The number of variables that entrepreneurs need to contend with while building their companies is difficult to fathom. Hiring, firing, scaling growth, company culture, negotiating with banks, VCs and partners, and a number of others fall into the "obvious" bucket. Building a competent and valuable business intelligence group within the organization undoubtedly falls into the "not so obvious" bucket.
Most companies simply don't have BI top of mind or decide to put it off to sometime in the future. Others see BI as a nice to have rather than a must.
So when should a company start a business intelligence team?
The short answer is from day 1. For the long answer keep on reading.
The business intelligence mindset
From day 1 the founders of a company should adopt a BI mindset. The business intelligence mindset is simply accepting the statement written below and intentionally working to support it.
In order to maximize the chances of my business being successful I will need to make sure that the leaders of my organization have the ability to make smart, data-driven decisions in a timely manner.
The statement above seems obvious but within the chaos of building a company many decisions will be made which can hurt the likelihood of the company being able to achieve the mission written above.
I don't believe that every decision made by the company should always have BI in mind but the more BI friendly you can be as a company early on, the more you'll get from your BI team later down the road.
What are some examples of a business intelligence mindset?
- Consider how BI friendly a tool is during your due diligence. Go with tools which empower its users with data and reporting, and make it easy to access that data via an API or manual downloads.
- Make sure your R&D is building your product as BI friendly as possible. This includes using smart database schemas, clear naming conventions, and saving important information when possible. Your product managers and CTO should help lead this effort.
- Implement early-stage BI tools like Google Analytics and/or Mixpanel early on. The founders and founding team should get familiar with these tools.
- Set time aside to explore your company's data. Encourage employees to know the ins and outs of their domain by spending time exploring the company's date.
What are some of the dangers of not implementing a BI mindset early on?
- Impossible to make critical business decisions because of a lack of data.
- Expensive mistakes because managers had to go with their gut.
- Lack of visibility into core drivers of the business increases risk of ruin.
- Your analysts will have a tough time delivering on requests. This hurts trust and moral.
- Difficulties in measuring the performance of certain individuals and teams in the organization.
The business intelligence life cycle
It isn't clear cut when a company should start investing heavily in their business intelligence. Every company is different so like most things it really depends on all the variables involved.
Below is a set of questions which can help you answer the question, is now a good time to start a business intelligence team:
What is the stage of my company?
A company which is just starting, still hasn't reached product-market fit, or in the process of pivoting should hold off on building a BI team.
A BI team can bring value to a company at any stage but this value will be limited if the company is dealing with establishing itself in the market and has not yet fleshed out its operations.
During the early stages of the company the C-level should be analyzing the company's mission-critical metrics and there simply isn't enough demand for a BI team.
Depending on the type of company, the maturing of its product and infrastructure, and the amount of money in the bank, the company could consider hiring one or more analysts. These analysts would report directly to the CEO, head of marketing / growth or CFO, depending on the business.
How complex is my business?
There are certain businesses out there that are simple in nature with small teams and a limited number of moving parts. There are many successful businesses out there with single products on single platforms which which would see a negative ROI from investing in a BI team.
Many businesses need nothing more than a self-service BI tool like Mixpanel, Google Analytics or Kissmetrics and someone who knows a bit of Excel to answer most questions that can be answered from the company's data. A software company with less than 50 employees should be able to manage with such a setup.
Businesses in complex markets which have many different teams, systems, product lines, marketing channels and a diverse sales force should seriously consider establishing a business intelligence team.
Can we afford it?
Building an established BI team which is actively working to make the company more data driven is a costly endeavor. The vision for the team, the size of the company and the work needed to build your BI infrastructure will all be factors which will influence the costs involved.
The real value of the BI team is as a force multiplier and risk reducer. If your company needs to push through a difficult period then building out the BI should be put on hold. Just make sure you've implemented the BI mindset so when you do decide to start investing in a team there will be less challenges waiting for them.
A company should focus on being as BI friendly as possible from day 1. This will reduce the number of difficulties the company will face throughout its history when it comes to being data driven.
The stage, complexity and financials of the business will be the main factors involved in deciding if a company should start a business intelligence team.
My recommendation is for all businesses in the growth stage, with significant capital in the bank, to at least consider hiring a Director of BI who can help establish a BI team.