An Interview With Stirista’s New Chief Strategy Officer Matthew W. Staudt
Fresh off the exciting news of our acquisition of Venture Development Center (VDC), I had the chance to chat with their CEO, and Stirista’s new Chief Strategy Officer, Matthew W. Staudt.
DO: On the surface, it may look like Stirista and VDC do many of the same things, but can you talk about some of the unique attributes VDC will be bringing to Stirista and their ability to build authoritative data spines for marketers?
MWS: On the contrary. I can see most people, who know VDC, as not immediately seeing the value in the connection of the companies. But from my perspective, VDC and Stirista don’t presently do many of the same things which is why this union is so powerful. Up until this point, VDC has been engaged with buying entities (think large data aggregators, global brands, PSOs, etc.) that are looking for strategic assistance in figuring out how to either monetize their data or in constantly finding unique data attributes or data sources that fill gaps in their product sets or the new solutions that they are looking to offer.
Stirista has always been a complementary and reliable component of the offerings that VDC has been able to present to these buying entities because of the breadth of information the organization has had and the desire to continue to enhance their data sets by continually curating intelligent data attributes that have been embedded into the core assets whether they be consumer or business. Now, there are a lot of data suppliers out there that do or claim to do, the same thing but one of the key differentiators with Stirista was the build-out and ongoing development of the technology to further assist marketers and in harnessing even more insights.
So on the surface, the combination of VDC with Stirista offers the VDC “buy-side” clients a significant leg up as we’re able to provide immediate support to some of their pressing needs whether that be as simple as more accurate email addresses or more complex as the availability of a comprehensive ID spine.
And all this is made even more valuable since VDC has, and continues to come across, unique sources of alternative data – companies looking to sell their data. Historically, we have not usually been able to do anything immediately to benefit many of those alternative sources, however now with our connection to Stirista, we can create economic gain almost immediately, by generating revenue for those data sources right out of the gate.
Specific examples of this would be to create digital audiences for those companies and publish them through the Stirista pipes or, contracting for the data directly and embedding it into these Stirista core assets. Either way, the combination of both organizations is a value-add to existing customers of both organizations and to the prospects with whom we are going to look to engage.
DO: Tell us a bit about VDC and its history?
MWS: VDC was started in 1996 by Dr. Charles Stryker, who in the data industry is best known as Charlie Stryker. The company has its grassroots in what we call today “alternative data”. Charlie had been in the data industry for decades, and in the early 90s had the opportunity to exit out of a large data company that he had helped to form. During a period of time when he was teaching, he began receiving requests from people he knew in the industry to look at data sets they were considering or in finding specific data sets that might help them address a specific need or cover a data gap that needed to be improved.
Charlie had very long and deep connections in the data industry along with an excellent reputation as someone who was able to see the possibility in data. This is right around the time of the dot.com explosion and many data aggregation organizations were looking at companies that had data that was a complete by-product of their core business operation. Charlie began making matches between these alternative data providers (the sellers) and companies that he knew would have interest in those assets (the buyers).
From those grassroots, VDC was born. I joined Charlie in 2007 and was amazed at the number of people he knew, the respect they all had for him, and the way he could quickly assemble thoughts on how to monetize data. While things have changed over the years, that capability has been at the core of our business. The company as of the present day has hundreds of relationships with organizations whether they be buyers or sellers and we are constantly speaking with new businesses that have data and are looking for ways to create new revenue streams. Most of these companies are not true data companies, but they have, as was the case in the early days of VDC, information that is generally the direct result of the exhaustion of their core business.
Because of that, and because of our intimate understanding of the marketplace and the data that exists within it, we’re able to evaluate those assets and conceptualize use cases and the companies on the buy-side that may be able to use it. The combination now with Stirista allows us to embed many of these assets and unique data points into the core assets of Stirista, thereby providing our buy-side clients and marketers at large, a single source constantly evolving solution. So, we will be offering augmented data intelligently delivered with all the technical marketing technology behind it to make it functional, efficient, and cost-effective. With all this in place, the evolution of VDC is pretty much complete.
DO: What are some of the ways VDC is helping clients today?
MWS: The best way for me to answer that is to take it from two vantage points. From the buyer side, VDC deals with large global brands, PSOs, agencies, and large data aggregators that are trying to navigate the waters of first-party data and the privacy aspects associated with the utilization of that data. In many of these instances, some of these companies have strong data science teams and top-notch data acquisition groups. VDC works with these companies to continue to bring assets of interest to them for consideration. We know what they are looking for due to long-time relationships, we understand the areas to watch out for and we understand the real areas of attributes of interest. Five years ago, if you asked me what was of primary interest amongst these companies, I would have said geolocation data, search data, and social data. Today, there is still focus on those but there is increasing interest around transactional information, international data, and robust and comprehensive ID spines or ID graphs depending on your nomenclature. So we’re constantly on the lookout for new datasets that allow us to help augment a client requirement or bring an asset to them that we think they may be interested in based on our understanding of market activity or where their areas of focus are.
On the sell side, we’ve worked with companies that for the most part are not data providers. As I mentioned earlier, these are organizations that generate massive amounts of as nothing more than an exhaust of their current business operation. VDC has been fortunate in that we’ve been able to find unique companies that have these compelling data trails and we work with them to find the attributes that are available and stored. Sometimes we find that key data points are available but not captured and stored. Those finds are usually instances where we can make something very valuable for a company, creating a brand-new revenue stream that has a very little cost associated with it.
