In this part of the Data Quality Sessions, we take a closer look into our data quality certification partner Neutronian, a start-up led by seasoned entrepreneur Timur Yarnall, which is completely focused on independent data quality measurement.
Eyeota is currently working closely with Neutronian on its Data Certification process – this certification is becoming increasingly considered as the “gold standard” for measuring data quality in the Martech space. You can watch the full video here.
Timur Yarnall is a San Francisco resident, dad, engineer, and entrepreneurial founder of four tech start-ups focused on the web, content management platforms, video monetization strategies, and now data quality measurement. He says it was his third start-up venture – an audience verification company eventually acquired by Comscore – that provided the creative spark to launch Neutronian.
Yarnall’s wealth of start-up experiences have taught him many lessons but he says some of the hardest to learn were those involving capital efficiency and choosing your co-founder carefully.
“The dotcom crash at the turn of the millennium and 9/11 left a lot of money on the floor,” he says. “Sometimes it’s better to take less money and make sure the model is right so you can optimize your capital in the business.”
“The other key lesson is choosing your co-founder as carefully as you would choose your wife! Fortunately, I’ve been lucky and have chosen well, but it truly is like a marriage!”
“It is one of those things,” says Kristina Prokop. “For better or worse.”
Yarnall laughs in agreement, adding “Forming a company is truly like having a child.”
So, what is the Neutronian goal and what problems does the business solve?
“We are a SaaS platform delivering a ‘credit score’ for Martech data,” says Yarnall. “We allow platforms like Eyeota, and others, to say ‘we’ve got fully verified data’”.
The aim, according to Yarnall, is to enable all sides of the equation – sellers, buyers and platform providers – to harvest and trade data that is certified as ‘organic’, rather than simply measuring data at scale “like a fast-food merchant.”
He is passionate about the issue of there not being a data quality standard.
“This affects the entire ecosystem,” Yarnall says. “And ultimately this also impacts consumers who need trust as well.”
He goes on: “Coming out of Stanford in 1995, we wanted to change the world with the web so it’s sad to see the lack of consumer trust in today’s data ecosystem. Rebuilding this trust is the core part of our ethos at Neutronian.”
“Are you fighting the good fight?” asks Prokop.
“It really boils down to three things,” responds Yarnall. “First, the ethos I inherited from my parents which is focused on ethics; Second is my systems engineering background which makes me want to work on the entire system rather than just incremental extractions from the system.”
“Thirdly, at my second company we built a great video platform over eight years and we tried to figure out a monetization strategy outside of local media markets. Google hit us with a claw back notice in 2012 which meant we didn’t sleep for four days trying to work this problem out while we were being clobbered by a giant company. We realized we’d been attacked by bots and so we turned this challenge into an opportunity by building a platform to protect ourselves and then turned it into a product to sell – audience verification,” Yarnell says.
“So, when you founded Neutronian, what was it about the data space that made you hone in on this as the basis for a company?” asks Prokop.
Yarnall says the acquisition of that previous start-up by Comscore helped him and his team understand the ethics of data processing systems and provided a true perspective of audiences.
“It is people-based marketing and that period between 2013 and 2015 saw the maturing of the concept of tracking users around the web. But this was becoming a risk to the publishers and a risk to everyone involved from fake news and quality of data that was tied to bots.”
So Yarnall began looking for an opportunity to show marketers the potential for quality data to provide a core brand-safe environment.
Prokop says Eyeota also found the issue of data quality interesting when the business got started because it wanted to explain how bots lead to fraud in a way the market could understand easily.
“Everyone has their own interpretation of data quality but it’s an area that people don’t fully understand. How data is collected, who is doing it properly and the different methodologies is a complex issue. When we saw what Neutronian was coming to the market with, we were tremendously excited,” she says.
“So, can you share with us what the process looks like for a data provider to have their data audited, Timur?”
“There are three stages,” he replies. “First we organize what a data provider says they do and what a marketer is looking for – this is the disclosure process. Then the audit process begins – testing to see if what they are doing and what they say they are doing is the same thing. It’s a point in time review of data samples.”
“The third part is an on-going monitoring, like we are doing with Eyeota. In an age of CCPA and GDPR we don’t think it’s enough just to have annual or even semi-annual audits. There has to be a continuous monitoring of data sources and statistical anomalies which is crucial to help our partners monitor their own customer deliveries. That’s a key part of the framework,” says Yarnall.
The audit process is both manual and automated and it starts with a kick-off call, then the data provider completes a detailed questionnaire with five categories: Consent and compliance; Dataset characteristics; Performance; Data processing and methodology; and finally, Source transparency. There are metrics in all these categories which today provide a binary “Fail/Pass” score. In addition there are live walkthrough sessions of the technical and methodology details, a full review of data sources and a review of data samples. It’s a eight-to-twelve-week process with the data provider’s team working several hours per week to complete the various audit components.
Industry reception to the arrival of Neutronian has been nothing short of overwhelming, says Yarnall, in terms of investors and advisors to the company.
“This is my fourth start-up, and we closed our first round of funding back in January/February last year so we’re doing well even in the midst of this current crisis. Our investors include a great mix of Silicon Valley and Silicon Alley in NYC. Our advisory board includes people willing to share their perspectives from both the buy and sell side. It has both current and former executives from Omnicom, American Express, Ogilvy and Standard and Poor’s.”
“And the response from the industry has been amazing too,” he continues. “I think people have seen the need for data certification for quite some time, and with CCPA and GDPR arriving, the time is now.”
The fact that data quality is being talked about in the mainstream business media is testament to its importance in the minds of business leaders. All products and services are now built off the back of data, especially in targeted advertising and if you don’t have that base correct and developed from high quality data, it can throw all of your products built off the back of it into the trash, Yarnall adds.
“My co-founder and I could have built successful careers in cloud management, but we felt passionate about data quality and wanted to make a positive impact with our lives,” he says.
“Now more than ever, every marketing dollar matters and so quality of data matters just as much. With the pandemic crisis, the cost being wrong has doubled or tripled compared to what it was even just four or five months ago,” he concludes.
“It is an awesome initiative,” says Prokop. “Eyeota have been early supporters and we will bring you more supporters in the future so stay healthy and stay great!”
Watch the conversation here.