Big Data Needs Designers Not Technologists

Yet another example of why design is as important as data.

Yet another example of why design is as important as data.

“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 StartupGrind Toronto gathering in September of 2013.

Acharya knows whereof he speaks. 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.

Roger Ehrenberg of IA Ventures also noted the urgent need for design excellence, in a recent ITBusiness article on the flow of investment into big data startups. “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.”

Despite Google Venture’s big-data DNA, Acharya says 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. “We grew up in a system that emphasized Calculus over statistics. Calculus is closed solutions and statistics is probabilistic” says 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 the 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,” says Acharya. “You need to invest in mindshare presence in the Valley. They have a culture where they constantly interact with each other.”

That said, Acharya notes “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.

The next Startup Grind Toronto Fireside Chat is with Jos Schmitt, CEO of Aequitas on April 14, 2014.

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

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