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All Great Things Part 2: The Founder’s Dilemma

I recently posted an article about the demise of DataDistillr. It was painful to write and I was worried that by doing so, it would make me look very foolish. After all, I was documenting what mistakes I felt I made that caused the failure of DataDistillr. I didn’t want to point fingers at anyone other than myself, but I did want to share some lessons which I learned that hopefully will help people in their startup journey. I did get some heat from some folks in an online community which I joined. I won’t name names, or print quotes but it wasn’t kind to say the least. (One even called me a troll!!)

With that said, after reading my list, I couldn’t help but notice that these lessons are all the things that every founder is supposed to “know”. Concepts such as stay focused, hire slow, fire fast, etc. Every founder should know these things… How is it that I didn’t?

The answer is that it isn’t so simple.  When you are in the thick of things, you have to make choices while juggling many different priorities, and the answer isn’t always obvious. 

I’m going to present you with a situation that actually happened to us and give you the chance to decide what you would do if you were in charge. I’m changing the details slightly so that nobody gets embarrassed but the substance of the interaction is something that really happened to us.

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All Great Things…

Well, this is the post I’d hoped to never write, but alas, we’ve reached the conclusion that it’s time to shut down DataDistillr. We gave it our best, but in the end we weren’t able to achieve product-market fit.

What Happened?

I think several things led to our demise. Basically, it can be boiled down to changing market conditions, not building the right product and not selling what we had effectively. As CEO, I own all of this and accept responsibility for all this except for changing market conditions.

What I Learned

This is the painful part to write as it kind of makes me sound like a fool…. Ok, so maybe I am a bit of a fool, but it’s very easy to look at all this in retrospect but much more difficult to do so when you’re in the middle of it all. Also, we did do a lot of things well, like building a solid product that worked really well.

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Announcing Drill 1.21: New Connectors, Functions and Much Better Stability

The Apache Drill PMC is pleased to announce a milestone release of Apache Drill. Since the last release of Drill the team has been hard at work quashing bugs and making overall functionality improvements. The TL;DR includes the following:

  • New connectors including Apache Iceberg, Delta Lake, Microsoft Access, GoogleSheets, and Box
  • Efficient cross-cloud query capability
  • Greatly improved access controls to include user translation support for all storage plugins
  • Greatly improved query planning and implicit casting.
  • New BI-focused SQL operators including PIVOT, UNPIVOT, EXCEPT and INTERSECT
  • New functions for computing regression lines and trends.
  • New and updated date manipulation functions.

Overall, Drill 1.21 is much more capable and stable than previous versions.


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. 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 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: 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 AdvisoryCloud. In the past, this company has been known as ExecRanks, TheExecRanks, and AdvisoryCloud.

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.


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.


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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