Big data needs designers, not technologists

Guest post by Geoff Foulds.

“Data can give you an uplift or a depression, but the fundamental trajectory is not set by data. Design is the most important function.”

That was the surprising message delivered by Google Ventures’ Anish Acharya to a packed Startup Grind Toronto gathering back in September 2013.

Acharya knows what he’s speaking about. He and co-founder Jeson Patel launched and built the successful social gaming company Social Deck, then sold it to Google. Acharya was drafted to be the product manager for Google+ and saw it through launch. He is now a Google Ventures partner.

“What I see, especially in this space, it tends to draw brainy people but [it’s] not necessarily the most people-oriented, so entrepreneurs develop something cool that not that many people want … a tech founder also has to be a product manager,” said Acharya.

Despite Google Venture’s big data DNA, Acharya said the focus of its investments is actually on “companies that have a culture and a rigor around data that is thoughtful, not on data per se.”

“The interesting opportunities in big data are not in the capture of it – there’s some in management –but the interpretation of it. Making sure that every stakeholder and every decision maker who needs to see the data does, and what it means.”

Our attitudes about data may need to change, he added.

“We grew up in a system that emphasized calculus over statistics. Calculus is closed solutions and statistics is probabilistic,” said Acharya. “That’s one of the reasons many of us had to spend some time understanding statistics … As a business community we’re getting better at that.”

On a practical level, Acharya says the challenges facing companies outside the Valley often come down to product leadership and community. He’s in a position to know. Social Deck was based in Toronto, but he and Patel invested a lot of time cultivating the Valley VC community.

“It’s tough to find the maturity of product leadership in Toronto, on the consumer product side in particular,” said Acharya. “You need to invest in mindshare presence in the Valley. They have a culture where they constantly interact with each other.”

Even so, Acharya isn’t advising Toronto startups to pull up stakes and head south of the border.

“The tactics we used in the App Store to drive distribution are not geography specific. So there’s no reason a company from Toronto can’t be a break out in any of these segments.”


To read more on startups leveraging big data, Roger Ehrenberg of IA Ventures also noted the urgent need for design excellence, in a recent article on the flow of investment into big data startups.

This is a guest post by Geoff Foulds, CMO of AffiniD, a startup based in Toronto and San Mateo.

The next Startup Grind Toronto Fireside Chat is with Jos Schmitt, CEO of Aequitas on April 14, 2014. Startup Grind Toronto director Michael Cayley describes Aequitas, which is developing a new stock exchange and private exempt market platform backed by RBC, BCE, Barclay’s and others, as Canada’s most important startup.


Michael Cayley
Michael Cayley
Having attracted over US$50-million in investment and closed over $21-million in pre-launch sales for startups in China, the USA and domestically, Michael is living the struggle of the self-funded, pre-revenue Founder in Canada. He understands the pace of global innovation. He founded & funded the Ontario Cross-border Technology Innovation Ecosystem (OCTIE) study and he designed and taught the first, post graduate level, social media course in a full time program in Canada: crowdsourcing over 100 global experts as mentors. Cayley is the Founder of Cdling Capital Services Inc. (pronounced "seedling") a ratings agency that measures risk and builds trust between Founders, Investors and Experts in the era of low cost, globally funded startups and he is the Founder & Director of Startup Grind Toronto.

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