‘Start-ups require a level of commitment – which isn’t for everyone’

10 Dec 2019

Geoffrey Michener. Image: DataPlor

Geoffrey Michener of DataPlor discusses the challenges of starting a company, the opportunities for helping small businesses in emerging markets, and why reading is his ‘secret weapon’.

Geoffrey Michener is the CEO and founder of DataPlor, an LA-based platform that indexes micro-businesses in emerging markets, with a focus on Latin America.

Michener is an international business executive with more than a decade of experience leading start-up companies. DataPlor is his second venture-backed technology company.

‘Starting a company presents a number of challenges, testing you emotionally, psychologically and physically’

Describe your role and what you do.

As CEO, I am responsible for ensuring the team maintains focus on priorities that drive the vision of the company. The sales team is delivering enterprise-level deals, and our operations team manages our ‘explorers’ (local field team members who collect and upload data). My role is to keep noise and distractions from the team, collaborating closely with our investors and recruiting talent as our team grows.

How do you prioritise and organise your working life?

All goals are broken down into tasks, which are ranked based on level of importance and timing. With each day and week, I prioritise tasks that move the business toward its long-term goals. I also set aside time each day for the unexpected, whether it’s providing support to my sales team or sharing a new initiative with our investors. It is an art, not a science.

What are the biggest challenges facing your sector and how are you tackling them?

Small business data is virtually non-existent in emerging markets. Where there is data, it’s inaccurate and/or incomplete. DataPlor solves this problem by strategically combining scalable technology and boots on the ground.

Our platform enables people who live in Latin America to be paid for collecting information directly from brick-and-mortar businesses and entering it into their smartphones. We currently have over 100,000 trained independent contractors, called ‘explorers’, who are on the ground, collecting data using our technology.

The DataPlor approach is disrupting traditional data vendors and requires some client education. When we explain to customers how effective we are in addressing data gaps, and correcting inaccurate information, they are excited to partner with us.

What are the key sector opportunities you’re capitalising on?

There are 445m micro-businesses in emerging markets. Only one in five has a digital footprint. Right now we are focusing on Latin America and south-east Asia as these regions have the largest concentration of micro-businesses.

What set you on the road to where you are now?

My start-up journey began at LivingSocial where I worked in sales and business development. From there I co-founded a venture-backed data start-up, which opened my eyes to the potential and value of untapped data in emerging markets. I founded DataPlor in 2017.

What was your biggest mistake and what did you learn from it?

My biggest mistake was hiring too fast during the early stages of the company. I also hired too many part-time individuals who could not dedicate the time necessary to succeed at an early-stage company. I learned that it is better to take time with new hires, ask friends in your network about the applicant (LinkedIn is a great resource) and, when possible, require a 90-day trial period.

Start-ups require a level of commitment and engagement, which isn’t for everyone. Clearly communicating expectations upfront helps the candidate understand the goals and mission of the company.

How do you get the best out of your team?

I believe in hiring people to do the job, micro-management is not in my playbook. At DataPlor, everyone is empowered to make decisions, provided it’s in the best interest of the company. This approach helps eliminate internal politics, timidity and sluggishness. 

Have you noticed a diversity problem in your sector?

I can only speak for diversity within my company. We are focused on qualifications and attitude, and welcome a diversity of opinions and experiences on the DataPlor team.

Did you ever have a mentor or someone who was pivotal in your career?

Matt Graves (former CDO of Infogroup) and Andrew Finn (co-founder of ArborBridge and Wait But Why) have been incredible mentors to me.

Starting a company presents a number of challenges, testing you emotionally, psychologically and physically. The company becomes your life and you need people who are on the outside, looking in, to lend guidance during the journey. My mentors help keep me focused, motivated and engaged in the work.

What books have you read that you would recommend?
  • The Hard Thing About Hard Things by Ben Horowitz
  • Never Split The Difference by Chris Voss
  • Delivering Happiness: A Path to Profits, Passion and Purpose by Tony Hsieh
  • Extreme Ownership: How US Navy SEALs Lead and Win by Jocko Willink and Leif Babin
What are the essential tools and resources that get you through the working week?

I keep up to date on the usual tech publications, complemented by a variety of current event publications, from The New Yorker to The Economist. I read things that challenge my mind and I seek to learn new things every day.

Reading fiction is my secret weapon; it provides a mental reset that keeps me fresh for any challenges that come my way. John Grisham is a favourite, most recently I finished The Last Juror.

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