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The Dataist Posts

Excel vs. The Data Lake (So I Launched a Startup Pt. 14)

It seems I always start my posts with “it’s been a while since I last posted…”. Well, it has. The truth is that during the month of April, I did something I hadn’t done in a while: took a vacation. That was nice, but then I got COVID (not fun), which everyone in my household got. Then I went to Singapore. More on that later. I’ve also been very heads down with some coding and technical stuff relating to security on our startup. I’ll tell you all about that in part 15. Anyway… I wanted to share a long overdue update.

A week ago, I posted a LinkedIn poll where I asked the question: “How many of you use Excel or GoogleSheets as a database?” In my extremely unscientific poll, about 45% of the responses said that they did. Indeed, this poll mirrors my experience in talking with customers in that despite massive corporate investments in platforms like Snowflake, Splunk, data lakes, delta lakes, lake houses, tons of work is done in Excel. The result is that for many organizations, a significant amount of their most valuable data isn’t in their data lake.

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Data Pioneers vs. Data Settlers (Startup Pt. 13)

I just got back from a data conference organized by the Data Council, which took place in Austin, TX. It was the first data conference I’ve attended since the pandemic started and it was really great to be able to attend and meet many colleagues from around the country and the world. I know I’ve said this many times, but I always come back from conferences feeling very inspired and usually with a wealth of new ideas. Oh, and in case you missed the title, VIRTUAL CONFERENCES SUCK! There, I said it!

I was invited to attend by one of our investors and it was really great to meet some of the people with whom I’ve been working for the last year and a half. I went to this conference with a mission: I wanted to learn how other early companies position themselves in a very crowded data space. One of the big challenges we’ve faced at DataDistillr is how we position ourselves. If you haven’t read earlier installments or read our website, DataDistillr is a tool which can connect to any data source and query data without ETL. The goal of our tool is to enable people who work with data, data scientists and data analysts, to be able to work with data without the support of a data engineering team.

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So I Launched a Startup, Pt 12: MLOps and Burst Coding

I’ve written about this before but as a technical CEO and Co-Founder, my days are usually filled with meetings of various types. My day starts with a daily standup about sales and growth and can take any number of directions. Mondays usually have sprint planning meetings, Tuesdays exec meetings, Thursdays are meetings with investors etc. The unfortunate result is that I don’t have large amounts of uninterrupted time for tech work and other work that requires intense concentration.

Burst Coding: Coding for Those With No Time

Given my insane schedule, if I’m going to do any kind of technical work, it means that I have to do it in VERY short increments of time. This approach flies in the face of commonly accepted approach of software development which is that developers need long amounts of uninterrupted time to be productive. Given that I don’t have long amounts of uninterrupted time, I had to develop a way to be productive and still sleep and spend time with my family. I call it Burst Coding and here’s how it works.

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So I Launched a Startup: Pt. 11: One Year In

Happy New Year! It is really hard for me to believe that a little over a year ago, I quit a high-paying job at a major bank to launch a startup. So here I am… one year later and wanted to take a look back at the last year and reflect. This has, without a doubt been the hardest job I’ve ever had. It has also, by far been the most rewarding. But it is definitely not for the faint of heart. I have lived and breathed DataDistillr for the last 1.25 years.

First some updates, after building some form of a product, early stage startups’ goal is to achieve some evidence of product-market fit. For non-startup types, what this basically means is you need to prove to your investors that you’ve built some sort of product that people are willing to use and pay for. The easiest way to measure this is through what’s called annual recurring revenue or ARR, but the dollar amount isn’t the only way to measure this. A startup’s ARR target is dependent on the target customer. For instance, are you selling to large enterprises or small businesses? Is your target user an individual or a company. You get the idea.

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So I Launched a Startup: Pt. 10: The Evolution

In the last post of my startup diary I talked about the challenges of prioritizing. A lot has happened over the last few weeks which has sucked up my time for writing. One thing is that I’ve started writing a book! Alas, it is not a published book, but rather the public-facing documentation for our startup! If you want to take a look: it’s available at docs.datadistillr.com. It’s a real page turner, let me tell you!!

I’ve been writing a lot about my experience as a startup founder, and what is interesting to me is the rapid pace of change that can happen in a company. In literally one day, your entire company’s fortune can change for the better or worse.

