Finding the time and clarity of thought to write is an ongoing personal battle that I have with myself. After much procrastination and a few months late I've taken some time out from the trade mission I'm on here in Chicago, taken advantage of the free wifi in my hotel lobby, ordered a pot of truly terrible tea and turned my current playlist right up in an attempt to get this article over the line. So here goes.
One of the reasons for my continual delays in posting is that I've been trying to pick a suitable moment in our progression to share our current story. Things have been moving pretty fast, and distractions aside, each time I got started on an update it felt I wasn't quite catching the essence of where we are as a company, that momentary snapshot of our time and place in the world. As one of our informal advisors keeps telling me, we aren't simply growing fast, we are in a full on bloody sprint, moving faster than most other companies around. Wise words and good to keep in mind as we struggle to solve various growth problems at the same time.
I'm also extremely wary of over-hyping AltViz and with that in mind I'm going to say that I'm happy with progress but there is still much more to do.
One thing I've noticed is that as a group we'll set our minds to achieve something, a short-term goal on a piece of business or an internal project and we'll all work our brains out to achieve it. But once its completed, I find I'm already looking at the next milestone and the current achievement seems too small or no longer relevant. It's a bad habit and I've definitely got to get better at celebrating the little victories along the way, and making sure the team does too.
What have we been up to?
Since my last update in February 2014 we've successfully created our core visualisation product and sold a bunch of licenses for it around the globe. We've delivered engagements for customers on three continents. We've grown the team and allowed the company culture to flourish. We renamed and re-branded the company, and have invested heavily in crafting a brand identify that reflects our own personalities as scientists, software engineers and designers. We've moved office, twice, and done a million other things to keep the show on the road. In short, we've been damn busy.
What continues to inspire me is the collaborative aspect of our efforts. So much of software development is, or at least should be, about bringing multiple components and skills to bear on any specific problem. We've been honoured to work collaboratively with new partners in Europe, Latin America and the US on various exciting initiatives in past months. In all cases these new partners who have generally been around far longer than us have been generous in their praise of our approach to problem solving. The excitement of more experienced business leaders in the solutions that we have developed together are tangible validations of everything we are striving to achieve.
So where does that leave us now?
Our core offering has emerged. Where we were once focused primarily only on bespoke data visualisation for enterprise, we have now expanded that idea to include data mining, and creating bespoke analytical models for customers. We provide these services alongside and embedded with the visualisation products that we previously offered and the response to the combination has been very positive. The underlying gain comes from the fact that to undertake detailed and effective data visualisation our team already works to acquire a deep understanding for the data and process generating that data within the organisation. Adding advanced statistical modelling techniques to this and thereby allowing the data mining element to emerge has been a pretty natural extension.
We feel this is best described as follows: “AltViz provide consulting and custom tools that help you get the most out of your data”, which is why you'll see that front and centre on our newly updated website. Feel free to take a look - particularly where James has been using his coding skills to mess with my head!
This repositioning is something that has occurred gradually over the past half year and it feels very natural for us as a business. No painful pivot, no declaring failure and heading to a beach to recover! Just an evolution over time from sufficient numbers of customers inquiring whether we were also possibly able to provide analytical solutions alongside our amazing visualisations. And for us, of course it's great as the problems are generally bigger, more involved and harder to solve. All things that keep us focused on innovation and solution delivery.
In recognition of this change we wanted to ensure that the next member of the team really added strength in the data mining field and I am very excited to welcome Anna to the AltViz crew. Anna has a degree in Systems Engineering degree from the Universidad Metropolitana of Caracas, and a PhD in Artificial Intelligence from University of Tsukuba, Japan. Additionally she has previously interned at NASA (that's right, the place with the space rockets!!). Anna brings a wealth of analytics, data mining and engineering experience to AltViz which has benefited the team and our customers from day 1.
The upshot of all of this is that I'm more confident now than at any other time in the past 21 months that AltViz will survive as a viable creative technology company. We have plenty to work on, lots of things to evolve, lots still left to explore and learn. However all of the foundations are now in place to take us forward over the next few years. As long as we stay hungry, lean, and keep delivering amazing creative technology for our customers, then this little experiment may actually succeed.
What happens from here?
As I mentioned above I'm off on my travels again! We are delighted to have been selected to join the second Great Tech expedition from London, which follows on from the successes of 12 months ago in Brazil. So I'm taking one for the team and spending time in Chicago, Boston and New York alongside the UKTI and the Mayor of London's office, developing contacts and creating some new opportunities. I think that it's an amazing achievement for us to rank among one of the rapidly emerging enterprise tech startups from London and I'm excited to meet lots of fascinating people in the States, to tell them all about AltViz and how we can solve their problems using science, software and design. I'm also really excited to meet the other CEO's who will be on the trip.
By the time I get back we'll be well into October and staring down the end of 2014. Plans for 2015 are already afoot! We are continuing to grow the AltViz team in all areas, data mining, engineering and design (btw do let us know if you are interested in being involved!) We are also looking to expand a little further internationally with talks ongoing regarding new product ideas, innovations and collaborations.
I wanted to end this update with a brief observation on my own performance as a junior and very green CEO over the past months.
Since I left my daily coding responsibilities behind, much to James relief no doubt, I have been focussing solely on developing our new business opportunities. That includes project engagements, new partnership opportunities and new market development, and that comes with lots of pressure. I'm certainly getting a lot of practice in crafting a compelling narrative about our abilities and skills.
Having never worked in a business development capacity this has been the greatest challenge so far for me personally.
Luckily I've had some brilliant sales and business development mentoring which has helped me to navigate the various stages in the enterprise sales process, things to look out for, directions to take and various other dark arts. My respect for experts in this field, having learned a little about it, has risen immeasurably. There were definitely some difficult times personally in March and April as I got to grips with this skill. It definitely requires a thick skin and as my mentor always says you've got to learn to love rejection. Wise words indeed!
Within that my other main role within the company is to try and shape the culture and ethos of the business. It's something that I experienced in previous larger companies in the form of mission statements and whatnot, however it's very different in a tiny startup less than 2 years old. I want build a team that enjoys working on hard problems, based around intellectual curiosity, a willingness to work hard and learn new things, to deliver creativity, excellence and innovation to our customers. That all sounds great but how on earth is that achieved on a daily basis? I'm still figuring it out but my gut tells me that creating the right environment for the team and from there providing the independence and the freedom to individual team members to express their skills will provide a solid foundation to start from. Time will tell I guess!
Anyhow that's it for now. Almost time to get ready for the reception at the British Consul General's residence here in Chicago later this evening. If you want to receive these periodic ramblings sign up to the mailing list or follow me on Twitter for updates.