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Data For Dollars

In the information age, knowledge not only matters, it also sells.

Do you really know what business you're in today? The National Football League received more money from ABC, ESPN, FOX and NBC for the rights to broadcast games than it would have cost the networks to buy every team in the league. The Official Airline Guide, which lists every flight from North America to every city in the world, makes more money than all the domestic air carriers combined. Suddenly, the value of information about transactions may have eclipsed the value of the goods and services being transacted . . . and we must participate in this phenomenon of the new economy.

Everything about one's life will be chronicled, cataloged, stored, recalled, assembled . . . and sold. I'm convinced we'll see a new "re-intermediator" industry that keeps track of who's selling their information (about you!) for huge profits. I hope you noted that Amazon.com just rescinded its "privacy" statement, letting customers know it'll be participating in the new gold rush.

Fortune 500 companies are now building what they call "metadatabases." These are new databases made by putting two individual databases together to create a higher order of insight. There's absolutely no reason why entrepreneurs shouldn't do the same.

First, you must "digitize" your systems. If you've been a laggard in upgrading your transactional equipment, it's time to get in the game. And if you've already switched over, start your next upgrade now.

Second, learn to ask for more information. I've seen credit card companies that now ask for a phone number with your signature . . . and more than 35 percent of people give it!

Third, become more skilled at observing your customer and adding your qualitative thoughts to your database.

Finally, start looking for people who could benefit from adding your database to theirs. I think you'll find not only more insight, but also more money.


Watts Wacker-lecturer, bestselling author, political commentator, social critic and CEO of FirstMatter-is one of the world's most respected futurists.

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This article was originally published in the January 2001 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Data For Dollars.

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