Knowledge gives start-ups the real edge

Simos Mavranezoulis and Clodagh Ashe, co-founders, Delphi Analytics: ‘We are not advocates of big systems.’

by Gareth Naughton

(published in the Sunday Business Post, 29 April 2012)

Start-ups and SMEs have a wealth of proprietary information that, if properly harnessed, can give them a serious advantage over their competitors, according to Clodagh Ashe, co-founder of Delphi Analytics.

“Your information is proprietary to you, and nobody else has it. If you can make something of it or take an insight from it that will help you make better decisions in your business, it is an advantage that you have that your competitor doesn’t have,” said Ashe.

“It doesn’t take a big investment to get value from your data. You have a lot of the clues in the business already that will help you get there. It is about harvesting it.” Ashe and her business partner, Simos Mavranezoulis, set up Delphi Analytics in October 2010, having first hit upon the idea of outsourcing data analysis while working for the Glanbia Consumer Foods in data-intensive roles. They realised that there was a market in data analytics for companies that didn’t have the funds to hire a full-time senior analyst or only really needed their services on a on-off or occasional basis.

“We don’t create new data for them. By virtue of being in business, you are generating data – and that data is raw material for insight,” said Ashe. “It can be their internal transaction data; information coming from the activities of a field salesforce or a market research data set that they have bought – either a syndicated report or something that they have had customised. We take it and make sense of it for them or we tell them the story that is in the data – or we help them work better with the data themselves. So we would either automate something for them or design a new process to manage the data,” she said.

Delphi uses everyday programmes familiar to most businesses, like Excel and Access, and break down the process so it is easy to understand. “We are not advocates of big systems. They often create a barrier for SMEs because they think that data analytics is only for larger businesses, but you can get a lot of value out of your data using spreadsheets and databases,” she said.

The business has gained a foothold in the FMCG sector – where Ashe and Mavranezoulis have extensive experience – and has recently begun branching out into other sectors. “The type of work that we do is of interest to industries across a number of sectors. What we are doing is helping them know their business, their customers or their marketplace better, and you cannot say that is not relevant to anybody who is out there trading,” said Ashe.

Ashe’s advice to the entrepreneurs behind new start-ups is to set up in an industry where you have an established professional reputation – “otherwise, it is too difficult”.

“It is much easier to build a base of business with people who both know you and are happy to recommend you to other people,” she said. Then you can use that as a platform to get into other industries and cold call people who don’t know you. If you are starting where you are not known and you have no proven expertise, it is a very big mountain to climb.”

If you are going into a partnership, it is important to balance the skills and temperament needed to work so closely with someone else, according to Ashe. “Setting up a business on your own takes a huge amount of energy, and working with a business partner makes a lot of sense if you can divide the load, but it has to be somebody whose skillset complements yours,” she said.

“There is no point in having two people in a business that are both brilliant at the same things. You have to complement each other’s skills, and have a huge level of trust.”