Dataships: Automating healthy data relationships

6 Dec 2021

Michael Storan and Ryan McErlane. Image: Dataships

Be it your privacy policy or cookie consent monitoring, ruled by GDPR or CCPA, Dataships wants to help automate your compliance.

Since the introduction of GDPR, users are ever more aware of their data rights and their expectations around privacy and security have been raised. We pivoted sharply from the early, Wild West of internet data, to a web of rules, regulations and costly fines for non-compliance.

Dataships was born to assist businesses in this shifting landscape. Founded in 2019, a year after GDPR came into force, co-founder and CEO Michael Storan said the team set out “to change the way companies and individuals alike think about personal data”.

“For companies, it doesn’t need to be a secretive zero-sum game and the regulations aren’t as insurmountable as they might initially feel. Equally, for consumers, many are happy to share their personal data with brands they want to engage with once their basic personal rights are being respected,” he said.

“It’s all about companies and consumers having a healthy data relationship, or ‘dataship’, together. The rules of engagement for how they both understand they can engage with each other.”

‘Showing customers you respect their data builds trust’

Dataships is a SaaS tool to automate data privacy compliance across jurisdictions. It aims take the complexity out of privacy policies, cookie consent tools, GDPR and CCPA and make compliance simple for SMEs.

CEO Storan founded the Dublin-based company with Ryan McErlane. Storan is no stranger to entrepreneurship having founded an online gambling company in 2015, which he sold two years later.

“Having experienced the problem first-hand, I dedicated myself to helping other business owners minimise and automate their compliance obligations,” he said.

Regulation was part of Storan’s studies at the London School of Economics while McErlane had years of experience working on enterprise compliance programmes at EY and Accenture. “Having experienced the manual and repetitive fashion of these engagements, he is passionate about simplifying the process and introducing clarity and automation,” said Storan.

Dataships can help clients keep their privacy policies up to date in an ever-evolving landscape. Using APIs, Dataships integrates with a client’s data sources, and gives them access to a privacy centre with cookies tools, data access gateways and a control panel which acts as a system of record.

“We believe compliance is just the starting point. Showing customers you respect their data builds trust and establishes your brand as a company users want to interact with,” said Storan.

As well as compliance, Dataships also supports automation of customer service and marketing functions. This includes automated customer data requests and marketing data segmented based on users’ consent and geographic requirements.

“Automating these areas removes massive headaches for business owners. Beyond just avoiding fines, automated compliance builds efficiencies by having all your data together in one place and allowing your marketing work more smoothly,” explained Storan.

‘It’s really hard in Ireland to raise an institutional seed round, because of the competition’

It’s a tool targeted at SMEs large enough to need help managing their data compliance, but not large enough to employ an internal legal team.

“Many of these are B2C companies that have a lot of data and obviously have to ensure they are looking after it correctly,” said Storan. “Dataships acts as an extension to their team so they can automate this function and focus on growing their business.”

The number of clients secured has more than doubled since late 2020 with about 100 signed up from around the world, including Irish food brands Ornua and Strong Roots.

“We focus on tech-minded companies who are using other SaaS products,” said Storan. He sees this as “standing on the shoulders of giants” as the comprehensive APIs in circulation have made Dataships’ work that bit easier. “Things we can do now wouldn’t have been possible five or even two years ago,” he said.

That said, start-ups are not without their challenges and Storan recalled “plenty of uncertain days and near misses”.

“Everything is always slower than you like and the biggest constant challenge is just to stay in the game to give ourselves the time we need to see the progress happen,” he said.

That effort was rewarded earlier this year when Dataships secured a $3m seed funding round co-led by US-based Urban Innovation Fund and Lavrock Ventures. Other participants in the round included NDRC, the accelerator now operated by Dogpatch Labs, which selected Dataships as part of its first cohort. The company has also received backing from Enterprise Ireland.

“We’re excited to build out our team,” said Storan of the funding windfall. This means growth on both sides of the Atlantic, with Dataships offices in Dublin and San Francisco.

“We have some internal milestones we would like to reach and then we will look to raise a Series A next year,” Storan added.

The US is seen as a key launchpad for Dataships, and Storan and McErlane have been through a SaaS start-up accelerator in Silicon Valley. “I know more Irish start-up founders in San Francisco than I do in Ireland,” Storan joked.

“Places like the NDRC and Enterprise Ireland do a fantastic job in funding start-ups but it’s really hard in Ireland to raise an institutional seed round – because of the competition, seed rounds in Ireland are mostly going to companies already generating serious revenue, so there’s kind of a no man’s land between the accelerators and the funds.”

He hopes that a foothold in the US will mean Dataships can achieve more, while holding on to its Irish roots.

“There are so many Irish people who have done so many incredible things in technology in recent years, from the Collison brothers to the team at Intercom and entrepreneurs like Pat Phelan, Allison Kopf and Peter Coppinger,” he said.

“We’re so lucky with the entrepreneurial community in Ireland and how readily they give their time, and so through the NDRC we’ve already been fortunate enough to have access to some of these as mentors which was really incredible.”

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Elaine Burke is the editor of Silicon Republic