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Learning from Start-Ups

Monitoring what's going on with online start-ups is not only a great way for me to identify interesting new data-driven products and new market opportunities, it's also a touchstone for assessing how the publishing industry is doing relative to the best and brightest online innovators. Here are just three recent examples, each interesting to me in a different way:

Mixpanel, an undeniably hot and respected web analytics company recently gave an interview where the founder proudly stated that, "The next leap we're taking is being able to tie data to an actual user." If that sounds like an audience database, that's because it is. And the publishing industry has seen the opportunity in creating comprehensive user/subscriber profiles for years now, and poured significantly resources into this effort. And based on the audience database projects we've been involved in, I am pleased to report that many publishers are well on their way to databases that will truly be cutting edge in the targeting and insight they can deliver.

Another hot new start-up, Retailigence, does one thing: it helps big companies put their store inventory data online. This isn't a new concept; companies like Milo have been offering similar services to smaller retailers for years. But what is intriguing about Retailigence is that it is selling to big companies, those with big SAP applications and the like. The lesson here is that even the largest companies, those with the resources and the incentive to do it themselves, will still turn to a third-party vendor for a well-crafted solution that helps them quickly address a business need. And with all that product data (and information on what is selling where and how fast), one has to wonder if Retailigence has a data opportunity at least as large as its software opportunity.

Finally, here's an elegant data product that solves a small but important problem: how can online retailers easily offer discounts to senior citizens, college students and active duty military personnel? It's something that is done so routinely in bricks and mortar retail that nobody thinks about it. But online, it's next to impossible to do this in a seamless, hassle-free way.

Enter SheerID, a new database that helps automate this process for online retailers, right inside the shopping cart. The need is clear and the concept couldn't be simpler. What jumps out at me is that something like this is just being addressed in 2012 - a powerful proof statement that for all the amazing innovation and progress we've seen on the web, there are sizable infrastructure opportunities still to be found, and many of these opportunities will be data-driven.

So should you ever start to feel that all the good opportunities have been mined, or that you're falling behind the technology curve, take a good look around you. You're sure to find both re-assurance and opportunity just about everywhere.