May 24, 2010

Crunching business data not for the faint of heart

“Business is not for the faint of heart.”

That was what the cyborg voice over the Business Report‘s hold music once said. I probably only waited on hold a few times in the years following the startup of DataJoe, but that mantra has stuck with me, likely for two reasons: 1. it could be the marching hymn of the Business Report and maybe all business journals; and 2. I like cyborgs.

As the proprietor of DataJoe, a spinoff of the Business Report that helps data publishers produce ranked lists and sell them online, I work with a lot of business journals. Business journals have a way of taking on the characteristics of the communities they serve, and for good reason. The publications’ fortunes are tied intimately to the pillar industries they cover, even as they report the highs and lows of those industries with equal detachment.

The economic fallout of the past 18 months has challenged virtually every major industry in Northern Colorado and by extension its business newspaper. But unlike many other markets that have fared worse, no single industry propels this region as forcefully as does entrepreneurship. The same has always held true for the Business Report.

“Business takes decisive, bold action,” the cyborg said.

Over the summer of 2001, then-co-publisher Chris Wood and I hit the road like Chris Farley and David Spade in “Tommy Boy” to visit a handful of other business journals between Colorado and Pennsylvania to gauge their interest in our system for managing ranked lists. We actually signed one of them on, and DataJoe became self-aware at that moment.

We all assumed the risk and uncertainty that comes with safeguarding another business’s assets. But there was never a question of whether any of this made sense; our prime directive – like that of Northern Colorado – was to honor the spirit of entrepreneurship. DataJoe was born.

‘Action based on knowledge’

When we first discussed the possibility of DataJoe (long before the name existed), I had been working at the Business Report for two years as researcher/reporter. Up until that time I really had just wanted to be a reporter.

My M.O. from day one was to complete my ranked list assignments as quickly as possible to have time to write a story or two for the upcoming issue. Within my first week on the job, I began cobbling together some basic tools to make my research responsibilities bearable.

Being the researcher at a business journal is tough. Like business, it’s not for the faint of heart. When he hired me, Chris warned that the job came with “a lot of brain damage.” (But also health insurance and a Fort Collins Club membership.) When I started, my job involved faxing surveys one at a time to hundreds of local businesses and then calling the businesses that did not respond. I keyed the data into a Quark file, sent the file off to our production staff and immediately began faxing out surveys for the next list while I waited for the first to hit the stands and the complaints to roll in.

Slowly things got better. The list content began flowing in and out of a database before it went on to the fax machine or Quark. Accuracy improved. I experimented with creating Quark layouts directly out of my Frankenstein system and queuing surveys via e-mail instead of fax. Less than a year later, I was leaning pretty heavily on my mechanized counterpart, but barely took notice: I still wanted to be a reporter.

The next year was incredible. I was almost a full-time reporter, delegating most of my duties to an assistant who used the tools I created to produce more research content than ever before. I shared an office with Tom Hacker, an immensely talented reporter and editor, who taught me, among a great many other things, to ridicule words like “synergy” and “win-win” – as well as the people who use them.

But by the end of the year, the voice of the cyborg I’d created (not unlike the one that may yet lurk somewhere inside the Business Report’s phone system) was calling me back to ranked lists and I knew that despite a whole-hearted effort, I remained only half a reporter.

The researcher side of my career – powered, as we say, by DataJoe – made quick work of the reporter side. Database structures, release cycles and tradeshow booths replaced bylines, interviews and eleventh-hour news leads. And I find myself leaning all the more on my mechanized counterpart, wondering, hopefully, where he’ll lead us next.

Regardless of the destination, I am comforted knowing that the spirit that guides Northern Colorado’s many entrepreneurs remains the lifeblood of our business.

Dan Feiveson wrote and researched for NCBR from 1998 to 2002, when he became president of DataJoe LLC, based in Lakewood, which now employs a half-dozen professionals serving more than 70 publications from Alaska to the UK and everywhere in between.

“Business is not for the faint of heart.”

That was what the cyborg voice over the Business Report‘s hold music once said. I probably only waited on hold a few times in the years following the startup of DataJoe, but that mantra has stuck with me, likely for two reasons: 1. it could be the marching hymn of the Business Report and maybe all business journals; and 2. I like cyborgs.

As the proprietor of DataJoe, a spinoff of the Business Report that helps data publishers produce ranked lists and sell them online, I work with a lot of business journals. Business…

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