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Data Week: Three Startups That Tell Amazing Stories With Their User Data

Three Startups That Tell Amazing Stories With Their Data

Most startups struggle to get their story heard by the press. Fortunately data can be  a secret weapon.

Data tells a story all its own, by giving a consistent voice to the behavior of large, diverse groups of users. In an increasingly noisy media landscape, companies that can tell great stories with their data stand the greatest chance of establishing valuable relationships with journalists, grabbing the attention of customers, and engaging strategic partners.

The following are three examples of companies who turned their platform data into entertaining, enlightening and compelling stories. In the process they became regular fixtures in the press, grew their brand and expanded their customer base.


OK Cupid

The OK Cupid company blog OK Trends is the mother of all data storytelling sites. Although it hasn’t been updated since April 2011, it will be a case study for years to come. The popular free dating site had 3.5 million users when it was purchased by Match.com for $50 million, and much of the value was the detailed personal information users shared about themselves in hopes of finding love.

OK Cupid co-founder Christian Rudder was master of dissecting, interrogating and interpreting their data to reach spellbinding conclusions. What’s the best type of photograph to get dates? What shutter speed and exposure will get you noticed? And can someone’s preference for beer determine whether you’re going to get lucky? These are all questions OK Cupid was able to answer from hard data.

Journalists, bloggers and online influencers couldn’t get enough of OK Trends, which is why you’ll still hear so many people express dismay that the blog is no longer operational.


Flurry is a mobile app analytics platform that provides its customers deep insights into app store trends, mobile app usage and detailed predictions on the future of mobile computing. Flurry claims to reach 1 billion mobile users per month, with the ability to gather information from 3.5 billion app sessions daily. That’s a lot of data.

Flurry reports also set the tone for a lot of coverage Recently TechCrunch declared that the age of the paid mobile app is dead, based on Flurry data which show the average price of an iPhone app is just 19 cents. Furthermore, Flurry is able to dive app trends by device and by region, giving abundant ammunition to journalists who cover key technology topics, such as China, South America, mobile gaming, education and entertainment.

By regularly supplying journalists with such juicy data on the state of mobile computing Flurry has become virtually synonymous with mobile analytics, and keeps its name in heavy rotation among top news outlets.


If you use social media for business, you’re probably familiar with link shortener bit.ly, which makes long links fit snuggly into 140-character tweets. While the ability to say more in a tweet is nice, the real power of bit.ly is its ability to gain uniqe insight into what is happening on the social web, and by extension, what matters to people out in the world.

At the 2011 Web 2.0 Summit Bit.ly data scientist Hilary Mason shared the story of how her company watch the events of the Arab Spring unfold in real-time by tracking what content was being shared, and by whom. From small flashes of sharing activity, to a flood, Bit.ly’s real-time data was able to unmask the key online influencers, and tell the story of a social movement in a way that even a journalist could not.

And just this week Bit.ly unveiled its Real-time Media Map, which shows the state and location where content is being viewed and shared for top American publications. Though it might like the gravity of the Arab Spring, it’s a no less impressive technical feat.

And the real lesson is that by giving journalists something that’s easy to cover, it’s easy to fastrack your company’s story in the press. Journalists love nothing more than to talk about themselves. I should know, I was one.


There are many great ways to turn your company data into great news stories. I’ve covered three quick examples. Data gives large groups of your customers and users a voice in aggregate, and provides journalists and writers a new way to see human behavior. And this is what makes data-driven storytelling so powerful.

The data you collect is unique, specialized and timely, which means that it provides a window into the lives of hundreds of thousands or millions of people as events are unfolding. By sharing his data with journalists you’re able to tell a story that no one else knows, and this is exciting and enlightening.

Whether you choose to form charts, infographics, or simply share the results of a user survey, there are many great ways to tell stories with data that will make you stand out from a crowded field, and get the attention your startup deserves.


About Author

Chikodi Chima is a former VentureBeat staff reporter whose consultancy Moonshot helps startups with their public relations and marketing. His writing has appeared in Fast Company, Mashable and GigaOm. Read his blog: PR Tips For Startups.


Zipfian Bets on Immersive Data Science Education

Zipfian Academy, a school for data science, threw open its doors this week for its inaugural class of students, each starting a career in what has been called the “sexiest profession of the 21st century” by the Harvard Business Review.  Monday kicked off the 12-week intensive training program, where students are learning the multi-faceted craft of distilling intelligence from data.

“We’re seeing incredible demand for data science education,” says Zipfian Academy co-founder and CEO Ryan Orban. “This is one of the most sought-after careers of our time, and universities are not moving fast enough to meet the demand. Companies are ready to fight for great candidates, but there are not many academic settings that merge statistics, business analysis, and computer programming with the critical thinking skills that make a great data scientist.”

Over 220 applicants vied for just 13 spots in Zipfian Academy’s inaugural class. The hand-picked group will spend the next three months immersed in data science fundamentals in a hands-on learning environment, working full-time from a sunny, open office in San Francisco. Zipfian Academy has attracted students with quantitative backgrounds who want to jump feet-first into the emerging profession. Students in the first cohort come from academic research, consulting, and software development backgrounds, and come ready to join top tech companies or startups with their newly developed skills.

Students will learn the full stack of abilities required to be successful as a data scientist from asking the right questions to comprehensive data analysis and effective communication. This includes both critical thinking abilities and problem-solving mindset that is key to success, as well as deep dives into computer programming and statistical tools for uncovering insights from data.

The students are betting that the skills and network they develop will be more valuable than traditional routes of advanced education.

“Education is changing rapidly,” says co-founder and CTO Jonathan Dinu. “Online courses have democratized the knowledge once locked up in the halls of universities. We’re offering a hands-on experience created by data science experts that compiles the most important aspects of data science into one carefully assembled package.”

Students at Zipfian Academy have access to exclusive recruiting events with world-class companies in technology and consumer retail, and a hiring day for smaller companies and startups looking to hire their first data scientist. Negotiations are underway with a number of recruiting partners. The company will also develop its partnerships with a select handful of Silicon Valley tech startups in the months ahead.

“We’re seeing first-hand that companies cannot find the data science talent they need,” said Orban. “The companies we work with want to hire great people who can deliver valuable insights, not just a candidate that looks qualified on paper. We’re part of something here that’s really exciting: teaching our students the tools they need do amazing things with data science in a world where skills matter more and more.”

Zipfian Academy will be presenting the story behind the school on the main stage at DataWeek. They’ll also be exhibiting at the DataWeek Expo, and teaching a 1-Day Bootcamp on Data Science and Machine Learning on Monday, 9/30.

Learn more at zipfianacademy.com.

About the Company:

Zipfian Academy is a school teaching data science through an immersive 12-week course. The program helps students develop the mindset and technical skills they need to launch a data science career. Students receive access to a world-class network of data science experts, personalized instruction featuring hands-on projects, a collaborative learning space in San Francisco, and exclusive recruiting events with top-tier technology companies.   Follow on Twitter @zipfianacademy