A start-up’s journey from ideation to execution and, ultimately, generating profits has many key ingredients but data is one of the most important, in recent times. The digital world is abuzz with talk about the right data strategy and the importance of leveraging Big data, AI, ML and data engineering, among other emerging technologies, to take-off and scale-up.
Seeking valuable insights into what makes for a successful data strategy in the world of start-ups, CNBC TV-18, in partnership with NetApp Excellerator, invited a team of experts on its special show, ‘Start up: Journey to Success’, to share their experiences and advice. Moderated by CNBC TV-18’s Paromita Chatterjee, the panel comprised Kanika Tekriwal, CEO and Founder, JetSetGo Aviation Services Private Limited; Greg Moran, CEO and co-founder, Zoomcar and Ravi Chhabria, vice president - engineering and managing director, NetApp Excellerator.
With a reputation for having rewritten the rules in the car rental market, Greg Moran talked about the role of technology and data in getting his start-up off the ground. “We were driven by an innate curiosity to understand our customers and the behaviour they exhibited on our platform. We wanted to get to know our users much better,” he said. He explained that the desire to have a fundamental first principle understanding of how they engaged with his service and product led him down a path to data science. It ultimately enabled him to create better products and user experiences from a very practical standpoint.
“From the early days, we invested in tools that enabled tracking, even if on a very small scale. This gave us greater visibility and insights into how the app was being used and how customers were consuming the interface,” he recalled. “We had to do a lot of rebooting and revisiting the instrumentation and data architecture platform. It took us long to build a streamlined customer experience on the app.” With respect to RoI, he advised that businesses must understand the levers of profitability and constantly endeavour to improve these over time. Data should be instrumented towards driving profitability.
Kanika Tekriwal admitted that not being a technology native company was perhaps the biggest challenge when she started out, primarily because she always wanted to create an aviation company which advanced out of India using technology and data to make decisions. She decided to take a short cut initially and outsource this function. “We went about hiring the right people – project managers - who could choose technology partners, within our budget and constraints, and work with them to overcome this challenge. I did some research myself too.”
However, she realised that for the business she was trying to build, with the data being handled and analytics that was applied to it, she could not rely on third party companies. There were also a lot of confidentiality and customer data issues involved. So a couple of years and a few vendor changes later, she began building everything in house, from scratch. “Initially when we were starting out, we relied on external companies to provide data bases. While only 40-50% was accurate, it did help us to find new customers and unveil new insights into them. It also helped us fix things internally, with respect to service levels,” she added. She advised that customer loyalty is important for building any business; by acting on a data-driven understanding of what they like and don’t like, services could be improved and customer loyalty could be earned.
With Netapp Excellerator having watched the journeys of start-ups and contributed to the evolving landscape in many ways, Ravi Chhabria shared the learnings they had gleaned. “When we look back at our success with data over the past three decades, we realise that initially, anyone who set out to build an enterprise had to start by building a data centre first. This was something completely alien or non-core to them. But now we enable customers to tackle complex customer issues without them needing a lot of understanding of technology and data. We specialise in these aspects so that corporates can concentrate on their core competencies.”
He affirmed that enterprises that succeeded at leveraging data were those that focused intensely on customer outcomes or business outcomes and made the right technology choices accordingly. He went on to advise enterprises to start small, while using a data platform, and stay focused. However, they should also ensure that the platform will allow them to scale when the time comes, by ensuring agility and the ability to move fast and shift to different use cases.
As things stand, the start-up space in India has around 40,000+ start-ups that are active, of which around 15,000+ are technology start-ups. The rest use technology as a given to drive change in the world. Ideally, these companies should focus on their strengths – disrupting markets, reaching customers, creating new products – and use specialists to get their platform right. That’s where innovative solutions providers like Netapp Excellerator come in.
Going forward, the data infrastructure market will converge towards making things simple for anyone building a business in the start-up ecosystem, so that they do not have to spend time and effort on non-core activities and infrastructure. Effectively, start-ups will be able to get insights from data without worrying about managing the data.
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