One of the great challenges of starting up a new business is being good at everything the business demands: Marketing, investor relations, inside sales, development, operations, IT, project management, the list goes on. Most startups don't get the luxury of being able to grow their staff quickly and must carefully choose who comes on-board. The natural result of this is that hard decisions are made every day on what part of the business requires attention.

One vital part that can easily be overlooked in the startup environment is business intelligence. The problem usually isn't with acquiring critical data, but rather in making sense of trends and other signals buried in that data. That is where Bob Moore and Jake Stein of RJMetrics have been focusing for the past year, developing effective and affordable solutions for their internet startup customers, helping them see trends, create timely reports, and interact more effectively with their investors and employees.

The Idea

Jake and Bob spent an hour with Bernard and I yesterday answering our questions about how their business works. In a nutshell, they realized that the traditional way of creating the kind of charts and reports that investors and CEOs like to see can be very time-consuming to create. And often those reports are only accurate for the time period around when they are made. Six months down the road, all that work often has to be done again.

Their solution is deceptively simple: Why not take all the experience they have with creating BI in a particular industry (web startups, in this case) and develop a process to quickly turn a startups' carefully-hoarded data into accurate, timely, and dynamically-created charts at a reasonable price?

The Product

The logistics of making this solution happen is, of course, fairly challenging and required a lot of back-end development to really bring all the elements together and make it easy for their customers to get started generating reports. Briefly, the process involves RJMetrics pulling key data from the customer's database, flattening and re-optimizing the dataset for reporting queries, and then presenting the customer with their own dashboard upon which they can create and share charts that are generated directly off of their own company data. Of course, this all has to happen in a secure environment and free of potentially incriminating personally identifiable information.

However, it appears that the RJMetrics team have carefully considered these ramifications and have built a system that is not only trustworthy but also capable of polling the startup's database at a pre-set interval and allowing all the data going back to the very first day to be available for reporting. The mental image I got when they were describing it to me was like a stock history chart on Yahoo! Finance.

The Dashboard

The most critical piece of the puzzle, the part that pulls everything together for RJMetrics is their charting tool. Called the dashboard, it is similar to a widget-based canvas like Netvibes or iGoogle, but specifically for business charts. The dashboard allows you to quickly create charts, arrange them on a page, and save those views for later. You can also quickly generate snapshots of any chart to embed on a blog or other web page, and different roles can be defined to view only the data that is most relevant for them.

Finally, the dashboard has a couple of other tricks up its sleeve. First, since the chart objects each make their own secure connection to the RJMetrics data store, there is a process where, say, an investor can put together a dashboard with charts pulling from a number of different data silos and putting them together on the same page. Also, RJMetrics is actively working on pulling data from public APIs such as Google Analytics to display alongside business metrics.

Our Take

The idea is compelling - why employ a full-time metrics employee when you can depend on RJMetrics to give you the tools to quickly build the charts you need to present to your investors, or potential clients, or even other employees, and at a great price? Of course, this solution isn't for every company. RJMetrics is carefully selecting (for now) those companies they know best: web-based startups. There are plenty of very powerful (and very expensive) tools that bigger companies can leverage to get the same sort of business intelligence. But if you are a web entrepreneur and are looking for something like this, You might just want to give RJMetrics a call.