Patti Combs Brownsord and Jennifer Stolzenbach, Founders and Owners of Data Wonderment, have known each other for a decade and first started working together at AAA almost three years ago. Patti, who previously spent more than a decade in the advertising industry, was hired by Jennifer to be her assistant. Patti brought with her experience in media buying, planning, negotiating and reporting along with data analytics skills used to measure marketing return on investment. Together, with Jennifer’s market research, strategy and business intelligence background, the pair made a dynamic duo.
When one of Patti’s previous clients requested her assistance with finishing up a project, it presented an opportunity for Patti and Jennifer to collaborate and represented the launch of Data Wonderment. “My previous client wasn’t confident in anyone else to handle this project,” Patti said. “I agreed to help, but requested that Jennifer be included as a partner. After that job we both agreed that this was something we could do on the side.”
Born in April 2017, Data Wonderment helps mid- to large-size businesses make better decisions through data. They represent a collection of senior industry professionals in different fields of data. They’re all self-described ‘data nerds’ and are well-versed in analyzing and presenting insights to clients in easy-to-understand ways.
Patti shared what makes Data Wonderment unique compared to other companies in this space. “We have the experience of having worked with big clients such as Cesar’s Palace, Convention & Visitors Bureaus, T-Mobile, Universal and Advent Health, but we can also take that knowledge and help grow smaller firms,” she said. “We can set them up to not have as many growing pains with their data if they kept their small business mentality.”
Patti continued, “We also work with data, soup to nuts, which is unlike most firms. We help collect it through surveys and focus groups, as well as make data through planning, executing, and analyzing media campaigns. We have partners who help with press releases, websites, and graphics. We have access to third-party data that can help build a more robust picture of a business’s customer base. We can then clean all of the data, combine it in order to analyze it holistically, and turn it into actionable insights that help businesses with strategic decisions across marketing and operations.”
From April 2017 until present day, Patti and Jennifer have built their business on the side, while still maintaining full-time employment with AAA. Even though both founders have their own teams to lead at AAA, they’ve managed to build Data Wonderment into an exciting company complete with an intern, a personal assistant, several ETL personnel and a growing list of satisfied customers.
Of course, no accomplishment this impressive is achieved without a handful of challenges. Patti shared some of the growing pains they’ve experienced and how their growth strategy is focused on optimizing their time and building a solid team.
“It’s currently hard for me to do project management and win business,” Patti said. “Eventually, we’ll get our revenue to a certain point where I can take back some of that work. In the meantime, we’re trying to decide if it’s best for us to sell packages, do custom proposals and/or answer RFPs. We want the most return for the least amount of effort. We’re also beginning to understand that some clients are ‘time sinking’ type clients. We need to be purposeful about what to go after and what to avoid. We don’t want to get locked into something, with a minimal return, that won’t allow us to win other jobs.”
Patti continued, “We’re also learning how to manage all of our contractors. Figuring out processes to have steady communication with everyone is vital. Jennifer and I both realize that this is serious and that in order to scale we’ll need to put together the right team and allocate resources properly. That also comes down to how I use my time to grow the business. I need to be more strategic with the events I attend. I’m an extravert and a networker at heart, but I need to build the right partnerships in order to find a project manager and additional ETL people to get some of that stuff off my plate. That will allow me to get out there and focus on selling and growing the business.”
Patti shared that what she enjoys most is figuring out how to grow and sustain the business while supplying a decent amount of work to all of their contractors and keeping the lights on. She enjoys making the proposals, doing the pictures and winning accounts.
Looking ahead, a current goal is to develop a survey program that nonprofit companies can license. Patti explained, “Having set surveys for certain stakeholders will help reduce costs by leveraging economies of scale. Using the different surveys will help lay a great foundation for them to improve experiences and solidify their grant applications while creating full-time employment for many employees of Data Wonderment.”
What advice does Patti have for aspiring entrepreneurs? “Crawl, walk, run,” she said. “Use the idea of minimal viable product to get started (nothing has to be perfect unless you’re starting a rocket science company). Iterations make for great reasons to reach back out to people who may have not bought the first time. Plan time for self-care; if you burn out, your business won’t be around to do what it’s meant to do.”