This week, an entrepreneur specializing in data analysis is urged to not fall in love with technology for technology’s sake. — Dan Beyers

The entrepreneur

Shelly Blake-Plock and his team collectively have decades of technical experience in information security, learning science, and engineering data platforms. Working within the open-source software community, they built a commercial data platform based on Department of Defense technologies.

The team founded Baltimore-based Yet Analytics in November 2014, with Blake-Plock at the helm. After several months of pilot testing, the start-up is working with its first set of clients.

The pitch

Shelly Blake-Plock, chief executive, Yet Analytics

(Photo courtesy of Dave Larson / Early Light Media.) (Photo courtesy of Dave Larson / Early Light Media.)

“We’ve built a platform that allows for the interoperable collection of big data from a variety of sources used by corporations to track human performance and outcomes – everything from Web services and mobile applications to wearable devices. We bring that all together in one place in a common format, allowing for accessible and useful data analysis.

“For example, we have a client who wanted to look at all of the data related to the company’s sales teams. They wanted to pull together information about how their sales teams are trained, about their sales pipeline, client relations and outcomes, and they wanted information about how the sales team worked out in the field. We pull all of those datasets together into a common format to give the company a clear picture of how those different systems and activities relate to each other. This gives a granular, 360-degree view of each sales person’s performance. It’s a way to make the organization more efficient, cost-effective, goal-oriented and data-driven.

“We have also built integrations for new technologies in the space of wearable sensors and devices to help clients track data from employees. This is particularly helpful for manufacturing clients, for example, in understanding productivity data from employees working on a factory floor.

“We are really doing something on the bleeding edge of technology. Analyzing nontraditional data sources is a new frontier. It’s an amazing opportunity and a great challenge to help potential customers understand the value. How can we maximize our opportunities and get our story across in ways that demonstrate clear value to potential customers?”

The advice

Elana Fine, managing director of the Dingman Center for Entrepreneurship at the University of Maryland’s Robert H. Smith School of Business

“Build your brand by focusing on what Yet Analytics brings to the table that is new. There are already a lot of systems. Focus on the problems you are solving for your customers. It’s important to really come out of the weeds on the technology. Don’t focus on the specifics of the technology and your technical prowess. Potential clients aren’t going to care how the technology works – they want to know the value that a new technology can bring.

“Be very specific about how knowing all of this data can help an executive or an HR head or a head of sales. Spell out the types of decisions it will help them make, how it can save them money, how it can help in their supply chain, how it will help make personnel decisions. To build your brand, you have to focus on the “why it matters” and the types of decisions your platform will allow clients to make that they can’t make without it.”

The reaction

Blake-Plock

“This is great advice. I think it’s common for teams who are highly technical to tend to focus on the technical aspects of what they do. The key is to identify clear value add for the customer and to state in a straightforward and meaningful way how this new platform will directly improve business operations and outcomes.

“In our case, it’s about helping the potential client to understand that there are ways to maximize the value of the data their company is already producing. And there are clear ways to save money and to increase the effectiveness of personnel decisions if only you can see and make sense of this data. So in the end what is important is not the nitty-gritty of what’s in our technology, what’s important is the ability of the client to be able to use our technology to make better decisions.”

Looking for some advice on a new business, or need help fixing an existing one? Capital Business and the experts at the University of Maryland’s Dingman Center for Entrepreneurship at the Robert H. Smith School of Business are ready to assist. Contact us at capbiznews@washpost.com.