Smart Data, the Next Big [Data] Thing

21st January, 2013 No Comments Blog , Fundraising , Portfolio

Sailthru, a current Gotham Ventures portfolio company, just announced a $19 million Series B investment led by Benchmark Capital.  Gotham participated in the funding, having led the seed round for Sailthru in 2010 and participated in the A round last year.  Prior co-investors RRE and AOL Ventures also participated.  I’m excited about the funding and the addition of Bill Gurley to the company’s board of directors.  

I’m just as thrilled about the company’s new marketing effort, which is built around the concept of Smart Data.  To be fair, Sailthru’s products have been all about Smart Data since the company’s founding, but no one had coined an appropriate descriptor for the category – until now.

A bit of relevant background.  In recent years, the topic of Big Data has gotten significant attention in many fields including technology, marketing, finance, genetics, and others.  In these fields, the amount of data available as input to a modeling exercise – say, forecasting climate change – is so large that commonly-used relational databases, software tools, and computational methods are sub-optimal or wholly ineffective at developing solutions based on these data sets.  A raft of Big Data solutions have been developed to cope with such data sets including NoSQL and massively parallel processing databases and cloud-based processing and storage.

Most of these tools attempt to help humans to make sense of all the data at their disposal.  They have or port data to front-end systems that render graphs and charts that a user can grasp and interpret.  These technologies are extremely useful in advancing our understanding of complex topics and uncovering previously hidden insights.

So, what is Smart Data?  For starters, checkout Sailthru’s page on the topic here.  The bottom line is that Smart Data turns Big Data into action.  I believe this step – automating action based on Big Data – is an important and inevitable development.  For many of the same reasons that people are not great at interpreting large data sets – volume, velocity, complexity – people are also often not the best decision-makers when it comes to applying the insights from Big Data.  Sailthru’s technology personalizes each communication (e-mail, web page, message) to each individual consumer that touches a Sailthru customer (like Fab, Business Insider, and AOL).  The content, timing, and arrangement of each communication is personalized in real-time – as it reaches the user.  In 2012, the e-mail channel alone comprised more than 31 million individually customized messages from Sailthru.  Obviously, no army of humans could possibly, cost-effectively, undertake such a personalized marketing effort.

This is not to say that human input like editorial judgement has no place in consumer communications; it does.  Sailthru customers can and do overlay editorial oversight on top of the technology’s automated recommendations.  Ultimately, however, the personalization driven by Sailthru’s Smart Data platform drives dramatic improvements in marketing effectiveness.

More broadly, I believe that Smart Data has the potential to have a profound impact on many fields of human endeavor, helping us to go beyond understanding the world around us to navigating it more effectively than previously possible.

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