This 35+ Year CEO Created a Playbook to Help Entrepreneurs Scale Their Business Beyond What’s Possible with Grit Alone

By Zoe Ashbridge Zoe Ashbridge has been verified by Muck Rack's editorial team
Published on March 16, 2024

Over 35 years ago, Dean Guida bootstrapped his tech company Infragistics and, since then, has scaled the business globally across six countries with a client roster that includes 100% of the S&P 500.

As CEO and founder of Infragistics, Dean has built a business that has withstood a series of tumultuous moments in the Internet’s ongoing evolution (think: the dot-com tech bubble of the late 90s, the explosion of the Internet, and the 2008 recession). And it’s not that he got lucky, that he happened to be in the right place at the right time, or even that he just worked harder than the next guy.

He did it by crystallizing the insights at each key moment along the way — from common growing pains to completely unpredictable challenges — into a hard-won philosophy that he shares in his new book.

In an excerpt from “When Grit is Not Enough,” Dean shares why data needs to be at the center of every business to drive profitability and better business decisions — and how even professional sports teams have incorporated data into their games.

Below is the excerpt from When Grit is Not Enough: An Entrepreneur’s Playbook for Taking Your Business to the Next Level by Dean Guida.

Until very recently, the analytic revolution that swept through sports had bypassed hockey. Big data drives baseball managers to execute defensive shifts for every hitter and to pull starters as soon as they throw one hundred pitches. Analytics tell football coaches to pass on fourth down when their team only needs a yard for a first down. And it turns NBA basketball games into three-point shooting contests.

Few organizations have focused on deeper analysis in hockey. The Tampa Bay Lightning, my favorite team and back-to-back Stanley Cup winners, were different. Over a decade ago, they hired mathematician Michael Peterson as their director of analytics. Tampa Bay then began to rely heavily on data, moving away from pure statistical data and subjective evaluation of players to analytics.

When Tampa Bay hired Peterson, maybe three or four NHL teams were utilizing analytics. These clubs had begun to try to find statistics that weren’t just measurable but were meaningful. Statistics such as “Tampa wins 72 percent of games played on Thursdays” are measurable, but they are not particularly meaningful, except if the team only played on that day. What all these teams wanted was information that could be used to create a repeatable formula for winning. 

For example, sensor data collected from hockey pucks can indicate player fatigue based on shot speed, pass speed, and more. This enables coaches to make timely substitutions to rest their players more effectively. Data analysis also helps with training and schematics, leading to better tactics, game plans, and team play.

“For an analyst to suggest a metric has value, we need to be able to explain how or why it relates to outcomes we desire, most generally goals for or against,” says Sportsnet analytics writer Stephen Burtch. “Once we can identify how it relates to winning, we need to be able to show that it describes something meaningful, that it relates relatively strongly to goals/wins.” 

The same goes for your business. No business can remain profitable and win in the marketplace without becoming data-driven and its employees becoming skilled at assessing data and using statistical analysis. Those businesses that succeed the most are the ones that can spot the diamond in the rough, pulling a compelling, meaningful, data-driven narrative, product, or marketing strategy from the numbers.

The Data Surge

When I founded Infragistics more than thirty-five years ago, we were not focused on data. We made the best decisions we could relying on our instincts as market experts and whatever research, however scarce, we could muster.

But the world was changing rapidly around us. In 1989, software and computer systems started being used extensively to analyze back-office functions such as accounting and operations. Two years later, computer scientist Tim Berners-Lee announced the birth of the internet, setting out the specifications for a worldwide, interconnected web of data, accessible to anyone from anywhere. By 1997, Google Search debuted, spurred by the company’s mission to organize all the world’s information and make it universally accessible, useful, and searchable.

At the end of the twentieth century, business commentators were using the term big data to describe the mountain of information becoming available for analysis. At the same time, they were proclaiming an Internet of Things to chronicle the growing number of online devices with the potential to communicate with each other.

