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November 26, 2015updated 22 Sep 2016 11:58am

DataSift CEO: Making social data consumable

Exclusive CEO briefing: Tim Barker, CEO, DataSift, talks to CBR about why privacy will become a killer app and making social data consumable.

By James Nunns

DataSift is a company that is moving companies past the era of Mad Men, which focused marketing on the pitch and a stereotypical view of an industry segment, to a data driven world.

The UK start-up founded in 2010 got off to a strong start with a partnership with Twitter in April 2011, while that Twitter partnership has now ended, the company can now boast a partnership with Facebook.

The idea behind the relationship is to give marketers a deeper understanding into the topics that people engage with on the social platform. Topic data from the Facebook is accessed through DataSift’s platform, using an API called PYLON.

Serving over a 1,000 companies with its Human Data platform, it is also a partner to over 20 social, news and blog networks.

DataSift provides a combination of data and technology that tech companies can bring into their own analytics, to then correlate with other data in order to provide a marketer with actionable insight.

In October, Nick Halstead, founder and CEO, stepped down to be replaced by Tim Barker, CEO. CBR spoke to Barker about the company, big issues coming up and the difficulties related to growing as a start-up in the UK.

Barker said that the company is aiming to make social data or human data more consumable, so that: "So it’s that era of Mad Men, which used to be about your pitch and your stereotypical view of what this industry segment is, has been replaced by data, and if we can make that more consumable – great.

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"Companies will make fewer bad decisions and more data informed ones."

One of the ways he has seen data being used is in the media, where studios are analysing data to plan how to take forward TV shows, which characters to keep and what is popular.

Barker said: "That’s only possible because they can start to segment by the different geography of different audiences. So they can ask, how to 35-44 year olds in Kansas compared to 25 year olds in California view this character differently.

"That’s only possible with audience data and that’s only possible because you’ve anonymised the data."

Anonymised data and privacy are big issues when dealing with social data, Barker calls it "key" with privacy having a, "net benefit."

Privacy in the industry he said, is met with a general mantra that it will result in a net loss for someone, however, in this context it can result in a net positive.

"You can protect the user data and get better audience aggregated insights because you’re looking at audiences and their demographics," said Barker.

With the General Data Protection Regulation, set to be implemented in 2017, Barker said: "Companies that proactively protect and respect consumer data are going to be ahead of those that don’t."

The GDPR will regulate the progression of personal data within the EU, it will place strict rules on how personal data can be used.

Although the GDPR has the potential to be extremely disruptive, Barker believes it will be a benefit to European companies that are on the right side of the legislation and looking to grow a business both across Europe, and into the US.

Barker’s prediction for 2016 is that: "Privacy will become a killer app."

Growing a company in the UK can be challenging, issues with late stage capital and financing in general mean that UK companies often seek funding from the US, or are acquired by a larger tech company.

"If you look in the enterprise tech sector, that’s been the traditional challenge for UK companies; they are just bought out before they receive that prominence."

Barker asked how many UK household tech names there are: "Sage, Autonomy, AMD? And in the last decade probably none."

DataSift had early seed round investors in the UK to bootstrap it from zero, but it has sought venture money from the US and has taken no money from the UK; due to a historical lack of appetite from the UK to invest in the same way as the US does.

"The role of a start-up is to take risks; otherwise you should put the money in a bank.

"There is a higher appetite and recognition of risk and growth just when we work with either New York or San Francisco based investors."

A trend that the CEO has identified is that of companies going global a lot faster than they use to, with companies like Uber and Deliveroo focusing on cities not countries for global expansion.

Barker says this is because: "People across London, Paris, New York are a lot more similar than people between London and Birmingham, so you focus on going global through cities."

This requires a lot of capital, and while he has seen investment from the government going in at the low end with £50k to get a company started, the challenge to be successful is receiving investment to scale operations globally.

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