Big Data

Ex-Bitly chief scientist Hilary Mason launches Fast Forward Labs as an all-in-one emerging tech consultant

Hilary Mason Stewart Townsend Flickr

Don’t know what to do with your big data? Don’t freak. You can sign up reports for the latest data technology, and even ask for some hands-on help, from a new startup founded by renowned data scientist Hilary Mason.

Mason announced the launch of Fast Forward Labs in a blog post today and elaborated on the startup’s intent and capabilities in an interview with VentureBeat.

“It’s a hack on the basic consultancy model in the sense that companies can subscribe to our research, [which] is basically looking for things right at the point where they’ve become technologically possible or much cheaper than they used to be, but not really exploited in industry,” said Mason, Fast Forward Labs’ founder and chief executive.

The reports, she said, “become artifacts our clients can look at and say, ‘Wow. Now that I know this thing is possible, I want to use it over here.'” From there, Fast Forward people can come in and implement technology like a consulting group.

That combination, plus Mason’s reputation as a preeminent data scientist — she was chief scientist at link-shortening company Bitly for almost four years and more recently worked part-time for Accel Partners as a data scientist in residence — could help it stand out among long-in-the-tooth, information-only analyst firms like Gartner and Forrester as well as big data consulting shops like Mosaic Data Science and Think Big Analytics.

Since starting Fast Forward a few months ago, Mason has already brought on four customers, including a large commerce brand, a business that performs financial modeling, and a company with a celebrity news division.

Such companies can read a Fast Forward report on, say, algorithms that train on sample text and can then summarize newly available text, like tools from Narrative Science and other startups. They can see how such emerging technology is in use today. They can read about open-source options when they’re available. With that information, Mason said, customers can make a “much better informed decision about what their strategy around it should look like.

In addition to Mason, New York-based Fast Forward employs Chris Carella, a founder of stealthy startup Pushd, and former Bitly data scientist Micha Gorelick.

The startup has been receiving revenue from customers and has taken on no venture funding to date, Mason said.

But that could change, with Mason holding fast to a big goal, which sounds inevitable for a person who for years has been vocal about how analysis of numbers can reveal quite a lot.

“My plan is really to try to build a new mechanism for doing applied science research,” she said. “I think existing mechanisms are not supporting the kind of work and pace of work that has to happen in 2014, and I’d really like to be part of trying to build something new.”


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