In this edition of Into the Business the Estimator talks to Jelmer Wielema and Shady el-Gewily from Databay. Together they form the Innovation Lab, a part of Databay that functions like a firm within a firm. They get a lot of entrepreneurial freedom to create brand new innovative models.
First, a question to help the students who might not know yet about Databay: what is it that you do here?
At this moment, we are divided into two departments. Most people here do consultancy work. They make dashboards for our clients, for example McDonald’s. When McDonald’s introduces a new commercial, the company wants to know how effective the commercial is. With easy to use dashboards, the company can see the effectiveness according to location and see the results. Some other examples of our customers are Ebay Marktplaats, Air France KLM, BEN, Nuon and Makro South America.
Another part of Databay is developing new models, like churn models and media budgeting models. Creating these models is what our department within Databay, the Innovation Lab does. The Innovation Lab only exists since last September and currently consists of the two of us and an intern. The Innovation Lab works like a firm within a firm, since we get a lot of freedom and responsibility.
So, on the one hand, you could see Databay doing applied econometrics and on the other hand the ‘real’ econometrics, if you define the first as implementing models and the second as developing models.
Jelmer (left) and Shady (right)
Have you had the opportunity to work with advanced models that you learn about in the Master phase at university, or do you mostly use the simpler regression models?
Here, we can again view Databay as two departments. As a consultant, you usually work with simple churn models, which you also already learn during the Bachelor phase. Such models, are models that companies need a lot. Most of our clients don’t see the difference between advanced and simple models.
What we do at the Innovation Lab however, is thinking of new models and making and programming them from scratch. We try to use new statistical knowledge and techniques. By applying our knowledge of econometrics, we look at an existing problem and the way it is being solved right now and try to think of how this could be done better. We use a lot of econometrics and often try out many different models, like nonlinear models, Bayesian models or factor analysis, or combinations of those.
Could you compare the things that you occupy yourselves with at the Innovation Lab scientific research?
We indeed do a lot of research at the Innovation Lab. You could think of the Lab as a combination between being an entrepreneur and being a scientific researcher. As the name suggests, our job is innovating, and what that means, is trying different new things, things that may not work at first try. You have to be able to deal with something not working. We do not get orders on what model we have to make: we decide ourselves which models and techniques we want to use to reach a certain goal. So, yes, in this context you could call our work scientific, but we also want to create models with commercial value in the end. So we are also entrepreneurs.
What educational background does everyone within the Innovation Lab have?
At this moment, there are only the two of us and an intern working in the Innovation Lab, because we have only existed since September. We both studied econometrics. The Innovation Lab is meant for people with a high level of econometric knowledge. However, most of the consultants at Databay have studied marketing analysis and are interested in data, but couldn’t make the models we are making, as you are only introduced to these in the econometrics programme.
Is it hard to explain the advanced models you are developing to consultants?
Convincing a consultant of the usefulness of a certain model is sometimes a challenge, but it is also fun. If, with our background, we cannot convince someone of the usefulness of what we are doing, then maybe it is less useful than we initially thought. So then, a question arises, when is it justified to make complicated models, if the client may not benefit that much from them? With our technical background, we can often easily see the problems with the current methods used and change these in an efficient way.
Communication is very important. What is great, is that most people within Databay are very open to what we are doing at the Innovation Lab. We would like to think that we actually influence the consultants in a positive way, as we share our experience with models and econometrics. By speaking with consultants a lot, we exchange knowledge and mindsets, as we have studied different things in the past.
These days, the Innovation Lab is still small, what is the expected growth in the future?
We are planning to expand. That is why we now have an intern, to test how that would go. Next, we could have an intern working here for his or her thesis. The type of person that we are looking for, is an entrepreneurial type, who has as much passion for innovation, creativity and econometrics as we do. We would like to expand, because then we can be even more innovative.
Part of our responsibility is to make the Innovation Lab grow towards a more important part of the organisation. Potential new members of the Innovation Lab should have a certain entrepreneurial attitude. These people should be willing to take risks. Both of us were busy entrepreneuring during our student time as well. Being a part of our team, you have a lot of influence and freedom. There is not really a boss who tells you exactly what to do. We need people who can perform in such an environment. I think that such uncertainty may scare a lot of people, but also attracts a certain group, people who like doing their own thing.
If you doubt yourself, just do it. The only thing that could happen is that you learn and grow as a person.
How would you characterize the atmosphere at Databay?
At Databay we have a young team, with the majority with the majority of us being between 25 and 35 years old. We have a relaxed environment with little hierarchy. Due to this we work really closely together and as a result create a pro-active atmosphere. We promote taking initiative. The fact that even the people at the top of the chain are so easily accessible is one of the major benefits of a small organisation. Also remarkable is the fact that over a third of our workforce is female, quite extraordinary in the field of econometrics.
Do you have any last tips for our readers on how students can develop themselves the most during their time at university?
For me, a big change occurred when I started surrounding myself with people that were just as motivated and passionate as I was. I was never content with just getting good grades. Having positive and inspiring people around you, helps you improve a lot. Next to that, reading about anything you find interesting is important. You gain more knowledge and insights, which is always useful. Finally, by stepping out of your comfort zone and daring to take risks from time to time, you can develop yourself greatly. In the end, what matters most is that you are happy, so evaluate the steps you are about to take and ask yourself why you do things and if those steps will lead you to what you actually want. If you doubt yourself, just do it. The only thing that could happen is that you learn and grow as a person.
Databay will be present during Find Your Match next week! Interested in writing your thesis internship here? Sign up here now!