Today, LinkUp manages one of the largest job market databases in the U.S., but the company did not start as a data company. They began as a job listing site before discovering that they were quietly building a powerful data product for investment managers, HR providers and others to get real-time visibility into the job market.
We talk with Tom Ashenmacher, Chief Revenue Officer at LinkUp, about what makes selling data unique, building more consumable data products and how data sharing is changing the way the company brings its products to market.
LinkUp started out building a job listing site before shifting to data. How is selling data different from software or advertising?
I always think about the “made market” versus “make market” distinction. Selling recruitment ads is a “made” market: you’re trying to get a piece of an existing budget. You don’t need to create the vision. That’s what’s so fun about selling data. A ton of what we were doing when we started was helping our prospects understand what they could do with the dataset. You’re selling a vision and use cases as much as a set product.
That’s starting to change a little in capital markets where the value of alternative data is widely accepted. But much of our success is still built on our ability to help a customer conceptualize the unique way our data can create value for them.
How has the way you brought your data products to market changed over the past few years?
When we started licensing data, everything was FTP, but as the market has matured, customers have also changed the ways they want to interact with and consume our data. The introduction of cloud sharing and marketplaces has changed expectations from our customers.
What we've found is that we can no longer expect the customer to come to us; we need to meet them where they work. We need to make our data available in the tools that they're using to generate value. We’ve always spent a ton of time making sure we built great data products; what’s changed is that we’re now thinking more and more about making sure customers can see the value in our data faster.
When did you first start seeing demand for data sharing emerge?
We started hearing rumblings about data sharing about three years ago. We started getting requests from large funds, but it was never absolutely essential. It was something they would prefer but at that point it was nice to have. It was on our roadmap but it wasn’t until 18 months ago when it became a big priority.
Finding Bobsled was a big breakthrough for us. Not only could we enable sharing for all of our customers without building infrastructure, we could do it without losing control of our data. A lot of the partners we explored wanted us to pay massive amounts so that they could take our data and load it into these platforms. The fact that Bobsled allowed us to keep control over our data wherever it's delivered is huge.
Data sales have notoriously long sales processes. How has data sharing impacted your ability to accelerate that process?
When you think about selling data into the capital markets, the average sales process is about six months. There are certain parts of that process that are in your sphere of influence. There are other parts that are not. We’ve invested a lot in making contracting, for instance, as simple as possible. We've taken all the steps to make our trial license agreement, for instance, as standardized as possible.
But the other part that we haven't historically been able to control is the onboarding of the data. As I mentioned earlier, we traditionally made our products available via FTP. There were all of these steps that slowed things down. A fund would ask to trial the data. We would submit a ticket to engineering to set up the firm with FTP credentials. I would send those credentials to the prospect. From there, we would send them some screen shots to make sure they went to the right spot and often do an onboarding to walk them through it. It created a ton of friction right off the bat.
How has data sharing changed that for you?
It’s brought the entire onboarding process back into our “sphere of influence.” We can now get our data instantly into an environment that the customer knows well with no back and forth. It’s seamless for the client and seamless for us.
Reducing our onboarding process by any number of days is huge for us. But it’s also huge for the client themselves to not have to spend the time doing that. We talk about it as reducing the time-to-value for our customers. They can just start working with and getting the insights from the data immediately versus having to go through all the onboarding, concordance, mapping all those different kinds of things
The other big thing for us with Bobsled is that engineering does not need to be involved. My team can use Bobsled to provision the shares themselves, which has been huge in terms of both speeding up the process and freeing our engineering team.
Data marketplaces have been around for a while and providers have seen varying degrees of success. How does LinkUp think about using marketplaces in their go-to-market motion?
Early on, marketplaces were super helpful in just validating our brand. Buyers could see that our data offerings were on a specific marketplace - and it just helped validate that we were vetted and due diligence had been done.
But the platform marketplaces are a little different. We started sharing on Snowflake Marketplace via Bobsled recently and a couple of weeks ago we had an inbound lead come that captures a lot of the opportunity. I got on the call with the prospect and he said: “I spent some time on the marketplace and looked at your sample data. I liked it. We would like to move forward.”
I was sort of stuck: you mean, I don’t have to pitch? I don’t have to do a trial? No sample data? You just want to go? That was pretty cool. It’s a great example of how data sharing reduces the sales cycle and can really accelerate our sales process. The idea that someone could explore and validate our data without any intervention from us was powerful.
Read more about how LinkUp cut its onboarding time in half with Bobsled.