The Startup Showcase returns to Strata this month, with 10 startup finalists pitching our panel of judges. We’ve assembled an enviable— and somewhat intimidating— lineup of experts to help narrow down the field.
In the interest of giving our finalists a head start, we asked the judges three questions about the big data industry.
What industries or sectors do you expect will be most disrupted by Big Data?
Renee DiResta, OATV: I would like to optimistically say health care and public policy. But this is a tough question, because simply having access to more information, or realtime information, doesn’t mean behaviors will change in the near term.
Mike Dauber, Battery Ventures: Retail is probably the biggest opportunity. Lots of data with an opportunity for retailers to do a better job of targeting their customers. Finance and pharma have big opportunities but probably won’t adopt as quickly.
John Jarve, Menlo Ventures: In the near-term, big data will have its greatest impact on commerce. Advertising is quickly moving from “Mad Men” to “Math Men.” Online retailers, early adopters of big data analytics, will begin creating individualized promotions for consumers to eliminate the abandoned shopping cart. For brick-and-mortar stores, big data will drive product selection, forecasting, pricing, and promotion. Sunday sales circulars will be created by computers, not people. The long-term big data opportunity is in medicine and the biological sciences. Molecular biology will move from the lab to the computer. There will be a Moore’s law equivalent in the biological world, and drug discovery will follow a semiconductor trajectory.
Michael Callahan, Greylock: Personal/consumer finance, consumer advertising and promotions, and, ultimately, health care.
Michael Baum, Rembrandt Partners: Vertical applications, which will shift from workflow focus to predictive focus.
Deepak Jeevankumar, General Catalyst: Security (enterprise and defense); health care; and digital advertising
Rachel Pike, Draper Fisher Jurvetson: All of the above. In the near term: commerce.
Brady Forrest, Khosla Ventures: Health.
Josh Breinlinger, Sigma Partners: I think that gaming has been the first sector to adopt some of the big data and advertising / marketing will be next. But the real potential will be seen when it starts working its way into things like health care.
When you’re looking at funding a new firm, what role does their understanding of design play in your decision?
Renee DiResta: I look at a lot of hardware, and in that area it’s critical. It’s impossible to build a good user experience without factoring in design, and I like to see companies who are aware of that from the start. But we do take into account that early-stage companies often haven’t had the opportunity to hire a designer yet, and don’t hold that against them.
Mike Dauber: Very important. User design enables people who couldn’t otherwise harness the power of big data to harness it.
John Jarve: Design is absolutely critical for consumer and enterprise companies. Everyone has a smartphone. A great user interface and one-click provisioning is now a necessity.
Michael Callahan: It can be a plus — and for certain kinds of consumer-focused products having a good design sense is essential— but overall it is just one of several important things, no one of which is purely required.
Michael Baum: Table stakes. If you don’t have, it you don’t get considered.
Deepak Jeevankumar: It counts more and more. Design was the icing on the cake before. Today, it’s the cake batter. Design is UI+UX. A common pitfall is that many entrepreneurs focus on great-looking UI without thinking about simple UX. And of course, UI/UX needs to take into account your user demographic very closely. UX includes the whole experience— for example, a strong backend that delivers search results in a few milliseconds is a part of Google’s UX in addition to the simple homepage with look-ahead search results.
Rachel Pike: It’s table stakes.
Brady Forrest: Design is a huge differentiator. For a consumer startup (or an enterprise startup that hopes to gain traction from the bottom-up) there needs to be someone at the founder level with a strong sense of the product.
What’s the worst thing someone can do when they’ve got five minutes to pitch you in a busy room?
Renee DiResta: If they aren’t able to describe the problem they’re solving in a few sentences, and then get right into a broad overview of their solution, I sometimes wonder how big of a problem it is. Also, if they can’t pique my interest enough in five minutes to make me want a longer meeting, I wonder about their ability to sell to customers.
Mike Dauber: Not being clear about what they’re focused on. You can’t tell the whole story in five minute s— just focus on the key message.
John Jarve: Talk about their history of failures. We like to fund entrepreneurs who have a track record of success. Sure, everyone makes mistakes. But we want to hear about your successes.
Michael Callahan: There are awful things people can do, but the most common mistake is to give a high-level pitch full of buzzwords. What I want to know is: how, concretely, do you help someone in some way that you can get paid for? No need for fancy words — the best pitches are usually very simple and straightforward.
Michael Baum: Talk about themselves versus the big idea they have.
Deepak Jeevankumar: Talking about the market need (industry trends and why it is good to solve a particular problem) and not focussing enough on their product/solution. This means explaining how they are addressing the market need and why their approach will help them differentiate themselves versus the competition in order to build a big business.
Rachel Pike: The worst thing they can do is not get to the point. Have your one-sentence pitch in mind at all times!
Brady Forrest: Apologize. It wastes time, seems like you aren’t ready, and shows a lack of confidence. No one knows what you’ve got to say, so whatever you say is assumed to be the plan. Walk in and own it.
This interview was edited and condensed.