What’s in a role: Taylor Brandt, Director of Analytics and Business Intelligence at Rockets of Awesome
By Amanda Mulay, Senior Talent Manager
In this series, “What’s in a role,” we ask portfolio company leaders about their career paths, the best way to break into their vertical, and what operators should know about hiring for their position. Past posts profile a Head of Supply Chain, VP of Brand and Customer Experience, and COO.
Today’s breed of data-driven companies look a bit different than they did, say, 10 years ago. With the rise of businesses selling direct-to-consumer, for example, data collection has proven mission critical — especially in the very early days of growth.
Understanding your customer is vitally important to determining your fit in the market, iterating, and providing the best possible customer experience. The best way to get to know them? Data. At launch, founders may choose to outsource their data operations, but sooner rather than later, they’ll bring experts in-house to get closer to the customer. Companies such as Casper, Allbirds, Warby Parker, and Rockets of Awesome have done this with great success.
At Rockets of Awesome, the direct-to-consumer kids clothing brand, Taylor Brandt serves as the company’s Director of Analytics and Business Intelligence. Since she joined in December 2017, she’s worked across teams and dug into various business models to understand and improve the customer journey.
In our conversation, we discussed Taylor’s favorite business intelligence tools, when founders should add analytics and business intelligence experts to their team, tips for those looking to land a role in those functions, and more.
(The following interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.)
Amanda Mulay: Tell us a bit about your background and how it led your current position as Director of Analytics and Business Intelligence at Rockets of Awesome?
Taylor Brandt: I always wanted to have a job that impacted a business and its growth and efficiency. When I went to Emory University, I immediately chose to study finance and accounting because I wanted to be able to understand the primary financial levers of a business. If I could do it over again, though, I would have definitely added a computer science major.
After deciding that audit was a little too boring for me during recruiting, I learned about an interesting practice in the consulting arm of accounting firms that touched finance, consulting, and accounting. The practice of “forensics and valuation” focuses on investigating fraud (including money laundering and embezzlement) as well as business valuations. In this role, I could still get my CPA and do more consulting and financial valuation work.
I did a large project investigating airbags and the whole project focused on data and parsing information to try to understand patterns of what had happened to the company. It was at this point I realized data was an incredibly useful and effective tool that, when paired with financial information, can be deadly. I realized that I wanted to be part of a growing company where I could still affect and impact the outcome, rather than consulting for companies that were already in trouble. That’s when I decided that startups were the way to go.
Mulay: What’s the best way to explain business intelligence? And how do you typically describe your role?
Brandt: Business intelligence is the process of using tools to visualize and manage a company’s data. As the first data/business operations hire at Rockets of Awesome, my role has vastly changed since I joined. When I started, my job was focused on maintaining our business intelligence tools and helping build new dashboards for the team. This work included a lot more financial and excel-driven tasks in the early days as well.
Over time, my role has become more technical. My responsibilities include ensuring that we are choosing the right data tools, thinking through the data model and the ways we’ll want to use the data in the future, building new tools to make sure we can combine all of our data in one place, and trying to automate just about everything.
At this point, I spend most of my time sitting at the intersection of marketing, digital product and merchandising, and making sure stakeholders are looking at all the levers that go into the customer journey. As growth is so integral to early-stage startups, I think it’s imperative to look at the entire customer journey and use data to help make strategic decisions.
Mulay: How cross-functional is your job?
Brandt: Extremely. At different intervals since joining Rockets, I’ve spent time focused on nearly every department. I’m lucky to be part of an amazing senior leadership team that knows how paramount data is to a company’s success.
Given my accounting background, I try to do everything in building blocks and ensure I know (or try to know) all the pieces. When I dive into helping a particular team, I like understanding the whole department and how it works. That way, I can build things that can make their jobs more efficient.
Mulay: How big is your team and how is it organized?
Brandt: Our team is pretty small from a data perspective. We have two people who work more on analytics and business intelligence and two who focus on data science. We try to empower each team with the necessary tools to solve problems without the need for dedicated analysts at all times.
In terms of structure, data science and analytics don’t report into each other. Instead, they work closely to assess business problems and how to tackle them. Both teams report into the COO.
Mulay: What are some unique qualities your role at Rockets has versus a similar type of job at another company?
Brandt: What’s unique about my role is how much I use it to lead different marketing endeavors. I do everything data-first so when I’ve seen growth opportunities, I’ve been empowered to try and execute on some of my ideas. I ran many of our digital channels for several months and used data to make decisions. That experience was super helpful when you think about things like attribution modeling. If you have a data person who has never really touched the channels, it is hard for them to be able to bring the most value they can.
My role is also unique because of the different business models we run. We launched with a subscription model and have now introduced e-commerce. We’re also beginning to test retail. We are launching our first pop up this month and now get to think through a completely omni-channel customer experience, which is exciting and unique.
Mulay: What are your favorite business intelligence tools?
Brandt: We use Looker, Redshift, Heap and DBT for our data stack. We are big Looker fans in our office and developing a data warehouse like Redshift (options like Snowflake, BigQuery) really allowed us to improve our visibility across all departments and automate so much work that took hours per week.
Mulay: Are there any surprising skill sets that have been useful in this role that you didn’t anticipate?
Brandt: I think being a CPA allowed me to contribute much more to the finance team than typical data hires do. I was able to help automate some of the accounting close process, how we review financial information in a more segmented way, and how we project the business in a data-driven way. Additionally, having worked at a really early-stage company and in consulting allows me to think through problems from many angles and always keep the bigger picture in mind.
Mulay: When should a founder start thinking about adding analytics and business intelligence to his or her company?
Brandt: The sooner the better, although it can depend if a founder is willing and able to take on this role early on. The right person in this role can know the technical portion as well as the business portion. I always wanted to be an operational leader and realized data is the biggest lever you have to optimize your business.
I knew basic code when I entered the role, I’ve learned most of it on the job. Being in the direct-to-consumer space, I’ve been able to lean on some incredible leaders in the industry who’ve been able to teach me amazing things. There are so many communities and shared information these days that anything is possible to learn if you know what problems you are trying to tackle.
Mulay: What advice would you give to anyone interested in getting a job similar to yours?
Brandt: It depends on the person. I think there are two types of data hires. Early business operations/strategy/growth roles and true data analyst roles. There’s a ton of value in each of them and I was very lucky that I basically got to experience both during my first year at Rockets.
I think the most important part is knowing who you are and what environment you thrive in. If you really want to have someone who can teach you the technical part, it’s more streamlined to take a data analyst role under a senior leader with the skillset. But if you’re willing to be more scrappy, find the right mentors in the space, and continuously push yourself, then being a first data/business operations hire is the best way to learn the inner workings of the business quickly.
Interested in a role at Rockets of Awesome? Check out current job openings here.