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Fraud Alert: BoardSi/ExecRanks/AdvisoryCloud

I try to keep my blog and social media presence positive, however, I recently became aware of a scam floating around LinkedIn, and I wanted to share my experience and hopefully prevent others from falling victim to these scammers.

There is a company currently called BoardSi. In the past, this company has been known as ExecRanks, TheExecRanks, AdvisoryCloud, and now BoardSi.

How the Scam Works

Basically the company (whatever it is called these days) posts ads like the one below on LinkedIn targeting mid level managers for board positions in their local area.

Whether these jobs actually exist at all is something for the local Attorney General to investigate, but customers “apply” for these positions by simply filling out a form with their contact information. Once they do that, you are contacted by a friendly representative from the company who will tell you that you can earn around $30k annually from being on an advisory board, (or get equity).

However, in order to apply, you have to subscribe to their platform and pay a $200 registration fee as well as a non-refundable $195 per month for access to their platform.

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So I Launched a Startup: Pt 9: Putting the Band Back Together

Hey everyone! I’m back from BlackHat, vacation, business travel and the first day of school and sort of ready for life to return to normal, or at least as normal as things get during a global pandemic. The last two months have been INSANELY busy and honestly, I’ve just not had the time to write anything. In any event, I’ve been writing this series about 6-8 months behind where we are and I realize I really should catch you up a bit more, for a few reasons. The first of course, is that I remember everything a lot more clearly right after it happened. Secondly, we are actually going to have a lot more to say in the next few months. Our product has made amazing progress and we will have a big announcement on October 12th!

That’s not to say it was easy. Not at all. Over the last few months we had some serious technical challenges we had to overcome. After all, we are tackling the hardest problem in data science: data. More on that in my next installment.

Anyway, In my last installment of SILS, we had just hired the beginnings of our web-app team. In an effort to get this blog caught up to present day a bit quicker, I’m going to do a bit of fast forwarding. Around this time, I had started to update my linkedIn profile to reflect that I was no longer working at JP Morgan and I think I may have even written a blog post or two. Regardless, something happened and caused one of the smartest people I’ve ever had the pleasure of working with to contact me, whose name is Curtis Lambert.

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So I Launched a Startup, (Pt. 8): Now We Build!

In our last installment, we had mocked up the UI (and I almost cried). It was now time to build. One small problem, we didn’t actually have any engineers. So we had to start hiring. At this point, I was faced with a dilemma, do I hire contractors? Do I hire offshore staff and/or contractors? Do I hire junior or senior people? Furthermore, while I did do some web development back when dinosaurs roamed the earth, my skills and knowledge of modern frameworks and architectures is next to nil.

Let’s take these questions one by one…

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So I Launched a Startup (Pt. 7): Some Common Questions

I’ve been blogging about my startup experience for the last 2 months and I’ve been pretty overwhelmed by the responses and engagement I’ve received thus far. Before I continue with the story, I thought I’d answer a lot of the recurring questions people have been asking about all this. Launching a startup is a mystery to a lot of people (including me) and the original goal of me writing about all this was to share my experiences, so here goes:

What does a startup CEO do all day?

That one is easy… Talk to people. A lot of people. In all seriousness, you run the company, which means you do a bit of everything. It does feel like you go between building to fundraising to building all in rapid succession. On a typical day, if such a thing exists, I meet with the sales team, product team and various engineering teams.

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So I Launched a Startup (Pt. 6): Mocking it Up

In my last installment, I finally revealed what it is that we are actually building. Now back to the story… It was a dark and stormy night… Ok.. not really. It was late November, and Darren (our head of growth) and I had been meeting with our product council for a few months. Darren and I reached the conclusion that we knew what we had to build and it was time to start translating ideas into first low fidelity mockups, then high fidelity mockups and finally a functioning product.

Early stage startups are really a race against time. You have a fixed amount of time before you run out of money and so you have three options: become profitable, convince investors to give you more money, or go back and get a “real job”. We wisely had held off hiring until we were really ready to build and as I mentioned earlier, our first technical hire was a great UX designer named Brittany Echols. From what I’ve read, this is one of the areas in which startups go wrong, and that is building before they know what they are building. This may seem obvious, but let me tell you that it isn’t.

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