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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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So I Launched a Startup (Pt. 5): The Product

I’ve been writing about my startup for the last five weeks and haven’t said a word about what it is that we’re actually building or even what my company is called. (No it isn’t Stealth Startup). Let’s start with the company name, it’s called DataDistillr. You can check out our website at DataDistillr.com. What are we building? We are building the ultimate data analytics tool. The goal is to make the world’s data easy to use and query. How are we going to do that you ask? Simple We’re going to tackle the hardest problem in data science: the data itself.

As a data scientist, imagine you could just work with any data you could get access to without having to worry about what format it is in, or what system it comes from. Whether it is coming from ElasticSearch, electronic medical record (EMR) systems, APIs, Excel files, PCAP, Quickbooks, it wouldn’t matter. You could just work with the data. What’s more, imagine you could seamlessly join these datasets without having to figure out complex transformations. Finally, imagine a tool that would let you seamlessly collaborate with your friends and colleagues. If that sounds interesting, you should sign up for early access.

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So I Launched a Startup Pt. 4: The First Day

In my last article, we had just gotten word that we were getting funded, and my doctor found a tumor that required immediate surgery. (I’m fine now, Thank G-d). A little more color, at this point, I had an idea, $1.6M in the bank, not much of a team to speak of, and investors who presumably want some sort of return on their investment. I still was working at JP Morgan at this point but getting ready to give notice. The big question in my mind at this point was, “What the hell do I do now?”

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So I Launched a Startup (Episode 3): Getting the Dough?

In my last post about startup life, I wrote about trials and tribulations around getting funding here in the DC area and how I met my mentor Todd who guided me through the next steps and then COVID hit. So it was mid-March 2020, COVID was turning everyone’s life inside out. Around the same time, my boss left at work and I was basically left in a state of limbo as to what exactly I would be doing. I had a lot of free time. Given all the uncertainty surrounding COVID, it didn’t seem especially prudent to approach investors at that moment. (Also remember the stock market was in turmoil as well). At that point, Todd and I strategized that the best thing to do would be to keep refining the pitch deck, work up some demos, and see how the pandemic played out.

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So I Launched a Startup (Part 2): Money

I ended my last post about my startup journey and describing my feeling about how for about four years where I had an idea, wanted to build a product but lacked resources to do so. I want to talk about that journey a bit more before we get into the actual tech that we’re working on. As a shameless teaser, we had some amazing progress on Friday and I’m really excited to start showing people, but you’ll have to wait… 🙂

Anyway, as I mentioned in the last article, I had always admired startup culture, or at least what I thought it was, and wanted to be a part of it. I had the concept of this idea for a long time, and yet I knew I couldn’t do it by myself. My journey started when I was at Booz Allen. I had this idea, but didn’t really know how to bring it to fruition. Around this same time, I attended a conference in Barcelona which was pivotal to me for the next few years and ultimately led me to understand the motivations behind innovation, and why some companies are able to innovate and others not.

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So I Launched a Startup…

I haven’t been posting for quite some time, a fact that I know has caused much consternation to both of my readers. Anyway, the reason has been that I launched a startup! I’ve decided that I am going to shift my blog and write a bit about my experiences as a founder, dealing with investors, managing time, and everything else I’ve learned. The best part is that the story isn’t written yet, so we don’t really know how it is going to turn out! Will we flame out? Will we become the next billion dollar company? Will we get acquired? We will see! If you want to know how this story ends, you’ll have to keep reading!

Since this is MY blog, I’m not going to use this as a marketing platform for our tool. (It really is amazing… not just saying that) I’m also not going to be writing about individuals on my team, employees, investors etc.

This will be a raw account of what it’s like to build a company from the ground up, from my perspective as CEO.

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Cyber Attacks on Cancer Centers? Is Nothing Sacred?

Recently, I responded to a linkedIn article about a cyber attack on a cancer center. The person who posted it basically asked the question, why would a hacker go after something like a cancer center or a school? After reading the posts, it seemed to me that there is a lack of understanding as to why and how hackers actually do what they do.

Why Do Hackers Hack?

One of the biggest misconceptions about hacking is that people think that they are not important or that they don’t have anything that hackers want. The issue here is that people don’t understand why people hack. There are three basic reasons why hackers hack and they are: money, politics, espionage, and malice/mischief. Money is perhaps the easiest to understand, hackers want money. You have it… therefore you are a target. Hackers can steal your money in several ways, either by stealing your credit card and bank info, or by installing some sort of ransomware. What is important to understand that since you have money, you are a target.

Hackers also might be interested in your systems to build botnets, which are armies of computers that a hacker controls, which can be used for all kinds of mayhem. Some master hackers build botnets and then rent them out to other nefarious individuals for profit.

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