The Answer: 42



Using analytics to design and operate processes is a key organizational capability. Here’s another example of the continuing growth of new ventures in this arena. In this case, a new start-up by a young Canadian entrepreneur, 24 year-old Cathy Han. In her profile of Han’s company, “42”, April Fong wrote:

The company’s web platform takes bricks-and-mortar retailers’ raw point-of-sale data and turns it into easy-to-read insights, such as identifying who top customers are and what products are driving sales growth. The aim is that merchants can take this actionable data to better personalize in-store experiences.

Ms. Han said the idea was partly inspired by her experience working at Procter & Gamble, where she pored over spreadsheets to help large retailers identify gaps in their businesses. It helped her envision a data platform that would free businesses from sifting through numbers so they could instead spend time figuring out solutions themselves.

“Working with the data was so hard and it crashed my Excel all the time. I never had a tool that was powerful enough,” the 24-year-old Sauder School of Business graduate said.

“POS data isn’t a sexy space by any means, but what you can do with it is incredibly influential to any business … We wanted to build something for execs to find the information they need in the time they wanted,” Ms. Han said, adding that she wants to bring the same kind of intelligence of customers’ purchasing patterns in the online world – think’s recommendations of products you may like – to off-line retailers.

The data that 42 provides can, for example, help businesses tailor their email newsletters (such as promotions reflecting a customer’s buying trends or a store-opening invitation delivered to the top 5% of customers), rather than spamming customers with irrelevant promotions.

Ken Wong, marketing professor at Queen’s University, says this kind of personalization is increasingly critical for bricks-and-mortar retailers as they face growing online competition. “In an era where increasingly everything is available everywhere, [retailers] have to ask the question, ‘What value is being added at the point of sale?’ ” Mr. Wong said.

Its name – 42 – is a reference to The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy’s “answer to everything.”

42 has another international achievement to add to the list: being selected for the latest cohort of Y Combinator, a prestigious seed accelerator program in Silicon Valley. “We looked around the world for a program to help move the business forward,” Ms. Han said. “Y Combinator has a history of building products and companies that people actually find a lot of value from, such as Dropbox and Airbnb. We’re incredibly excited.”

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