How Start-Ups Can Build a Data-Driven Culture

Here’s what you can do now to create a data-driven culture and maintain it as your company scales.

Mozart Data
3 min read

Many companies are sitting on top of loads of data as they grow, but they aren’t tapping into the full potential of it. Simply reporting on your data doesn’t mean you’re data-driven. You also need to take action based on what data is telling you — that’s how you’re going to gain a competitive edge.

Here’s what you can do now to create a data-driven culture and maintain it as your company scales.

Three Steps Towards Being Data-driven

Have the right tools

If you don’t have the right tools that make accessing, working with, and analyzing data easy, you’re not setting your company up for success. When you’re starting out, using spreadsheets to manage your data is enough. But as your company grows, spreadsheets no longer cut it.

Once you have two or more systems that are generating data, setting up a modern data stack makes it significantly easier to combine multiple data sets and analyze them. Here are the four tools you need:

  • An ETL (Extract, Transform, Load) tool automates the process of extracting data from your various databases and SaaS tools, loading it into a data warehouse, and keeping it synced.
  • A data warehouse is a centralized place that stores data from many tools and applications. When your data is stored in a warehouse, analysis of two or more data sets becomes more efficient.
  • A transformation tool lets you prepare your data for analysis. For example, organizing, cleaning, de-duping, and standardizing your data.
  • A BI (business intelligence) tool turns data into charts and graphs that can be used to build reports and dashboards.

If you’ve never set up a data stack before, the thought of it can be daunting. But there are now out-of-the-box solutions, like Mozart Data, that take as little as an hour to implement and don’t require engineering resources.

Determine and define key metrics

Now that you have the right tools to automate the process of pulling raw data and turning it into dashboards, it’s time to establish the metrics that everyone will be driving toward.

Once you’ve determined your key metrics, it’s important to clearly define them. Failing to define metrics can result in confusion, arguing, and teams that aren’t working toward the same goal.

For example, let’s say one of your key metrics is daily active users (DAU). If a user logs into their account, does that count as a daily active user? Or does the user need to take a specific action? If teams are defining DAU differently, they’ll arrive at different answers. One team might think the company is on track to reach its DAU goal, while another team believes the company is behind.

Putting key metrics in place and defining them not only aligns everyone at your company, but also ensures accurate reporting. When teams aren’t arguing over metrics, they’ll get more time to dig into their data to understand how they can deliver on their goals.

Enable data literacy

You can create as many reports and dashboards as you want, but if team members aren’t comfortable using them or digging into the data behind them, it’ll be difficult to create a culture where people take action based on data.

Aside from arming people with data, you also need to make sure they understand it. This means educating them about the data behind the dashboards. Teach them how annual recurring revenue (ARR) is calculated, for example. Or, what the impact of decreasing retention is and why.

The more employees feel they understand data, the better equipped they are to ask questions and make informed decisions.

Challenges to Building a Data-driven Culture

Unorganized and undocumented data / Lack of a single source of truth

Start-ups undervalue having a single source of truth until they start running into issues where people arrive at different answers. The earlier example of teams defining DAU differently is exactly what happens when you don’t have a single source of truth. Establishing a single source of truth early on mitigates this, speeds up analysis, and makes it easier to scale your data as your company grows.

To create a single source of truth, you need to gather all your data in one place and then transform your data to create tables that everyone pulls from.

Not involving your data analysts in the business enough

Data analysts can end up falling into the trap of building endless reports and dashboards. If you find this happening at your start-up, you’re not using your analysts to their full potential.

Analysts have the most impact when they have context on the business and are able to use that to ask smart questions, find valuable insights, and work with others to take action. You’ve got to involve your analysts in the rest of the business to achieve that, so make sure they’re working alongside other teams, understanding what makes the business grow, and not just doing reporting work.

When set up for success, data analysts can help others become data-driven.

Keeping your data secure

Creating a data-driven culture usually means data is shared with more people. And when more people have access to data, there are more points of vulnerability. If you collect personally identifiable information (PII), it’s especially important to have strong data security practices.

Here are a few steps you can take to make sure your data stays secure:

  • Set different account-level permissions. Not everyone at your company needs to have access to all the data. Determine who needs access to which tables or data sets and set up those permissions in the data tools you use.
  • Encrypt your data. Data encryption turns your data into a coded form. Only someone who has a password or a decryption key can read the data.
  • Do your due diligence with third-party vendors. Every time you implement a new data tool, you’re giving another third-party vendor access to your data. The vendors you work with should take securing your data just as seriously as you do. Aside from looking for specific security and privacy measures that are important to you, vendors should have a number of certifications, including GDPR, SOC II, and HIPPA.
  • Put your security to the test. Integrating frequent testing practices such as penetration testing can help find new vulnerabilities. A high-quality pentest provider will also support with detailed reporting and remediation to help you quickly patch and secure your application once the vulnerabilities have been identified.

Creating a data-driven company takes time. Now that you’ve got some of the first steps toward achieving that and you’re able to anticipate potential roadblocks, you’re well on your way to fully taking advantage of your data and equipping other people at your company to do the same.

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