The Entrepreneur: Nick Halstead, DataSift

Halstead shares the challenges of running a tech company $77m-plus funds raised and reveals why war, not business, inspires his leadership style

Founder: Nick Halstead
Company: DataSift
Website: www.datasift.com
Description in one line: Technology platform that allows you to capture, analyse and act on all types of human-generated data, without compromising consumer trust.
Previous companies: TweetMeme, fav.or.it

Describe your business model and what makes your business unique: 

  • DataSift is the only company that provides a scalable platform that enables organisations to capture, analyse and act on all the types of human data, including data from social networks, blogs, news articles, likes and discussions, without compromising consumer trust.
  • DataSift’s platform empowers application developers and agencies to maximise the value from human-generated data by transforming it into actionable intelligence.
  • Powering thousands of applications, DataSift performs all the Big Data heavy lifting and processing required so that organisations can focus solely on their apps or analysis.

What is your greatest business achievement to date?

Building a unique, innovative technology has certainly been one of the greatest achievements so far! Our engineers have built a powerful processing platform that can ingest any unstructured data in real-time and normalise it so that it significantly reduces all of the noise. Consequently, you have better data to analyse and can build better products. DataSift is effectively a data processing powerhouse, with a pedigree in social. We also recently announced a partnership with Facebook, which will provide marketers with access to its topic data for the first time ever.

What numbers do you look at every day in your business?

I look at numbers – such as sales and marketing metrics – on more of a weekly basis. My main focus is on ensuring that we’re continually pushing our core technology forward.

To what extent does your business trade internationally and what are your plans?

Over the last five years we’ve signed more than 1,000 corporate customers in 40 countries, and expanded from 20 to 150 employees in three countries, so I’d like to see this global growth continue.

Describe your growth funding path: 

We’ve raised more than $77m in investor capital to date. The technology developed into what it is today over a number of years and in May 2012, we closed our $7.2m Series A round. We haven’t looked back since and, at the end of 2013, we secured our $42m Series C round.

What technology has made the biggest difference to your business?

The invention of our proprietary programming language – Curated Stream Definition Language (CSDL) – has made the biggest difference. DataSift’s platform enables you to filter through billions of social likes, comments, posts, news sources, and metadata with precision to access the information relevant to you.

Where would you like your business to be in three years?

As I’m sure many entrepreneurs say, it would be great to have IPOed!

Growth challenges

What is the hardest thing you have ever done in business?

Business is all hard and if it’s not hard you’re not trying hard enough! Scaling is always one of the hardest things as everything – whether it’s marketing, sales, funding or HR – becomes far more complex as your business grows.

What was your biggest business mistake?

You can’t get things right 100% of the time and making mistakes is how you learn. Often what you think is a mistake turns out to be a blessing in disguise!

What is the most common serious mistake you see entrepreneurs make?

Definitely having self-belief without self-awareness.

How will your market look in three years?

Social data will be much more pervasive, the market will have become more consolidated and companies will rely heavily on the richer data that is now becoming available.

What is the single most important piece of advice you would offer to a less experienced entrepreneur?

To be successful, you need to learn to tell a story

Personal growth

Biggest luxury?

It’s definitely my racing car. It’s a custom rebuilt TVR Chimaera, that has been supercharged and built for the track

Executive education or learn it on the job?

I’d certainly say learn it on the job – I didn’t even go to university.

What would make you a better leader?

I think the only thing that really matters when it comes to being a leader is being self-aware and knowing your strengths and weaknesses. This allows you to focus on making the best use of your abilities.

One business app and one personal app you can’t do without:

The business app I can’t live without at the moment is Sunrise. It’s a calendar app that’s my constant companion as scheduling is everything. For fun, WazHack. It’s a graphical recreation of a classic game called Nethack and when stuck on the tube, or travelling in general, it keeps me occupied.

Business book:

To be honest, I’m not a big fan of business books. I find war books are much more enlightening when it comes to things like strategy and leadership.

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