Big Data, Blog

Entrepreneurs: The gift of information

My role in business development at Expert System often puts me in front of many diverse audiences. Last month for example, I presented to or interacted with not only companies and potential customers, but also consulting firms and post-graduate students at local universities.

The contrasts I’ve noticed between the analog world and online world that I am exposed to daily make me think that, even in this ever-connected Big Data age, much of the abundance of available (i.e. free) information and knowledge is being ignored.

Take for example the case of my recent presentation to a masters-level class at a prestigious local university. When asked, the majority of students responded that they were currently involved, in one capacity or another, in launching a start-up. But it became clear to me over the course of the day that their collective knowledge of the technical and practical knowledge needed to make the leap from idea to reality was approximate at best.

Remarkably, I see some of the same gaps in the consulting world. These firms—small, large and in between—are all concentrated in various aspects of data management, from traditional BI, to tackling large data sets (i.e., Big Data), and offer these services to Fortune 1000 enterprises and up. When it came to talking about today’s problems, I had the impression that they were reading off the same presentation deck they used 20 years ago! Their interpretation felt stale and out of touch, which is shocking given the wealth of daily information and conversation that we all have access to online.

For today’s start-ups, the internet is literally brimming with free resources in the form of blogs, videos, podcasts, shared presentations and more that give anyone who is interested access to the deep knowledge behind the process of everything from how to code, to how to raise capital and attract investors. Sites like Fred Wilson’s avc.com, bothsidesofthetable.com, feld.com and cdixon.org offer a veritable encyclopedia of information and experience to potential entrepreneurs.

This clash of perspectives has been a big eye opener. Online and social media are filled with stories chronicling start-up successes (and to be fair, also some of the biggest failures)—clearly there are many entrepreneurs (and consultants) who are getting it right. But my personal experience of late paints a picture I can’t ignore. So, with that in mind, I thought to share a short list (think of it as a 101-guide) of the systems I’ve put in place to stay informed:

  1. Twitter: Carefully curate a selection of individual sources to follow in your areas of interest. (It’s easy to get overwhelmed with information—choose a small number of sources initially.)
  2. The web: Take advantage of aggregators (for the iPad, I like Zite) to collect feeds from a few sites or blogs related to specific areas of interest (I like RealClearPolitics.com for political news). (Collecting this information all in one place prevents you from jumping from site to site.)
  3. Choose an online source that will connect you with breaking news and a wider point of view within tech (I like Techmeme), and check in a couple of times a day.

With this strategy, I can keep up to date on all my areas of interest (without getting lost or distracted—most of the time) with a maximum commitment of 45 minutes a day. More importantly, it has also helped me connect and build invaluable relationships—all this not from Silicon Valley or New York City, but from a remote location in the Bologna hills where the food is better, or at least cheaper, than in Palo Alto, Milan or London. 🙂

Author, Luca Scagliarini.


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