As the co-founder and president of data marketplace Infochimps, Joseph Kelly leads the company’s tools and services that allow owners of datasets to publish their information in new ways while gathering new audiences. In our latest Spotlight Interview with this serial entrepreneur, Kelly tells us about his business goals, philosophies, and inspirations.

So, what first got him so interested in data? Rap.

I’ve been a big hip-hop fan for as long as I can remember… I always thought it’d be great to trace back from the songs we hear today back to whoever said it originally. Whoever said ‘grown ass man’ first, who said ‘me and Lorenzo rollin in a Benzo’? In rap, all sorts of those kinds of catchphrases appear in songs time and time again.

Joseph Kelly

So naturally, he got to work setting lyrics up in an archive to go through a database around the same time he was looking into starting up a web company. While Infochimps took off, Kelly had to put his ‘ultimate rapper lyrics service’ (as he calls it) on the back burner – but, he said that it did lead him down a path of productive thinking: He realized that what he was doing was too hard, that this type of work should be easy for anyone who’s serious about finding an answer to have access to it.

Nobody’s able to say who’s the greatest rapper of all time because nobody’s done the data work, nobody’s pulled it together in a dataset and made this thing come together empirically.

He points to this example as a way that the business world is growing. Customers who previously had no visibility with their data before are just now learning how to advertise this information visually on the web, compared to before when they were essentially clueless.

Kelly says that since Infochimps founding in 2009, he is most proud of the team that they’ve built. While he acknowledges that they’ve gone through many changes and anticipate even more…

the folks who have been around for everything makes it a key reason to work here every day… First, data was the right place to be. Secondly, the co-founders were the two smartest guys I could’ve hoped to work with.

infochimps data

Kelly describes his as a “glue company,” where they pull in different aspects of the market together to the best-of-breed platform. He describes changing assumptions about what’s going on in the cloud technologies because his job is to smooth these all together into a different kind of environment.

It’s about how to make it work for you. That’s something that we bring to our customer solutions, we don’t want folks to have to worry about those things… Just to focus on solving the business challenges.

One of Kelly’s favorite pieces of advice comes from Henry Singleton on Strategic Planning, who said: “My only plan is to keep coming to work. I like to steer the boat each day rather than plan ahead way into the future.” He says that this philosophy is true, whether it comes from a perspective of data analysis or running a startup company:

Big Data

Plans just often don’t make much sense to put too much effort into… The thought exercise is great but the actual plan doesn’t always come true.

You can make data tell any story that you want, according to Kelly, and – using the example of his rap dataset – he says that it can build a community of people who share interests. Data visualization is also an incredibly important, and often forgotten, aspect that people need in the front-end of their businesses. Those who have data lying around and have no idea how to add any visibility to it need to take the first step of getting it into a system or platform so that they can see it for what it really is. An example of ramping up this productivity can be seen in an Infochimps infographic about CIOs and Big Data.

Kelly’s advice reveals an insider’s perspective on the world of data and how he sees companies using information every day to better expand their business strategies. Read up more about what his team has to say on the Infochimps Blog to see what Kelly’s work is all about.

Stay tuned for next Wednesday, when we’ll share more insight from leaders of the data industry.