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Why humility is core to being a successful DaaS (Data-as-a-Service) business

September 2, 2020
by
Auren Hoffman

Last year we wrote the DaaS Bible (which is now the most widely read post about the operations of data businesses). This year we are creating some follow-up pieces on how one should think about running, managing, and expanding data businesses.

So, what is a data business really?  It is an ingredient.

Many people think of data as a commodity which is not a bad metaphor.  

But a slightly better way to think about data is an ingredient that is sold to the best chefs.

Data is like high quality butter.

Imagine instead of data you were selling high-quality butter and your clients are the very best pastry chefs.  Your customers take your amazing butter and create delicious croissants, cookies, and other fantastic pastries with it.  Maybe they even create a cronut.

The end customer that eats these delicious treats will never know the butter came from your farm.  They may never appreciate the value of the butter.  But every great chef knows and understands that the butter is one of the essential ingredients in a pastry.  They will gladly pay a bit more for the best butter.


Like the butter, data is just an ingredient.  It also sells to the best innovators (usually data scientists, machine learning teams, product managers, and top analysts).  

Humility is key in data businesses.

The pastry chef knows the value of the high-quality butter.  But it is important for the butter merchant to remember that the butter is just one of many important ingredients that makes a great croissant.  There are many things (including the labor of the pastry chef) that go into making a delicious breakfast treat.  Butter is just one of the things.

Like the butter merchant, data companies need a lot of humility.  Data is just an ingredient -- it is not the end solution.  

Being humble is so important for data companies that SafeGraph has called it out as one of our six values:

We are the enablers, not the solvers

As a company, it is important we have the humility to accept that our clients and partners will ultimately be the ones to make the world a better place and solve humanity’s greatest challenges … we are just an enabler. This humility should always color everything we do.



As we wrote in the DaaS Bible last year:

Data Companies are the unsexy archivists

Working at a data company is like being an archivist at the Library of Congress. You know your job is important but you also know it is a supporting role that helps other people shine. Your job is to help and support innovators.

There are very few monuments to archivists. They don’t win Nobel Prizes. They don’t write the Constitution; they only preserve it. Being an archivist means being extremely humble. You are an unsung hero. Your job is to help the innovators innovate. You are not the race car driver, you are the pit crew (or maybe just the person who built the wrench).

Some people are naturally excited about the role of being an archivist. They are excited to be in the background and have the intrinsic self-worth of playing the core supporting role. Like the lighting engineers in a Broadway play. But not everyone is suited to be behind-the-scenes and those people should not start or work at data companies.

Note: if you are excited about the mission to be an archivist, join us in a career at SafeGraph.


Auren Hoffman
Auren Hoffman
CEO of Safegraph
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SafeGraph is just a data company

That's it – that's all we do. We want to understand the physical world and power innovation through open access to geospatial data. We believe data should be an open platform, not a trade secret. Information should not be hoarded so that only a few can innovate.