dunnhumby 30th Anniversary Interview with Clive and Edwina

Over the past three decades, Edwina Dunn and Clive Humby have established themselves as pioneers in data science, revolutionising the use of transaction data and harnessing the power of customer insight to drive huge success for businesses across the globe.

Today marks the 30th anniversary since they founded dunnhumby the self-named global insights business behind Tesco’s Clubcard. Creating the first loyalty scheme in the world that transformed retailing, shopping and marketing forever prompting the famous quote from Tesco’s then chairman, Lord MacLaurin “you know more about my customers after three months than I know after 30 years.”

Since selling dunnhumby to Tesco in 2010, Clive and Edwina have been focussing on their newest venture, Starcount.

We caught up with them to reflect on the early days of dunnhumby, the invention of Tesco’s Clubcard and what prompted them to come back to lead Starcount…

Today marks 30 years since you started dunnhumby, how do you feel about it and what memories does this anniversary bring back?

Edwina: When we started dunnhumby, it was just the two of us, working from home.  The decision to create a business meant that we were ‘out of a job’, broke with a big mortgage (terrible timing) and yet driven and excited about starting a business we believed in.  We bet on ourselves making it happen. It was a true “Power of Two” story. Two people with opposite skills pulling together to create a new business. We used new technology, data that was being thrown away and a challenge that we believed (but didn’t know) might be transformational.

What motivated you to start dunnhumby?

Edwina: We were driven by the art of the possible.  Technology made it possible to read big data for the first time, at a cost that was just about affordable. We had already proved that ‘you are where you live’ but also our belief was that ‘you are what you buy’ and we were the first people to use technology and big data to analyse customers, where historically transactional data was thrown away. We began to explore how food defines the differences in how we live our lives – more powerful than census data and certainly more powerful than demographics.  With Tesco’s Clubcard data we discovered that you could do amazing things with some of the data and over time, our methods became more and more sophisticated. The work we did propelled Tesco to double its market share in less than 3 years and become the no. 1 retailer in the UK and eventually no.3 in the world.

“The work we did propelled Tesco to double its market share in less than 3 years and become the no. 1 retailer in the UK and eventually no.3 in the world.”

Edwina Dunn

Looking back, what advice would you give your younger selves and why?

Edwina: Work hard, believe in yourself, find your opposite (not just for love but for work) and then surround yourself with brilliant people.  Creating something out of nothing, being entrepreneurial was hugely challenging – but the exhilaration when it worked/delivered was extraordinary reward and fun.

Clive: If everything works, you are not pushing the envelope hard enough… great ideas should fail some of the time.

What have been your proudest moments at dunnhumby?

Edwina: We discovered that 3 things mattered; winning great clients, with lots of great data and then building a team of people who simply love data and truly partner with these clients.  We felt extremely satisfied 1500 people in 25 countries, managing 350m customers every week.

You sold dunnhumby to Tesco in 2010, what prompted you to come back to the industry and lead Starcount?

Edwina: We started to be interested in new Open Data.  We felt that we had only just begun the journey. In the past, we had helped grocers win.  But grocers have great data and customers tend to repeat what they buy. Companies and brands in other sectors don’t always have that luxury so, we came back to deliver the next part of the journey – use data to predict what customers will do next.

“We discovered that 3 things mattered; winning great clients, with lots of great data and then building a team of people who simply love data and truly partner with these clients.”

Edwina Dunn

Clive: This is so important; if we had a pound for everyone who said… I want to do a Tesco, we would have made a lot of money, but you can’t unless you are very transaction-rich.  Customers want to feel understood and valued… this means we must understand them holistically which is where Starcount takes it to the next level in terms of understanding what motivates consumers to purchase by evaluating what they are passionate about not just when they are interacting with your brand but in their everyday lives.

In a few sentences, what does Starcount do and how is it different from dunnhumby?

Edwina: Dunnhumby was rear view mirror, so too is the data science across most of the industry.  Companies tend to look only at their own data. At best, they may use some market research. We wanted to create a business that helps to predict what consumers love more than brands, their drivers and motivations which determine what they will do, want and buy next.

What is the main thing you’d like to accomplish with Starcount and why?

Edwina: We want to deliver a platform that helps the broader industry spot, track and respond to changing consumer wants and needs, to understand where they fit in the eco-system.  That means we need to deliver the best tech and the fastest moving data whilst helping brands understand best how to harness this information to talk to their customers better and build a relationship that goes beyond transactional loyalty but to emotional loyalty.

What are the main differences between starting a business in 2012 vs 1989?

Edwina: We were a lone voice in 1989. Today, everyone uses data and technology.  To stand out, we need to show that our work and those we work with, win and get better than anyone else results. This may take time but we are well on our way.

Clive: Data isn’t the only part of the answer.  So many businesses think they’ve built a “big data team” so it will happen.  It won’t they need leadership, they need to tell stories, they need to win hearts and minds amongst the business leaders to really make a difference.

You have both given so much to the industry over the years, what would you like your lasting legacy to be?

Edwina: Our legacy, I hope will be developing great people (50% female) and a determination to keep pushing forward with data and technology – as a force for good.  We are still focused on giving consumers ‘free stuff’. That’s not creepy, it’s cool!

Clive: We are really proud that many of our ex-dunnhumbians have gone to take senior positions both client-side and in competitor organisations and have learnt from the culture and the benefits of “The Power of Two” leadership style that we developed at dunnhumby. We are very proud of the company we built and excited about the future success of Starcount.


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