Making Big Data Small
Smells Like Money

FB Datapoint = Hometown (Rison, AR)

I mentioned last week that I have a history with chickens. Lots of them. Allow me to explain.

I grew up on an industrial chicken farm in Arkansas. Yes, just like in Food, Inc. And yes, I now only eat organic chicken as result of that experience. While many of us have been exposed to the seemingly un-natural way in which our food is grown through various  exposés and documentaries, far fewer have personally experienced the smell that those farms generate. Chicken farms, like pig farms, smell awful. And despite the fact that olfactory habituation should diminish one’s sensitivity to such a strong smell, it actually never goes away. To make that smell more palatable, we had a saying where I grew up to keep our suffering in context. Very simply, and very truly, “It smells like money.” And when money was tight, as it often was, that smell was real a comfort.

An interesting datapoint in any person’s history is their hometown. The place or places where we spend our youth has a tremendous influence on us. And for many of us, the association between where we’re from and where we live now is not an inconsequential fact in the make up our personal histories.

For me, the contrast of growing up in an economically stunted region of rural Arkansas and now living in the (ultimate?) metropolis of New York City not only creates contradictions within my own psyche but also challenges me daily in the normal course of life. What’s normal here is not normal there. In New York, DIY is an acronymed trend. At home, doing it yourself is the only option. We pay people to do things for us in New York that no one in my hometown would ever not do for themselves, including laundering our unmentionables. Yet it is not as if life is easier in New York because we pay people to do our chores. Actually, on most days, it seems quite the contrary.  And if the way people live their lives in the present isn’t contradictory enough, the differences in aspiration and definitions of success are even greater. You can’t live in New York without having at least some level of aspiration for a bigger, brighter, or otherwise more illustrious future. It is infectious. But where I’m from, contentment is a virtue, and in many ways a coping mechanism for what many would look at as a relatively hopeless future with fewer and fewer opportunities for employment as industry continues to decline. Why would people aspire to something that likely can’t be achieved? I know that sounds ludicrous coming from an entrepreneur, but that’s the stuff that goes through my head.

If I took a survey today and answered the standard demographic questions that are almost always asked, at most a researcher would see me as another white male with a graduate degree who lives in New York City in a two-parent household with two kids. My salary range would place in the upper ranges of incomes nationally. But my hometown tells a completely different story. And I spent 18 of my 33 years of life there. How is that accounted for in a researcher’s understanding of me as a consumer? Where would one learn that in many ways, because I am from where I’m from, aspiration is an uncomfortable concept and that big success, at least in monetary form, is actually a scary proposition rather than an expectation of the hard work I’ve put in to building this business? No where. Yet those truths have a much greater impact on the way in which I spend, save and give away my money than any other. And if a company is marketing to me and trying to get a share of my wallet, shouldn’t they know that?

Money smells like something everywhere. And knowing that smell is going to tell you a lot more about a person than their zip code. Dig deeper. I’m not that hard to know. I’m sure most others aren’t either.

Under pressure

Hi everyone. I’m a reluctant blogger. Really reluctant. Each key stroke I’m now taking is painfully forced. I resist, yet I know I must go on. If you go on, too, forgive my lack of brevity. I’ll try to do better in the posts to come.

The reason for my reluctance to blog is not unfounded. No, I’m not lazy. No, I’m not in denial about the future. No, I’m not even that old.

You see, when I first began “doing my own thing” (which is what it seems most people call being an entrepreneur), I did what most do in my situation. I followed every venture capitalist and successful founder both past and present on Twitter and Quora and started devouring information. I read blogs. Listened to interviews. Watched videos. I learned a lot. A lot of really helpful information. But despite being a perfectly rational person, I failed to realize that the growth patterns and funding needs of a luxury fashion e-commerce site targeted exclusively at urban females between the ages of 28 and 41.25 with more than two children and who live homes larger than 2,000 square feet is actually not related to nor an appropriate benchmark for my own enterprise level, freemium model SAAS in the market research space. Information became noise and I became distracted.

So I made a vow early on that I wouldn’t contribute to the noise, both for my sake and for others’, regardless of how successful I became (which so far is only mildly) and I’d instead focus on my business, my industry and my customers. Valiant, no?

Not surprisingly, my valiant notion proved to be naïve. To focus on my business, according to both the leading marketers of today as well as those pesky investors and founders I mentioned before, requires focusing too on the content I create as a founder and the content that we create as a company. It is simply irresponsible not to.

So what I’m doing now is somewhat unique, I think, in that I’m taking the power and intent of our product and applying it to my personal and professional life in attempt to expand the way we think about seemingly insignificant data points. In all of this big data that the world is striving to make sense of, there’s lots of small data. And I’ll start with data as small as me.

SocialQ uses data from social networks to understand more about consumer targets by linking Facebook data to surveys. So each week, I’m going to choose a single data point from my own profile, share a bit about the experience it represents, and attempt to generate an insight that would be helpful in understanding me as a consumer and a bit about what’s it like being a founder (or at least what its been like for me). Data has the power to generate deeper connections, so I’ll begin by sharing my own. See the screen shot of my profile below. That’s me and my favorite chicken (and I’ve known a lot of chickens, which you’ll read about more in the weeks to come).

Feel free to share your own stories in the comments below.