In This Issue:

Thinking of Monetizing Your Data?

Here Are Some Questions to Ask

By Jenevra Georgini, Founder, Spark + Sterling

Jenevra Georgini is a longtime Project W community member, startup advisor, angel investor and Founder of Spark + Sterling, a company that makes it easier for entrepreneurs to build lasting relationships with large enterprises. Here she shares how a company can gain a competitive advantage by monetizing its data, and different ways to turn valuable insights and analytics into action.

An online search will tell you that data is "the new sand," "the new oil," "the new currency," or maybe even "the new gold." Although it may be hard to define data's exact value, more and more small businesses are starting to exploit this resource to impress customers, grow sales, and increase their valuations.

You can monetize data by using it to improve your own company or by selling it to a third party. Which path you choose depends on several factors, including the type and volume of information you collect, the industry you're in, and your long-term growth strategy.

What data do you have?

Before considering whether to sell your data or how to analyze it for your own advantage, you'll need to prepare a detailed picture of what information your company collects. As you go through this exercise, you'll start to see patterns emerging from your company's different datasets.

Can you organize your data by customer segment, geography, type and number of purchases made, or other categories? What insights can you gain from reviewing a customer's behavior over time, combining your databases with publicly available information, or comparing your results to an industry standard?

The way you group and categorize your insights is important too. Everyone likes a good story; does your data suggest a particular narrative arc? Perhaps you can offer a new twist on formulas like "the customer journey" or "supporting our buyers through life events."

Whose problems can your data help solve?

Once you have a clear understanding of your data, you can start to think about how it would be useful to a customer or business partner. For example, if you're a B2C company looking to work with a major online retailer, what have you already learned about their pain points? If they've been having trouble upselling their own customers, would any of your information help them understand their target market better?

There may also be opportunities to use your data in adjacent markets. This can mean geographic expansion, new customers, or a venture into another industry. Think of a food distributor making a TV show, a hotel chain teaming up with a ridesharing service, or an insurance company moving into wealth management. In either case, your knowledge may help your business partners meet their own strategic goals.

Finally, larger companies often partner with smaller companies to hedge their bets against an uncertain future. Do you have information that can give a big corporation an early warning of some important new trend?

To share or not to share?

If you determine that your data has value to third parties, consider carefully whether you want to share your actual datasets. You may have concerns about confidentiality or future competition with the party to whom you're licensing the information. Would it be more effective to provide your interpretation of the data instead?

If you do go down the path of selling or licensing data—or even your own analysis of that data—be aware of the risks. Privacy laws are evolving quickly, and breaches can trigger lengthy investigations with heavy fines. There can also be significant costs to monetizing data, such as the effort to clean and format it for fast and accurate processing. And you'll need to make sure you don't alienate customers by disclosing details of their interactions with your company.

Given the potential issues with sharing data or analytics, you may discover that it's best to keep the data in-house and keep the benefits of those insights for yourself. In this case, it's still possible to extract new value. Your collected information may help you improve customer retention, develop new products, or make your company a more attractive acquisition target.

What's next?

The market for data and analytics is changing quickly. It's in every founder's interest to set aside some time to think about these issues on a regular basis.

There's value in doing this work even if you don't monetize your data right away. You might decide to create customized analytics to track a metric that's important to your company. You might develop a hypothesis for your sales and marketing teams to test. Or, you might discover a need to collect additional or different data in the future. Hopefully this process will give you ideas for even more questions to ask and help to create more value for your company along the way.

Postscript From the Project W Team

Check out these resources about the legal considerations involved in monetizing or otherwise using the data your company collects:

Q&A With Christina Blacken

Christina Blacken, Founder, The New Quo

Christina is a public speaker, performer, and the founder of The New Quo, a leadership development and inclusion consultancy helping leaders create inclusive cultural and organizational change through their narrative intelligence. Here, Christina shares with us the importance of storytelling in changing behavior, using effective commutation tools, and more.

Q: A lot of your work focuses on the power of storytelling and narrative intelligence. Can you share with us the benefits of storytelling when a company is trying to build connections and culture across diverse lines?

A: Stories provide the emotional connection necessary to make abstract concepts personal and influential and allows people to understand one another and bond beyond the surface. The ooey gooey feelings people often avoid, especially in leadership and business, are the exact things humans are using to make every daily decision and action they take. When trying to connect and understand someone else, our personal, organizational, and cultural stories are the best tools to do that.

Business owners should be clear on the origin story of their business and why it exists and collect the career and life stories of their employees to better understand who they are beyond assumptions and stereotypes — to align individuals on a shared narrative through which everyone can be motivated, empowered, and inspired.

Q: You coined the term "Status Quo Shifting Message"— can you explain what that means and how it can be even more influential and effective in communicating a message to an audience than citing statistics and data?

A: Have you heard a story, read a book, watched a movie, or listened to a speech that stopped you in your tracks? A story that stayed with you for days, that you couldn't wait to share with family and friends because it left a mark on you? A story that changed the way you think and see the world? You encountered what I've coined as a status quo shifting message. These are stories that help us give our own life and the lives of the ones we love reverence and meaning and inspire us to change our thinking and behavior.

Status quo shifting messages are far more influential in persuading thinking and behavior than numbers and data alone. Numerous social impact studies showcase the effects of story on behavior — from the impact of the novel Tom's Cabin on abolitionist movements and the institution of slavery, to children who watch Sesame Street averaging 11% higher in educational attainment, to millions of rice farmers being influenced to use fewer pesticides on crops through a 104 installment soap opera, to the first ever soap opera in the U.S. being created with the purpose of selling soap that successfully changed consumer behavior for decades. This is because stories overcome a phenomenon called psychic numbing: we tune out information that feels impersonal and overwhelming to us. But stories tap into our emotions, release oxytocin (the cuddle hormone) and build trust which can motivate and inspire someone to action far faster than numbers alone can.

