For multimillion dollar business owner Kaz Ohta, entrepreneurship is in his blood.
The chief executive officer and founder of Treasure Data, a company that stores and analyzes consumer data to improve the customer experience and ultimately, generate more sales, grew up watching his parents run a small pharmacy in his hometown, Osaka, Japan.
The family business stayed ahead of the curve by starting an e-commerce business back in 1999 after his mom bought a computer, taught herself how to write HTML and made a website to sell their products online.
“We actually made a good amount of money,” Ohta says. “My family did a great business together.”
Now, Ohta runs the number one consumer data platform (CDP) company in the world—storing data on more than half of the internet-connected world population. Companies who partner with Treasure Data receive insightful analytics on their consumer base that can be integrated into everything from a company’s marketing campaigns to its design and sales teams.
“[We] basically collect…[consumer] insights based on their behavior in the digital and physical world,” Ohta says.
But, while Treasure Data is currently the top CDP, they had to fight off competition, adapt to market changes, and overcome adversity as a minority-founded business to get there.
“It’s actually really rare to have Japanese founders,” Ohta says. “I think Japanese people are more risk averse…they all go to large companies; that’s just the culture there.”
Ohta had a knack for computers and helped his family with coding to maintain their online store. It’s no surprise that he chose to major in computer science when he went to college at the University of Tokyo.
It was there that he witnessed firsthand the potential of mass data storage when he started working with his professor to create the file system for the world’s fastest supercomputer.
Right after graduation, he founded his first start-up endeavor, Preferred Infrastructure, a Japanese software company. Ohta ran the company for four years and grew the company from 5 to 40 employees before selling it and immigrating to the United States.
“Forget about entrepreneurship, just coming into the United States is really hard,” Ohta says. “I never feel like I’m actually safe to be in this country… I think that…made me more hungry to succeed.”
Once in the States, he started working at a fast-growing Silicon Valley-based startup where he met who would later become one of the co-founders of Treasure Data, Hironobu Yoshikawa.
Eventually, he and Yoshikawa hired Sadayuki Furuhashi, the chief architect, to round out the Treasure Data team, and in just 12 years, they have grown from 3 to more than 700 employees across 20 countries.
Today, Treasure Data specializes in centralizing customer data so that businesses have more specific, granular views of their customers to improve customer experience and boost sales, but when the company started, it was a “data lake” that stored high volumes of data for large companies and conglomerates, an idea born from Ohta’s desire to democratize access to mass data storage.
Typically, businesses would have to spend millions of dollars on storage hardware to house the information, and then wait as long as 18 months to get analysis on that data, but Treasure Data allowed companies to rent storage space and start analyzing their data instantly through the cloud.
Quickly, Treasure Data emerged as one of the first of its kind to enter the cloud storage data field.
Pivoting to Stay in the Game
Several years into Treasure Data’s operations, they faced tough competition from other Big Tech companies—and started to run out of money.
“Amazon, Google, Microsoft came into the similar space and they’re trying to democratize and commoditize everything from the bottom,” Ohta says. “When that happen[ed], our product [became] cheaper, [there was] more price pressure, more customers were churning.”
At that point, one of Treasure Data’s angel donors, Yahoo Founder Jerry Young, told Ohta to build more value stock on top of their product. That meant pivoting from a cloud data storage model to a tool that marketing departments could use to leverage consumer data.
“That’s when we actually started calling ourselves as CDP and then selling into marketing business’ user and buyer persona,” says Ohta. “And since then, [we’ve had] good success in penetrating into that market.”
Now, companies like AB InBev, the world’s leading beer producer, work with Treasure Data to collect and track customer data and behavior, in order to send personalized deals and drive revenue.
“Every time someone comes to the Budweiser website or is scanning the QR code on the Budweiser website, or using a feature on the Budweiser mobile app, we collect all of the data, and then figure out, is this customer is actually a loyal customer?” says Ohta. “If it’s a loyal customer, we will send out [certain] coupons, and…rewards for them. If they are not yet loyal customers…we will send out [different] coupons and then campaign so that they become loyal customers for that particular brand.”
According to Ohta, without a CDP like Treasure Data, this sort of targeted outreach is challenging because customer data tends to be siloed in various companies or departments.
“For example, AB InBev, they have 500 beer brands, which [have] traditionally been separate companies. Each brand is operating independently, which means data resides there, but it’s not unified across multiple brands, or business lines,” says Ohta.
Thus, by unifying that data across multiple brands, they allow a company to learn more about their overall industry and customer. After all, billions of data points can be captured by a CDP like Treasure Data, including demographic and behavioral information.
“We’re actually collecting a lot of behavioral data online,” Ohta says. “It’s basically collecting…consumer intent or insights based on the behavior in the digital and physical world.”
Likewise, Treasure Data’s pivot to customer data analysis came as the consumer experience migrated into the online space and most shoppers are doing their research at home before coming in to make a big purchase.
For instance, when buying a car, customers used to visit the dealership an average of five to six times before making a final decision, Ohta says. Now, with the internet, that number’s dropped to 1.2 visits.
While customers are online, Treasure Data can analyze the data to determine how likely a customer is to make a purchase at the dealership and what exactly they’re looking to purchase. That way, the sales associate can focus on serious buyers and close a sale, and customers get a seamless, more personalized shopping experience.
Security in the Digital Age
While accessing this data is beneficial for companies, security and privacy is essential for consumers. “There’s this huge concern with data privacy,” Ohta explains.
Several laws require companies to collect consent from consumers to use their data through methods like website pop-ups and cookie-based authorizations, and Treasure Data provides companies with the tools to collect and manage consumer consent, which can be tedious for companies to manage on their own.
Ohta sees himself as a custodian of people’s data and takes the management of data security seriously at Treasure Data. Likewise, he’s helping reduce stress around this tricky territory for companies.
“We don’t want a lot of companies to abuse the data, right?” Ohta asks. “We need to provide a tool to protect that data as well so that we become more ethical as a human about using the data…I think that’s a huge opportunity.”
Creating a Stand-Out Company
Competition among consumer data platforms is fierce, but Treasure Data has remained on top for the past 12 years. That success stems from several efforts on Treasure Data’s part.
Firstly, they have made a habit of listening to what the market wants.
“I think what we have done really well is just listening to customers and delivering what they want, rather than becoming a shiny SIlicon Valley startup, where you have a lot of fundraising but actually building the product that no one uses,” Ohta says.
Ohta and his team have also kept Treasure Data competitive by designing the product to integrate with a variety of software vendors, like Oracle and Salelsforce, where other CDPs are only compatible with specific platforms.
Treasure Data is also the best global brand for your buck.
“Our product is really designed for global enterprises or global brands, so a lot of our prospects want to implement CDP across the globe, like 40 countries,” Ohta says. “We’re the only one who has a data center across the globe…. that you can [use to] collect data in every region.”
As Ohta looks to the future, he is passionate about continuing to strengthen the areas that have long made Treasure Data strong, and continuing to have a positive impact on the world.
“We have the opportunity to make billions of people’s data much safer and more convenient to use. There is no other place where you can have an impact on billions of people,” said Ohta. “That excites me for the future of this company.”