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Baffled By Big Data? Use 'Small' Data Instead

Warby Parker co-founder Neil Blumenthal recently explained why most start-ups should forget much buzzed about big data and focus on plain, old data instead.
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Pardon the pun, but this past year big data was huge.

Nearly every media outlet ran something on the promise of crunching vast amounts of data, including Inc. Small business owners have taken notice. A survey from Harris Interactive a few months back found that 76% of firms polled believe big data is an opportunity for their business.

The only problem: these companies can't even agree on what "big data" means." For 28% it means "massive growth of transaction data." But 24% think it refers to new technologies for managing massive data, and 19% define it as the 'requirement to store and archive data for regulatory compliance,'" according to the survey.

What does that boil down to? Big data holds lots of promise, sure, but for small businesses, realizing the benefits of this trend may still be pretty far out of reach. So should the average founder simply throw up their hands and click along to the next article whenever they read yet another headline about how they need to be using more data to run their business? 

Nope, says Warby Parker co-founder Neil Blumenthal on the Wall Street Journal's The Accelerators blog recently. In a post laying out several tips for start-ups in the new year, Blumenthal separates the big data hype from the reality on the ground for many small businesses, and offers sensible-sounding advice on how founders can avoid being overwhelmed by walking a middle way. He writes:

Use data (not just big data). “Big Data” was one of those buzz phrases that cropped up in every other article in 2012. The challenge for startups is three-fold: one, most don’t have access to big data; two, most haven’t built relational databases from which data can be easily pulled; and three, most haven’t yet hired a data scientist and a team of analysts. Unfortunately, these obstacles are no excuse not to use data. If anything, limited resources force small businesses to prioritize what data is most important. It’s critical to analyze what limited data is at your fingertips and to quickly create your organization’s first dashboards and scorecards...

Sure, big data may be doing amazing things in the world with more yet to come, but it's also true that your start-up probably has limited resources to devote to analyzing data. Perhaps it's best to stop worrying about "big" data if you haven't mastered plain, old data yet.

Check out Blumenthal's complete post for his other insightful advice for start-ups in 2013.

What's your reaction to the flurry of interest in big data – overwhelming, inspiring, irritating or something else? 

 

Last updated: Jan 4, 2013

JESSICA STILLMAN | Columnist

Jessica Stillman is a freelance writer based in London with interests in unconventional career paths, generational differences, and the future of work. She has blogged for CBS MoneyWatch, GigaOM, and Brazen Careerist.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.



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