In 2005, the notion of a Web 2.0 was born to identify a world where the majority of internet content was being provided by users of services, rather than by service providers. Finally, by 2014, when more people were using mobile devices rather than office or home computers to access digital data, the amount of data being generated exploded.

How great was this explosion? At a conference only four years earlier, Eric Schmidt, then executive chairman of Google, declared that there was as much data being generated every two days as was created from the beginning of human civilization up to the year 2003. As startling as Schmidt’s comparison was at that time, it seems quaint now. In 2023, people create 1.7 megabytes (MB) of data every second, or 3.5 quintillion bytes per day (there are eighteen zeros in a quintillion).

The flood of information will only increase. More and more people around the world are tapping into the internet. There were 4.6 billion active internet users in 2023, which is close to 66 percent of the world population. (There were 2.5 billion internet users in 2013.) Access to data is becoming faster, cheaper, and easier every day. 

A New Business World

This is the world we all live in now. As Emanuel Younanzadeh, vice president of marketing at the Modern Data Company, puts it succinctly when describing the reality of business today: “It is data or die.”  Yet according to a 2021 NewVantage survey, only 24 percent of companies have developed into data-driven businesses. And even those that are focused on being data driven are experiencing problems—according to Forrester, only 32 percent of business executives could create measurable value from their data, and only 27 percent said their data and analytical products produce actionable insights. Even more startling is that between 60 percent and 73 percent of all enterprise data is never analyzed!

I believe companies that choose not to adopt this new data-driven approach to business are prone to inaccurate forecasting, missing revenue goals, poor decision-making, misguided marketing, and unnecessary costs.

On the other hand, the competitive advantage of being data driven can be significant. According to a McKinsey study, intensive users of customer analytics are nineteen times as likely to be profitable as non-intensive users and twenty-three times more likely to outperform in customer acquisition.

A Data-Driven Business

Being data driven puts information and analytics at the center of the decision-making process. At Infragistics, our executives and employees use their years of experience with statistical information to either prove or refute assumptions. We have found that using data provides us with a variety of advantages in the following areas.

Launching New Products and/or Services

Trying to launch a successful new product or service activates every aspect of Infragistics—marketing, financing, development, design, sales, and more. All Infragistics departments optimize their decision-making process through data because it shines a searchlight on what customers want, like, and expect.

Monitoring and Beating the Competition

Using accurate and timely data allows us to monitor and analyze our competitors’ actions. And more importantly, it allows us to be proactive rather than reactive to rapidly shifting marketplace trends.

Improving Collaboration

Data provides our teams with real-time information about needed changes and new opportunities. It’s critical to interdepartmental collaboration, but it also drives horizontal innovation at Infragistics. For example, sometimes a team member in product development can propose a new and imaginative solution to a problem that marketing is struggling with. Data illuminates new ways for what we should do next.

Optimization of Costs

By following profit and loss data, we find patterns that help us make informed decisions and optimize our finances. Data also shows us critical trends. A report filled with financial data provides a snapshot of where Infragistics is at any given moment. It allows me and everyone in the company to see how that situation changes over time.

Targeting the Right Audience

Our marketing efforts, like those of all businesses, should be targeted at different audiences. Using data allows us to create the best strategy for getting the right product or service to the right customer. This is particularly important in a world with so many media channels. Without data, we are engaged in guesswork. With data, we can know whether we are succeeding or failing, whether we should sustain our strategy or pivot to a new approach.

When I first started to watch hockey, it was a game of great speed, tremendous skill, hard hits, and usually two or three fights a night. Now it is all these things, but it is also a sport that deeply believes in the power of analytics to improve every player’s performance and give the teams that master it a competitive edge.

Excerpted and adapted with permission from When Grit is Not Enough: An Entrepreneur’s Playbook for Taking Your Business to the Next Level by Dean Guida.

By Zoe Ashbridge Zoe Ashbridge has been verified by Muck Rack's editorial team

Zoe Ashbridge is a contributor at Grit Daily. She's spent the last ten years working in and writing about technology, digital marketing, SEO, ecommerce and entrepreneurship.

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