Work the Web, Business-to-Business Bible (Working the WEB)
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You can charge more for the data and align with a subscription model if it is changing a lot — and, more importantly, you can retain customers because the data is not just a one-time use. For instance, charging for real-time traffic data can sometimes be more valuable than charging for street maps. That is an example of using time with the physical world. Another example of time crossed with the physical world is weather data — it changes all the time and is vital for many consumers and industries. In a place like San Francisco that has hundreds of micro-climates, the weather data itself can vary every hour every square meters.
One of the classic temporal datasets is price per stock ticker per time. That dataset is vital to any public market investor. In fact, much of the most valuable data is tied to pricing over time. Linking datasets together makes the data much more valuable. Data by itself is not very useful. Yes, it is good to know that the American Declaration of Independence was ratified on July 4, — that allows you to prove you are a smart person and helps you more enjoy your hot dog on Independence Day.
But it does not have a lot of use in isolation. One of the big ways that data becomes useful is when it is tied to other data. The more data can be joined, the more useful it is. The reason for this is simple: data is only as useful as the questions it can help answer. Joining, linking, and graphing datasets together allows one to ask more and different kinds of questions. One great join key is time. Nowadays, time is mostly pretty standard that was not true a few centuries ago. And we even have a UTC Time that standardizes time zones so that an event that takes place at the same exact time in Japan and Argentina is represented as such.
Another join key is location like a postal code. The more join keys and joined data sets you can find, the more valuable those data become. Then we can join that data via time and geography to historical weather to see if the weather had any correlation to the individual sites of operation and ticker price historically. As you keep joining data, the number of questions you can ask grows exponentially.
As the amount of data grows, the number of questions you can answer grows exponentially. Your data will be much more valuable if you enable it to be joined with other datasets even if you make no money off the other datasets.
This is the 1 thing that most people who work at data companies do not understand. Most people think that they need to hoard the data. But the data increases in value if it can be combined with other interesting datasets. So you should do everything you can to help your customers combine your data with other data.
One way to make data easy to combine is to purposely think about linking it — essentially creating a foreign key for other datasets. Creating a SIMPLE key to combine your data to other datasets is the most important thing you can do to build a truly valuable data company. Unless you are planning on cornering all the data in the world, your data needs to be graphed to other datasets and the best way to do that is SIMPLE.
Margins for most data business initially look very bad. Data companies generally have a lot of trouble attracting Series A and Series B investors because the margins often look very bad in the beginning. Data companies often have a fixed cost of purchasing the core raw materials and for some odd accounting reason, those fixed costs sit in COGS. So the margins initially can look really bad and sometimes can even be negative in the first year.
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In fact, they are just step function costs as companies go to new markets. Imagine for a second if you were a Series B investor looking at the business at the end of The reality is that data costs are often a long-term asset and they only sit in COGS because of an odd accounting rule. Data is a fast depreciating asset because much of its value is temporal , but even the historical data can have a lot of value. And it is buy-once, sell-as-many-times-as-you-can. SaaS companies, by contrast, spend gigantic sums on sales, marketing, and customer success.
In some cases, those costs really should be below the line and are just really high because the companies are mismanaged Vista Equity has had massive success in bringing down these costs when it acquires companies.
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But many of these costs are hidden COGS and the true margin on these SaaS companies are actually not as good as advertised because they are so hyper-competitive. In some of the best SaaS companies, CACs eventually stabilize but rarely drop significantly Vista Equity companies seem to be the exception. One way to see this is ARR annual recurring revenue per employee. Another thing to look at is net revenue per employee. Is that metric getting better over time or is it getting worse? The more net revenue per employee, the better.
A good analogy is Netflix, which aggregates consumers worldwide to justify spending money on content.
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Netflix spends a lot of money on content, but can be amortized among all subscribers. Of course, the analogy breaks down a bit because while data is expensive, it is nowhere near the cost of creating quality video content. There are some data businesses that look much more like Spotify which has to pay a percentage of revenue to the content creators. Of course, there are a lot of ways to do data acquisition and they have different cost structures with different account rules. It parses the privacy policies for the top , companies and offers analysis on those policies.
There might be a vendor that has already crawled the top , company web sites and can send you a daily file of their privacy policies. That cost sits in COGS above the line. Those costs if you can even calculate them go below the line. But the reality is that the data is the same.
Many investors do not appreciate the distinction. Of course, this depends on the model on sourcing the data. BD deals are really costly, but co-op makes the margins incredibly high often right from the beginning.
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Public data is hit or miss depending on the structure, accuracy, and consistently of what you can crawl. Once you have a flywheel going for a data company, you need to get to market share dominance in your niche. Of course, you will eventually need to move to adjacent niches. Another way to dominate market share is via aggressive pricing. Once you have traction, a third lever to get to market share dominance is via acquisitions. SaaS companies have lots of trouble acquiring their competitors. When SaaS companies acquire, they tend to acquire other products in adjacent spaces so they have more products to sell their current customers to increase LTVs per customer.
This has been an incredibly successful strategy for Oracle, Salesforce, and others. Of course, data companies can also acquire new products to sell into their customers. But DaaS companies have an additional opportunity to acquire direct competitors. These DaaS acquisitions have the potential to be much easier to be successful and model because they can just acquire the customer contracts this is especially true if they already have the superior product.
For instance, if there are two companies selling pricing data on stock tickers, combining those offerings is pretty simple — it is basically just a matter of buying the customer relationships and the ongoing associated revenues. The goal of getting to market share dominance is not to increase prices on your customers. On the contrary. CACs go down because there is one dominant player. LTVs go down too because prices drop.
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Great DaaS companies act like compute companies think AWS — they lower dollar per datum prices every month. So customers get more value for the money and that value compounds over time. Compounding is really key for data companies. Data companies build an asset that becomes more and more important over time. But it is really hard to see the compounding in the early days so people often give up.