Data Is Leveling The Business Playing Field, Lungarini SaysAshley Frampton / Charleston Digital News
Jason Lungarini is CEO and founding partner of FusionPoint, a data analytics firm based in Mount Pleasant, South Carolina. Lungarini started the company in 2006 in Connecticut and moved to the Charleston area in 2015. FusionPoint now maintains offices in Charleston, Connecticut and Florida.
This series is brought to you with support from Charleston County Economic Development.
Jason Lungarini has seen increasing diversity on supermarket shelves over the past 15 years. More microbrews and organic products from upstart brands, for example.
Big Data and technology are drivers of that disruption, says Lungarini, CEO of data analytics firm FusionPoint.
Lungarini knows the grocery space because consumer packaged goods companies are among the clients his firm helps gather and understand data. When FusionPoint started in 2006, he said a few big manufacturers largely controlled the array of products in stores. Now, smaller brands are able to gain a foothold by using data and technology to lower their cost of production, understand their market, educate consumers and show demand.
"A lot of it starts with social media," Lungarini said. "If you go back 10 or 15 years ago, from an advertising perspective, it was all about a TV ad. That's how people learned about products."
Today, social media offers advertising with a lower cost of entry.
"So now we can start educating people, and once they start buying it, we can show that path and the demand," Lungarini said.
But while social media is a powerful tool for advertising, Lungarini said it's also a realm that companies of all sizes must monitor constantly since it is the way data and technology are leveling the business playing field.
"Whether you're a big company or small company, you have an equal need to understand what's happening out there," he said. "You can be one of the largest manufacturers, but if someone creates a small little product and it starts going viral, they can eat into your distribution very quickly."
Lungarini got into data analytics with an emphasis on marketing. He has seen the data realm expand, and FusionPoint has evolved along with it. Beyond marketing, companies now look to Big Data and related technologies to make all sorts of business decisions and to stake out competitive advantages, he said.
In your own words, what does FusionPoint do?
We started off as an analytic company, and that was a big word then. We worked with large companies to help them understand how to use technology to optimize marketing. It centered around helping them understand how to price their product, how to segment consumers, who's buying their product, how to ship products more efficiently.
About four to five years ago, that shifted a little bit with the Big Data technologies that started coming out. It became less about an analytic exercise and more about data gathering. The mathematical or analytic type of exercise shifted to how much data can we get to see this. Instead of interpreting what's happening, it's fact based.
So we would go out and get information on everything from the economy, job rates and so forth. And the more we brought information together, the more it helped people figure out how to optimize their business, how to better understand their consumer.
Companies looking to gain a competitive advantage are really starting to see that Big Data, the technology, the analysis, the automation – "artificial intelligence" being another word for it at the moment – has value. I think we're seeing a shift where that is actually becoming a necessity to grow a business, to stay in business and keep up with the competition.
The company now is really about leveraging that data and applying it to a business opportunity. To optimize various aspects of the business, to get a deeper understanding of what is happening, both inside the business and out.
What led you to start this company?
I'm an engineer. I saw a lot of companies out there that were reinventing the wheel. Internally, data was starting to pop up. Some of the decisions they had to make were the same. And so the engineer in me said, "Why are all of these companies internally repeating these things?" Especially from a standpoint of gathering data, gathering information, running an analytic.
And there were a lot of things that people were doing from data security and where do I set it up, how do I set up the server – this was at the beginning of the whole cloud, before the whole cloud infrastructure even existed. I saw companies replicating this all of the time.
We started the company with the idea of creating an analytic platform that can run and process what a business needs to make business decisions, but the idea was to do it as a platform that worked for multiple companies so they get that economy of scale. Let's get the basics down, let's not have you reinvest in how to create a UI or how to create a login or how to create a password or how to track what a person's doing or how to gather data or how to connect to one piece or how to create a graph.
So all of that expense came out, and it allowed companies to focus on the competitive advantage. What are you going to do differently than your competitor? What data are you going to bring in? How are you going to analyze it? What are you looking for? How are you going to better target your consumer?
It really was about allowing them to put their smartest people and the resources that they've invested in into direct impact to the business, versus the support systems required to get them the information that they needed.
What changes or trends in technology are affecting your business?
There definitely is an explosion in data right now. Both the data available to you and how quickly it's being collected. The growth of data is astronomical at this point. And so, as a company that is based in data, we've been pushing along with that and are uniquely positioned and invested to keep up with that growth.
Companies out there that are trying to keep up with the growth themselves, internally, are getting to the point where they're struggling a little bit. You know, small wins, it's kind of working, but then data is growing and it's not again. So I think there's going to be a shift in relying on companies like ours, moving forward, to really help companies so that their investment is in gaining insight and value from the data.
While there used to be a handful of data points we can look at and make a decision how to move forward, it's getting to the point where there's so much information that we need help figuring out where the gem is.
Where did you grow up? What was life like?
In Connecticut, outside of New York. It was so cold. I remember it being cold and then it got colder.
If you go back to the time I was growing up there, New York was the place to be in the Northeast. Boston is right there. So there was a ton to do, and it was a fun environment to grow up in. But I think now that technology is happening, people aren't moving there, younger generations and companies aren't moving up there.
The benefit to being up there, by New York City, is going down, because stuff is spread out more. So you really could work from the South. And I think there definitely is a shift in where people are choosing to live.
What brought you to Charleston?
Weather is obviously a big part of it. But also from a standpoint of work environment and people, that concept of mixing in a little bit of work-hard-play-hard type of atmosphere. Little bit of Southern charm. And overall quality of life is a big part of it.
For a small-business owner, the biggest things are the small-business-friendly environment. From the standpoint of taxes, property taxes and everything that's placed upon you, especially as you're trying to grow a business, it's important to be in an area that is friendly to business growth.
What was your first job, or an early job? What did you learn from it?
One of my first jobs was at a funeral home. I got the job of just painting and taking care of maintenance. It was a family-owned business. They lived in the same building, and they had a small fire in it. They needed someone to pitch in and help start cleaning it, painting it, fixing stuff up.
It was an interesting environment because, in order to work in that line of industry, you have to have a little bit of a sense of humor. The folks that I worked with were a ton of fun. They were always joking around. I have to say, they were some of the most encouraging people that I've worked with.
What do you see as the future of your company?
A lot of companies need to build out their technology, need to build out their product, whereas we've been doing this for 13 years now. Our product works, and it's a little bit ahead of the curve. So the challenge for our company is really getting out there and matching with other companies that want to leverage this technology to grow.
As people start to understand they can't just learn about it and they can't just investigate it, but they actually have to start employing it, I think we're uniquely positioned to help them do that. The last 13 years we've kind of helped out a lot of bigger companies that moved ahead, and now I'm hoping that we can start really leveraging some more mid-sized to smaller companies that are really entering this space and can be more agile, move quicker.
What strategies do you use to find fulfillment both in work and outside of work?
Being an entrepreneur or small-business owner, it can consume you. Your work can quickly eat up weeks of your time where you don't get to step back and enjoy life.
One of the unique things about this area is being able to combine those. It's not necessarily that I get to step away from work, especially as we're going through the growth that we're going through, but I can still enjoy the environment that I'm in, even when I'm working.
Being able to get out for a few minutes and walk the beach and come back to work is just an aspect of living here that brings those two together and makes it feel like I'm not missing out on the personal aspects of life.