And that’s a wrap! Pool just finished its inaugural eight-week data union catalyst programme. During the programme we sought to strengthen the products and go-to-market strategies of a select group of data unions – Ozone, Unbanx and ZmBIZI – three digital organisations that are each aggregating data from tens or hundreds of thousands of data creators into a single monetisable data product. Ozone does this through a web browser plugin; Unbanx, by getting its members to connect to an open banking service; and ZmBIZI is planning to deploy a dedicated mobile app.
Throughout the catalyst programme we introduced the data unions to prospective data buyers and lined up a host of sessions with advisers on topics from upcoming data regulations to ethical and governance frameworks. As with any new programme, there were lots of valuable lessons learned but overall the programme was a great success and we are aiming to iterate the design and repeat it later this year. This post is intended to share a few of our learnings from running this ambitious programme, based upon the feedback from data buyers and through sharing a few of our own insights about the business of data unions.
Data buyer engagement
The data unions met with major data buyers, who were primarily focused on advertising, market research and analytics. Buyers explained how data is used in their organisations, the procurement process, and various technical and analytical requirements. The unions and Pool also took the time to brief buyers on the potential of data unions and the role of Web3 in growing this market. By the end of the programme we had at least one pilot to test a union offering in development and our data buyers highlighted the following opportunities and barriers for creating and scaling data unions in future.
- Ethics driving efficacy – If data members are fairly compensated and given control over the use of their data, the belief is that more granular data can be made available rather than relying on data vendors capturing it as ‘exhaust’ from free products.
- Zero party data – Data unions have the opportunity to work with brands and companies to bring consumers back into the discourse regarding the use of their data. This could allow brands to capture more information about customers but with safer governance and properly aligned incentives.
- Replacing the cookie – The data provided by data unions is arriving at an inflection point in the advertising space with the death of third-party cookies, and this could present part of the replacement solution. (We have previously written about this here.)
- Scale – For these opportunities to rival the data captured by the big five technology giants (Google, Apple, Meta, Amazon and Microsoft), data unions will need to scale massively. Will data unions be able to ‘cross the chasm’ from early adopters to the mainstream set of users that are less passionate about their data rights?
- Crypto – Currently, joining a data union requires an understanding of cryptocurrencies and wallets, and this might be isolating for members and limit scaling (see 1).
- Cultural narrative – This could be the first time people are being asked to ‘sell their data’. While this is currently happening without their knowledge, most consumers are only partially aware of this fact, and few are aware of the extent to which this takes place. Data unions will need to work together and set high ethical standards and manage the narrative.
Expert session learnings
Throughout the eight weeks we held expert sessions to advise the data unions on a variety of key topics. Below are a few highlights.
- Governance: Moving from consent to advocacy, with Matt Prewitt
Matt used his background in social advocacy to emphasise that the value proposition to potential data members lies beyond simply being compensated for data, but instead it is a means of bringing about change. He explained how data unions could use this to their advantage by serving in a fiduciary capacity. He outlined potential examples of how users could be engaged to take action with their data without requiring overly burdensome product or governance layers.
- Product: Designing data products, with Tom Forth
Tom used multiple case studies in data businesses he had built to provide the teams with useful insights on how he found (or in some cases didn’t find) product market fit. He emphasised the important difference in getting early customers to pay – even $1 – for products rather than using free trials; especially in regard to getting valuable product feedback. He also described the counterintuitive pattern that entrepreneurs might need to work backwards to more self-serve raw data feeds, starting with more product or service-intensive models to gain traction.
- Data: Data products and the opportunities for data unions, with Sam Gilbert
As an entrepreneur, former high growth marketing leader and author, Sam walked us through some of his favourite data products and what made them valuable to buyers. He also challenged the assumptions that each user cares to be actively involved in managing their data, which provides a data union the opportunity to be a trusted intermediary. This led to a discussion about the possibility for valuable but less privacy-invasive ‘synthetic data’ that maintained the directional trends of data with less ability to segment individual users’ activity.
- Legal: The data regulatory landscape, with Enoch Liang and Gilbert Hill
We are on the verge of a seismic change in the landscape for data regulation, larger than even the introduction of GDPR in 2016. Gilbert walked us through the upcoming EU data regulation, the potential for data unions to be a legally recognised entity, and the Digital Markets Act, which could make the formation of data unions even easier with mandated data portability laws for big tech platforms. Enoch built on this by outlining the more federated nature of the US regulatory system and the implication for unions. He added that the newly formed California Privacy Protection Agency may wait and see the way that new EU regulation develops and then respond.
How do we run the catalyst programme better?
The catalyst was Pool’s first major programme in helping build a community of data unions and aligned data buyers, and while we are pleased with the outcomes we will be taking a few key learnings with us as we prepare for future iterations.
- Stage and size – The three data unions participating in the programme were at varying stages in their growth, from early inception to scaling, and this led to different needs from the programme. In the future we will segment our population to ensure that data unions are at a similar level of maturity to take advantage of the data buyer mentorship.
- Process and length – Eight weeks went by fast and it takes time for buyers to adequately become familiar with data unions, their products, and move towards potential pilots. Similarly, data unions are busy and need as much time as possible to focus on the day-to-day of building their businesses. In the future we shall consider a longer but less time-intensive programme, to give plenty of time for buyers and unions to iterate.
- Buyers vs investors – There is a difference between pitching to raise money versus selling a data product. More time could have been spent up front, workshopping data-specific product pitches with data unions to better prepare them for data buyer meetings.
- Technical vs theoretical – We sought to balance pragmatic advice for building data unions with more aspirational topics regarding the role of data unions in the new data economy. In future iterations we will consider using more 1:1 mentorship opportunities to ensure that unions have the time to delve into the details of their particular challenges with mentors as opposed to the general advice suited for group sessions.
We would like to thank everyone who helped make this programme possible, and a special thanks to our data union partners who participated and gave us invaluable feedback.
We really do believe passionately that data unions are the future of the data economy and so are excited by the energy and engagement of the data unions and data buyers in our very first catalyst programme. At Pool we are committed to shaping and disrupting the data marketplace for the better and so are looking forward to a near future where data is more open, transparent and secure.
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