The data conversation

Blogs home Featured Image

As we approach the new year, it seems an appropriate time to look back at how Mango’s 18-year history has reflected the evolving landscape of the data industry. It’s hard to believe that founders, Matt and Rich, have been sharing the data story since 2002, long before the term ‘data science’ gained popularity, and well before most organisations had begun to recognise the value of their data.  Matt and Rich have borne witness to this data revolution, via the big data era through to the current day where data is recognised as a new class of economic asset; universities routinely offer data science courses and Government departments have adopted algorithmic decision making.

Championing transition projects focussing on productivity through data science and a move towards repeatable and scalable models, Mango’s emphasis has been on ingraining data as part of a company’s DNA and supporting the creation of a data-driven culture.

It’s easy to see how the co-founders have remained at the forefront of the industry for so long, delivering data science projects to some of the world’s best-known companies. They credit their longevity to their open, honest and outcome-focused way of doing business and their deliberate shift from analytics as a reactive tool to adding value and the insights to drive decision making.

Asked about the most notable transition they had seen over the years, Matt referenced how the world has changed: “You can’t have barriers of data within organisations. Siloed data and analytics teams were once the norm, but these create structural, cultural and technological obstacles, wasting resource and inhibiting productivity. Many of the biggest challenges associated with data are not so much analytic problems, but fundamental information integration issues. Technology has moved at a huge pace in the past decade and that continuum between software advances and a recognition of the importance of data grows ever closer.”

Secrets of Success

There have been many secrets to Mango’s success, starting with its name.  “We considered lots of options incorporating ‘Statistics’ or ‘Analytics’ but they all seemed rather dull or dry and, in retrospect, would have dated very quickly,” remembers Rich. “Whilst ‘Stats Entertainment’ was just one of Matt’s inspired suggestions, our decision to name the company Mango, after his cat, has allowed us to continue to evolve and stay relevant through all the technological changes of the past 18 years.”

The name aside, it’s the founders’ approach that has been the real secret of their success. “Data for us has always been a way of doing business”, says Matt. “Looking back, we were right to place the emphasis on using analytics to empower end users. Our business has always been about making sense of data science, building out the capability by finding the experience, looking for knowledge and focussing on skills transfer and developing autonomy and support.  We’ve always believed in making data science easier for organisations, working alongside them and helping to broaden the scope and skills of the inhouse teams”.

Matt and Rich are unanimous that a vital element in Mango’s success, has been its people. “We’ve been lucky enough to attract extremely talented people, whilst also having a very successful internal graduate programme,” confirms Matt.  “My father’s advice was always to surround yourself with the best people and that’s exactly what we’ve managed to achieve. It was a proud moment to see that this year’s DataIQ list of Top 100 data professionals featured not only Rich, but also two of our former colleagues.”

Highlights

There have been many highlights along the way, but for Matt and Rich there have been some standout memories and high points over the past eighteen years.  “Standing on the platform at Zurich train station celebrating our first major contract win was a very memorable moment,” recalls Matt. “It was the point when we realised that we really were onto something new, securing a big customer who’d been won over by our style and attitude.”

A particular Mango achievement is their work in the R Community, including the creation of EARL (Enterprise Applications of the R Language), the first commercially focused R conference. The first EARL conference was delivered in 2014 and is now a firm annual fixture for R users across the UK and Europe.  Previous iterations have also seen EARL conferences delivered across the US. The original idea for the conference came from Rich, and the event is entirely organised and run by Mango staff. “The culture and openness displayed at EARL is fantastic, with companies keen to share their knowledge and use cases and talk frankly about their R journeys” remarks Rich. “Our work within the R community and the recognition that Mango has received for our R user groups and EARL is something we are particularly proud of.”

Lessons learned

Mango’s initial work was primarily within the life sciences and financial sectors. “A lot of our early work was in highly regulated industries and the rigour of working in those environments was massively valuable”, recalls Rich. “Everything we learned in those regulated industries we now deploy across industry ensuring a robust approach and the delivery of best data science practices and real practical advice.  Whilst much of our early work was in SAS, S- Plus and R, Mango has always been agnostic about tech, working within whichever language best meets our clients’ requirements and objectives; these days much of our work is in python.”

A phrase that resonates with Mango is ‘Give a man a fish and you feed him for one day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime’.  “We work alongside our clients, mentoring and helping to upskill their teams, leaving them able to operate independently at the end of our involvement,” states Rich. “This approach is greatly valued by our customers, irrespective of where they are in their own digital transformation journey, who recognise the value that we add.”

Teamwork is at the heart of Mango’s work, whether it’s working in internal teams or as part of a client’s team. The introduction of the Belbin framework has been enormously useful in creating a team structure and awareness of individuals’ behavioural strengths, fostering more effective communication. “We started by employing the right people”, said Rich, “but the Belbin framework and our own Trusted Consultant programme has cemented a really productive team ethos.”

“Looking back, if there was one thing that we wished we’d done earlier, it would have been to introduce a marketing presence,” mulls Matt. “We were fortunate to grow organically and benefit from recommendations and repeat business, but in the past couple of years, the work undertaken by our marketing team to promote Mango to a wider audience has resulted in awards and recognition that have really amplified our presence and message.”

Looking ahead

“We are extremely proud of the company that we have built,” attests Rich, “and today Mango is focused on facilitating the sorts of conversations that we recognised as needing to be had some 18 years ago when we first founded.  We urge businesses to embrace methodical and pragmatic data processes before they dive in at AI/ML-level but are grateful, at least, that these latter tools have finally provoked the data conversation”.