbury have gone to a system of offers at the point of sale, ie looking at the customer’s basket and creating offers from there. It doesn’t go in to any historical depth. A web service to a cloud backend (with all the previous data run during the night) could recall the new offers based on what they’ve already bought. The key here is the customer, it’s easy to know out a voucher to reduce petrol/gas by 5p a litre but a whole other to push a new type of butter on the customer who’s spent the last month buying margarine. If there’s one arena to keep an eye on it’s this one.