Taking this forward being part of Stirista, we can now accelerate the revenue generation process while eliminating some of the contracting hurdles for the buy-side clients, while also providing a complete technical service set to maximize the value-add to the marketer.
DO: Can you tell us a bit about how you first came to know Ajay, and be introduced to Stirista?
MWS: I was introduced to Ajay and Candy very early on in their development of the company. I believe the first time was at a DMA conference in Boston. VDC has held annual networking events and regional dinners which have served as networking events for our clients and VIPs. They have always been very popular and well attended. Of course, we’ve deviated from that over the last year and a half because of the pandemic but we expect to be back doing something similar to those events as they have always been a virtual who’s who of the data industry and have been a great vehicle for people to connect. Anyhow, I met Ajay first at the DMA exhibit hall being introduced to him by one of our reps and he and his team attended our networking event that evening. As I recall, at the time the primary focus of the company was in the ethnic data space. At that point in time, I was working with a few datasets that were in that ethnicity marketplace so in speaking with Ajay I quickly began to understand how he looked at data and how the company curated it.
Moving forward, Stirista became a client of VDC and we brought various assets into them to assist in populating their consumer and business data sets as well as finding places to position their growing data sets in client engagements we were involved with. Several years into that engagement, I began meeting regularly with Ajay and was really caught by the way the company was growing and the team that had been assembled. Over the last five years, Ajay and I have developed a more personal relationship and I have become even closer with the Stirista team, so when we were thinking about an acquirer of VDC, Stirista was at the top of my list as a perfect partner and a perfect place for the VDC team to wind up.
DO: What excites you most about joining the Stirista family?
MWS: Being able to help companies, whether they are buyers or sellers, to actually gain real value out of the data that VDC comes across and the added value of those data points being ingested and delivered via a single-source solution that has the added benefit of the technical aspects to really orchestrate value.
Think about the buyer and seller union I spoke about. One thing to consider is that monthly VDC speaks with companies that have interesting or unique data attributes, but they are not data companies. As such, they lack any kind of data contracting capabilities or data evaluation or delivery operations. The data available could be interesting, but they may not have it at scale, or they may not have enough of it historically.
Over the years we’ve probably had 50 or 60 of these types of companies that we’ve come across where we’ve not been able to help the business because the data was just not at a point or in a state where we could create a single licensing event from it. Now, as part of Stirista, we can talk to all those companies, and anyone else out there that has data of interest, and we can assess what might be valuable. When we find a nuanced asset or one with attributes that are valuable, we can immediately act to bring the data into Stirista to create immediate value for that organization.
For our clients on the buy side, that means that we’re finally in a position where we can actually do analysis on the data that we come across to determine the integrity of the information, the general lift we can expect and, we can streamline the process of evaluation within those organizations by owning the delivery and the updating of the information.
Previously, we had to rely on the sellers of the data to do things as easy but often complex them, as data evaluations. We did not take ownership of the data. At this point, we will be more in control of not just the administrative and contracting functions but also in the data management, hygiene, and operational aspects. That offers a quicker path to value for both the data attribute supplier and the data buyer.
Additionally, because of the deep knowledge that VDC has of the marketplace and the datasets that exist, we know what data points are being sought by large brands, and can effectively go out and search those assets out to embed them into the core Stirista assets, delivering them to companies quickly efficiently and cost-effectively.
DO: With the way companies do business having changed so dramatically in 2020, how did you see the role of data change for marketers?
MWS: I don’t know that this is just limited to the way that companies have had to adjust and change their modes of operation as a result of the pandemic. While that’s true, I believe there has also been a substantial shift in the way most organizations are looking at data, whether it be their own first-party data or data that they are bringing in to ingest.
Generally, I think this comes down to two primary areas when it comes to data and its utilization within the organization for any purpose to support operations, marketing or sales.
At the forefront is privacy and being able to properly navigate the landscape here, as it pertains to new privacy acts and the general position of being a good data steward. Many companies are trying to figure out how to navigate these waters, especially in the midst of the changing tides with regard to cookies and iOS 14. Aligning with a partner that has the ability to facilitate these activities, keeping your company compliant but also having the ability to assist in the effectiveness of marketing and sales activities, will likely be a primary focus of most organizations throughout the year and into 2022.
Secondly, I think many marketers are looking at their entire data portfolio and trying to figure out how they can be more effective with the money being spent on various data licenses. They are evaluating redundant data attributes, looking to understand the lift available from alternative players, and seeing if there are no sources that can provide them a more robust result set for the enterprise solutions. I think this is a paradigm shift and while there has always been an effort to find the most effective sources, the time is ripe for such evaluation and I do not see that changing.
DO: How will clients use data differently in 2021 and beyond?
MWS: From the perspective of marketing and sales, I believe that companies will continue to be concerned about privacy compliance and seek ways to mitigate the issues while maximizing their ability to target smartly and deliver efficiently. Attribution and conversion will remain key components of these efforts and I do not see this changing.
I also believe that fraud and risk mitigation will become more pronounced across all organizations. As more online and mobile activities move to enhance the customer experience, the need for comprehensive ID spines that can link out to core demographic and ever-expanding behavioral detail will become a requirement.
On the surface these two aspects might seem at odds with one another – privacy compliance versus this full 360-degree view of the consumer, however, the intelligent delivery of data and associated services to address each uniquely and both effectively will become increasingly valuable and companies that can offer such solutions, like Stirista, will be better poised to assist marketers in the long-term.