Venngage is building a solution to automatically transform data into visually appealing infographic reports. These reports can be used for a variety of purposes, from content marketing to data analysis and reporting.
MaRS Market Intelligence spoke with Eugene Woo, Co-founder of Venngage.
Where did the idea for Venngage stem from?
Our company started out as Vizualize.me, which was a simple tool for visualizing your resume. Basically you signed in using LinkedIn, and Vizualize.me converted your LinkedIn profile into an infographic. This tool got a lot of traction and press coverage from outlets such as TechCrunch and Forbes. Even today we get at least 1,000 sign-ups a day, and have over 200,000 users in total.
The problem with Vizualize.me is that it offers limited engagement. Users only go to the site if they’re hiring or looking for a job. This represents something like 10% of the population, and we find a large percentage of our users don’t come back to the site because they have no reason to.
Nevertheless, Vizualize.me helped us realize the power of infographics, which are a unique form of data visualization. It also created a lot of inbound interest from clients who wanted infographics for their custom data. This is how we came up the idea to automate the creation of infographics.
Why do you think the use of infographics has become so popular?
I think that, in general, and I know this is a cliché, a picture is worth a thousand words. Would you rather read a one-page article or just look at an infographic report? When done right, an infographic can help you to synthesize information very quickly and easily―sometimes in as little as 30 seconds. In today’s world, where we are bombarded by millions and millions of messages, we need something like this. If, after looking at an infographic report you want to dig deeper, well, that’s when you can read the actual analysis.
Do you think we’re suffering from infographic overload?
When it comes to content marketing, there are a lot of mediocre data visualizations out there. But the same can be said about images and blog posts. If you take all the blog posts ever written, you will probably have 99% that are not very good and 1% that are great.
I think the same holds true with infographics. The difference being that infographics tend to get shared more often and tend to receive more press coverage, so people just see them more. For example, a bad infographic will surface a lot more than a bad blog post.
Which visuals tend to resonate the most with users?
I think one of the simplest things is knowing how to make text stand out. Take a number, for instance. Most people think they have to visualize this one number, whereas sometimes it’s just easier to highlight that number on its own, particularly if you’re not comparing it with anything else.
Venngage tends to stay away from very complex visualizations. For example, something like a network graph can look very nice when seen from afar, but nine out of ten people won’t understand it. Our clients sometimes ask for things like a network graph and we have to convince them to use something simpler. For us, making something simple that is still visually appealing is a much bigger challenge than making a complex visualization.
Apart from being a content marketing tool, how else are infographics being used?
Our hope is to get companies using them internally. Today, the average office worker still uses Excel or PowerPoint to do their data analysis. That really hasn’t changed in the last fifteen years. Moreover, data is locked up in people’s Excel spreadsheets, which is an inefficient and old-fashioned way of working. We want to provide a tool that allows the average worker to easily convert their data into insights and to be able to share these insights with other people in the organization. This will help free up data and drive a lot more transparency.
As technology advances, how do you see the exploration of data evolving?
When companies talk about analyzing data, it’s still very much a domain for data scientists or business intelligence (BI) folks. It’s still a very high-tech, difficult process that involves lots of expensive tools and lots of specialized people. I mean, a typical enterprise business analytics tool can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars!
I think data analytics will evolve with the consumerization of IT and become more of a consumer-based offering that everyone can use. With Venngage, we’re going to adopt a freemium model like GitHub. You’ll be able to create free visualizations up until the point that you want to use real company data, and then you’ll need to convert to a paid account. This will probably be adopted very quickly by, say, marketing departments, who don’t necessarily need to analyze a whole data warehouse but just a small set of data. I also see more of what I call the self-service model being used, where the end user can do the work themselves rather than relying on a team of analysts or BI experts.
What are some of your favourite visualizations?
I love the work of Nicholas Feltron.
I also really like Facebook’s timeline and how it visualizes such a large amount of data. The funny thing is that Vizualize.me had a timeline as part of their site. We thought it was super cool and then, maybe two months later, Facebook came out with their timeline! We thought, “oh no, everyone will think we copied Facebook!” But really―we built ours first.