Q: You do quite a bit of consulting for companies looking for support with leadership development and their diversity and inclusion efforts. How do you utilize the framework of storytelling or narrative intelligence as a tool to change beliefs and behaviors around inclusivity?

A: From teaching 1500 business leaders across Fortune 500 companies and VC backed startups as well as building large scale education experiences on inclusive moderation for 250k leaders for Nextdoor, I've developed a behavioral change process I call the Status Quo Shifting Method, which helps individuals move through the key stages of change and helps them respond to differences with curiosity instead of fear:

The first step is to become aware of the problem of bias, which requires us to confront the pervasive historical amnesia in our society and the societal stories we adapt about history. I define historical amnesia as a complete lack of historical context and knowledge of identity and racial-based policy and its large-scale effects on every economic and cultural structure under which we currently live. Having historical amnesia while discussing or addressing bias is like trying to cure a disease without getting any sort of diagnostic tests and taking a guess that the cure is to pop some vitamin C and take an epsom salt bath, when you really need chemo. There's a reason our education system glosses over white supremacy and institutional bias, how it operates, how it was intentionally created in laws, practice, language and embedded into every aspect of society for centuries. It is not magic and it is not hard to understand. Without that knowledge, people can be comfortable with things staying status quo, even if they are limiting and toxic to everyone of every background.

The next steps with this method are accountability and action. Once there's awareness of bias, feeling a personal responsibility to the role we each play in maintaining various biases, and then taking conscious daily actions by building inclusive habits, drives genuine change. This action is not about good people and bad people or seeing this as an issue that is separate and only impacts a few. Improving each person's accountability and action on bias requires moving away from the fear-driven narratives, stereotypes and micro-aggressions embedded into each of our thinking, through narrative inquiry, a practice I teach in my inclusive leadership trainings I facilitate for teams and individuals to unpack biased ideology and habit.

Narratives form who we are and what we will tolerate and pass onto the next generation. The more we can inquire of ourselves, the better off we will all be, and the more likely we can find solutions to the human penchant to construct broken systems out of fear. We all have the power to rewrite our collective stories and build genuine communities of belonging within and outside of our companies.

Emerging Food Brands Lab

We are thrilled to announce that Project W is bringing its signature programming to female founders in the food and beverage sector through our first Emerging Food Brands Lab. Developed in collaboration with DWT's Food + Beverage practice, this multi-week program has been crafted to help female founders take their brand to the next level through workshops dedicated to scaling production, optimizing distribution networks, and raising capital.

The idea for the Lab came to fruition last year after a few of DWT's Food + Beverage practice attorneys participated in Project W's Women Entrepreneurs Boot Camp (WEB) for Plant-Based Protein companies in late 2020. Having graduated six impressive cohorts since its inception in 2016, WEB is a Project W program that provides diverse women founders from various industries with the essential tools, resources, and connections they need to get from seed to Series A.

"Project W's accelerator programs have a demonstrated track record of moving the needle for women entrepreneurs," said Meghan Moran, Partner at DWT in Portland and member of the firm's Food + Bev practice. "After a few attorneys from our firm's Food + Bev practice participated in Project W's WEB last year, we saw the opportunity to leverage the strength and expertise of our practice to help support the women leading companies in our sector. We are excited to be working together with clients and industry experts to create the Emerging Food Brands Lab in an effort to help these leaders get the support they need to take their company to the next level."

Applications for the Emerging Food Brands Labs are open until May 7th.

Celebrating International Women’s Day and Launching Women Owning the C-Suite Spring Series

By Alicia LeDuc and Melanie VanSlavens

For the second year in a row, Project W's Oregon team joined with Rogue Women's Fund to celebrate International Women's Day. The intimate and interactive conversation featured Stef Strack, CEO and Founder of Voice in Sport; Claire Schmidt, CEO and Founder of All Voices; and Zuhra Hakim, the first woman Director of Afghanistan's Citizens Charter Project, who are paving the way toward equality by using their voices to engage women in areas of society in which they have traditionally been sidelined. For those who missed the event, here are a few takeaways from our impressive panelists:

  • Hakim discussed the progress made in Afghanistan in incorporating women into local and regional governance around economic development and how women's increased professional presence has made companies and the government treat workplace sexual harassment claims more seriously.
  • Schmidt spoke of the benefits to companies in incorporating holistic internal reporting and complaint response management, noting the data shows these programs work to address implicit bias and discrimination that still disproportionately affects women in the workplace.
  • Strack highlighted the leadership and career development benefits to girls and women who participate in sport, and the need to address disparities in professional pay, college investment, and media attention that disproportionally downplays women's achievements.

The March event also launched Project W's Spring 2021 programing for the Women Owning the C-Suite series. The four-part program focuses on increasing access for women entrepreneurs and investors in power brokering and business growth in the Pacific Northwest. The series includes discussions on the following topics:

  • Preparing for Board Duty (May 20 at 5PM PST)
  • Access to Capital (June 3 at 5PM PST)
  • A Seat at the Cap Table (June 17 at 5PM PST)
  • Leveraging Your Entrepreneurial Ecosystem (June 24 at 5PM PST)

Stay tuned for more information on the event series and to learn how to register to attend.