The Data Shed is a specialist data company based in Leeds. Founded with the aim of demystifying data and putting it in reach of businesses and organisations of all shapes and sizes, The Data Shed was born out of frustration that the majority of customer data was often inaccessible to anyone without technical expertise.
When was The Data Shed established?
I set up The Data Shed five years ago with my partner Ed Thewlis. I’m not from a technical background but had worked in marketing for a number of Yorkshire companies.
There is obviously a huge use of data in marketing and it had always really frustrated me that it was only people with tech experience who could crunch this customer data to provide insight. I thought that it would be great to be able to do this without technical knowledge and this is how the idea of a self-serve integrated data platform was born.
Ed and I wanted to remain self funded initially so in order to bring in revenue the consultancy was born. At The Data Shed, we start by talking to our clients about what’s causing them pain from a data point of view and consult on their data problems. We’re technology agnostic data experts and can work in whatever language our clients need: we look at what their current technology stack looks like, what their skill sets are in their tech team and then give them the support they need.
We have a lovely mix of clients right from the very big (such as Hermes and The Tate) with some smaller organisations such as Epilepsy Action. We’ve recently won several new clients which is great.
Ed is the technical lead so what are you responsible for?
Making it all happen! Ed is the technology brains whilst I look after client delivery. Having worked in marketing and client service my entire working life, I make sure we have an understanding of stakeholder management and communication.
It’s my role to see that the business functions and while I don’t get into the code, I do get stuck into understanding what our client’s strategy is and how their data can help deliver this. It’s important to build something that’s actually useful for the company we’re working with; for example, making sure the project is commercially viable and will be used to deliver real value to the bottom line.
Is there any advice you wish you’d been given before you started The Data Shed?
Yes – follow your instincts! In the past we’ve tried to compare ourselves with other people and look at how well they’re doing, but you need to be yourself. It’s really important to stay true to yourself with your own objectives and goals. You should take advice from other people on things that you don’t understand but be careful about comparing yourself to others: your style is your style and your business is unique.
What do you see as your current business challenges?
The immediate challenge we’ve been dealing with over the last two years is rapid growth. Our team will be hitting 35 by the end of 2018 which means we’ve doubled in size every year. The last couple of leaps have been quite difficult to manage as they’ve taken us from a place where Ed and I know everything that’s happening with every facet of the business, to having to manage through others.
It’s also important to us to make sure everyone has room to grow and that the culture of the business doesn’t shift. People love working for us as they really buy into the culture we’ve fostered and we want to make sure that this doesn’t get lost in our growth. Our focus is very much on getting our business values in place; this is an ongoing challenge but we’ve managed it well so far.
As we’ve grown my job has been widened but this has been impossible to sustain so I’ve had to delegate to other people as they have more experience and knowledge than I do.
What would you like to see as your business legacy?
Our next challenge is the launch of the Software as a Service product we’ve built called The Data Refinery, which is due to go live in November 2018. Our focus will be getting clients onto this customer data platform which is designed to allow non technical people to load and integrate their disparate data systems to create a single view of a customer. Their data can then be analysed using interactive dashboards and segmented for use using extraction tools.
All companies should have access to the insight held within their data – not just large companies. I’d really like to get small businesses using their data and being able to get the benefit from their data assets without having to invest huge amounts of money. I’m really very passionate about this and the new journey we’ll being going on in the next few months is the challenge of achieving this.
How do you relax outside of work?
I have two children so there is no relaxing! One of the reasons for setting up the business is that I wanted to be flexible enough to spend time with them. It means I can work the hours I want and but it does mean I have to work after the children have gone to bed! The flexibility that having my own business affords means that I can take a chunk of time off in the summer if I need to and there is that compromise which can be made if necessary. I’d like to run a 10K by the end of the year but I don’t think that’s going to happen…
If you weren’t running The Data Shed, what would you be doing instead?
If I wasn’t running Data Shed I think I’d be working in marketing somewhere getting very frustrated with the corporate process. Having my own business means I can make my own decisions and create my own culture. I’m really proud of the fact that the team can talk to me at any point and everybody enjoys coming in to work – at least they tell me they do! After all, I don’t want them to have to work somewhere that I wouldn’t want to work…