The joyless world of a data-less startup

I recently read "The Joyless World of Data-Driven Startups" over on medium.

It's a nice article, and there are plenty of good points made - but my concern with the article is that it champions data-less decisions without covering the times when data-less or gut-instinct decisions are not appropriate.  In many ways it mirrors some conversations I have had over the past year or two regarding the benefits of data and using the Build-Measure-Learn approach from the Lean methodology.


I actually think the article hits the nail on the head, but really this post is to address the fact that some people may read what they want from it (and use it as an excuse not to measure).  I think really, the main take away point from the article is this:

Data-driven innovation sucks.

That is really what is at the crux of the article, using data to drive innovation is as close to paint-by-numbers as you can get.  Think about it, innovation is by its very nature a creative process - its the act of creating something new, or something that tackles a particular domain or problem in a new and original way - obviously not something that can be done formulaic-ally by numbers.  Creating a new and exciting product has to be creative by nature. Creating a clone of an existing product/service is not (that's not to say that it wouldn't still be a viable business though!).


The problem is, in the past I have ended up in lots of conversations as a proponent of Lean and the B-M-L iterative approach to attempting to better understand the solution and problem domain and have faced this very argument - that its OK that we aren't measuring result correctly(if at all!), and its OK that we are releasing multiple changes, and pulling lots of levers, all at once (thereby making data we do measure difficult to tie back to single changes), because just look at Steve Jobs! He didn't bother about asking what users wanted! he just gave them his vision!


And that is the main distinction I would like to highlight - there is a big difference between using data to drive your creative/innovative decisions and using data to learn from your innovations.  Yes its OK to be creative and out-of-the-box with innovation and new product features - that's how we got so many amazing products that we have today - but you need to be ruthless in your learning and understanding of the data.


To the Steve Jobs example - yes, he was a visionary and he ignored data/user research when designing products - Jobs/Apple are famous for their approach of just giving customers what they decide they want, and with great success - but they still use the data.  You think if the iPhone was a dismal failure they would have ignored that data and not changed it? You think Apple haven't killed off products that haven't performed well?  These are fairly extreme examples, as in both cases the data is very visible (e.g. sales figures) that people might not think of as post-product learning, but really its the same thing.


Essentially, the bottom line is whilst data-driven innovation sucks, data-driven learning is essential.

That's my opinion, anyway.

rob hinds

I'm on to the next one, on to the next one..

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