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Startup Stories: DataMarket Helps You Find, Understand and Share Data
Today I have the privilege of introducing you to a new favorite company of mine called DataMarket whose founder and CEO, Hjalmar Gislason, has a vision for making the world’s data easier to find and understand. I first discovered DataMarket when doing research for a post titled Over 100 Incredible Infographics Tools and Resources. Enjoy!
It all started when my co-founder and I repeatedly found ourselves in similar situations: whenever we wanted to find the best available data for business plans, sales projections or general decision-making, we’d start out on Google, spend a lot of time searching, and end up with a pile of heterogeneous files that then took ages to clean up and get into usable form. We decided there was a need for a “Google for numbers” and that’s how we got started.
Iceland – where DataMarket was founded – was particularly hard hit by the global economic crisis. The crisis began right around the time we were starting our work, and we found that there was a lot of interest in better understanding what was happening in the economy and society. We created several simple yet powerful data visualizations and interactives that helped to clearly explain some of the complex things that were going on, and these promoted our work by meeting a real need.
Our first office was a tiny attic in downtown Reykjavik. It was a decent office for me alone for the first couple of weeks, but as we grew to two, three and finally four, things got crowded. Two of us couldn’t stand up from our desks without bumping our heads, and our desks formed a U-shape facing the door so that it could be opened, making for a very interesting experience for visitors as they entered. We moved office when employee number five joined, as it was physically impossible to squeeze in one more desk.
The financial crisis of 2008 was the big turning point for us. It created a lot of demand for data and visualizations to illustrate what was going on and caused turmoil in the employment market, allowing us to build a super-talented team much faster than we had anticipated.
As for international exposure, the eruption in 2010 of the Eyjafjallajokull volcano (the one that shut down much of the Atlantic airspace) gave us an interesting event to illustrate from a data standpoint. It even led some of our work being used in a National Geographic documentary (see: https://vimeo.com/10708403).
The high point of the startup process has got to be the chance to present some of the work we’ve been doing on energy data at the White House this last October. That was a great experience and a pretty good story to tell at high school reunions!
There haven’t been any near-death experiences for DataMarket, but probably the most frustrating moment came early on in the history of the company when we lost a really big prospective at the very last minute. It would likely have helped us to grow a lot faster.
Our hero and mentor is Hans Rosling, as it was his famous “Stats that reshape your worldview” presentation at TED that convinced me that there is more to data than just boring numbers. He made me want to drop everything to start a company based on that insight.
My most important mentor with DataMarket has been one of our early angel investors and board members, Hilmar Gunnarsson. A successful veteran entrepreneur himself, he’s had a lot of great advice from day one and been a driving force behind some of the more important events in our history both in terms of funding and sales.
The most unique thing about DataMarket’s culture is probably the transparency of everything to all team members. Every “DataMarketeer” knows – or at least can know – everything about the company’s finances, customers, strategy, status of negotiations etc. We even publish the amount of cash in our bank accounts to a dashboard (driven by DataMarket, obviously) every week.
This kind of transparency speeds up communication, builds trust and helps everybody stay on the same page in terms of direction and prioritization. I hope to maintain this culture as much as possible as I think it is a key strength.
As for the “typical” startup culture, we’re possibly a little older gang than many, most of us being in our mid-to-late thirties. So we work hard, mainly out of passion for the projects, but also have our lives to lead. Not that we can’t be fun when we set our minds to it!