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Turning data exhaust into gold

Last year, social media company Foursquare predicted that Chipotle would see a ~30% drop in its Q1 2016 sales. It knew this because the geo-location data from people using its app (check-ins and passive visits) was also down. They had figured out the relationship between foot traffic and sales. I think I wrote about this in the first half of last of year.

Not surprisingly, lots of companies – including those on Wall Street – are now starting to pay attention to data sets such as these. Matt Turck wrote a great blog post about it this morning, called: The New Gold Rush? Wall Street Wants your Data. Here’s an excerpt:

That a social media company could be building a data asset of immense value to Wall Street is part of an accelerating trend known as “alternative data”. As just about everything in our lives is getting sensed and captured by technology, financial services firms have been turning their attention to startups, with the hope of mining their data to extract the type of gold nuggets that will enable them to beat the market.

The opportunity is open to a wide range of startups.  Many tech companies these days generate an interesting “data exhaust” as a by-product of their core activity.  If your company offers a payment solution, you may have interesting data on what people buy. A mobile app may accumulate geo-location data on where people shop or how often they go to the movies.  A connected health device may know who gets sick when and where.  A commerce company may have data on trends and consumer preferences. A SaaS provider may know what corporations purchase, or how many employees they hire, in which region. And so on and so forth.

We may be calling this alternative data right now, but it is almost certainly just a matter of time before it simply becomes: the data. 

I like the term “data exhaust” that Matt uses, because it feels like it accurately captures what is going on right now. The new economy is producing a lot of byproduct. If you clean it up and package it in the right way, then you might be creating additional value. But if you don’t, then it’s probably just exhaust.

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