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Students vs. Startups Ep: 54 - How to use Data Visualization to make Business Decisions

Students vs. Startups Ep: 54 - How to use Data Visualization to make Business Decisions

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Featuring Lovelytics

Read Time: 15 minutes

Welcome to Episode 54 of Students vs. Startups. This week, moderator John Gilroy talks with Scott Love, CEO and Founder of Lovelyitics. No, it's not the next online dating craze, Lovelytics helps companies organize and visualize their data so that it can be used to its full potential. Listen below to discover their unique approach!

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Transcript:

John Gilroy: Welcome to Students vs. Startups Showdown Potomac. My name is John Gilroy. I'll be your moderator today. Let's have a big round of applause for Show Number 54! Whoa, yeah, baby! I think it's time, Claude, that we thank the founder of the internet, Al Gore, for this magnificent Internet. It's been a great job and all kinds of stuff, people doing all kinds of good things with the internet and without him, we wouldn't have a podcast.

If you've listened to this before, you know we are taking over a little room at the Eastern Foundry. We have a table here, one side of the table we have some students, the other side we have a startup, having a little conversation. Twenty-six minutes from now, we walk out of here fast friends. I always start off with my students. Let's start off with Yasir Khalid. Start off with your background, please.

Yasir Khalid: Thanks, John. Yes, I'm Yasir Khalid. I'm a recent graduate from the Tech Management Program at Georgetown University. I come from a marketing and BI background, and I'm exploring my options right now, fresh out of school.

John Gilroy: Oh great, great, great. So he's a graduate of the Technology Management Program at George Washington University, right. And Brian, you're in the middle of that program, is that right?

Brian Howell: I'm Brian Howell, and I'm not quite in the middle. I'm gonna graduate this semester hopefully.

John Gilroy: Oh, good.

Brian Howell: I come from a background of software development where I've been testing software for several years now for a variety of companies, from start-ups to giant multinational corporations, and I'm looking forward to getting into this interview today.

John Gilroy: Last week, we found out you have your own blog and pretty active on your blog, huh?

Brian Howell: Yeah, I try to be. I like to write.

John Gilroy: Good, good, good. Well, we'll find out how good that blog is in class, won't we? Alexander, please.

Alexander: I'm an MA student in the Communication, Culture, and Technology Program at Georgetown. I'm interested in emerging technology, so specifically artificial intelligence, cloud computing, things ... so that's kind of my bag, and I'm very interested to see where this conversation goes.

John Gilroy: Good, so we have three students on one side of the table. We have a startup on the other, and our startup today is Scott Love, and he is the CEO and founder of a company called Lovelytics. Tell us about your background please, Scott.

Scott Love: Absolutely. Thanks, John, for having me on, thanks, everyone, for being here. I'm originally from the Indianapolis area. I lived abroad in the Netherlands for a little while, attended Purdue University, and been out in the D.C. area for about six years. I worked everywhere from start-up in Bethesda, worked in sales for Cox business, then got into the BI space, also in sales, and then have now recently went into starting my own Tableau services company.

 

IMG_7407.JPG Scott Love, CEO- Lovelytics

 

John Gilroy: Well, good, good, good. So, let's say we're on an airplane to Indianapolis - I'm sitting next to you - and I turn to you and ask, "Well Scott, what kind of business problem do you solve?"

Scott Love: Yeah, absolutely. So today, I think companies don't have a problem gathering their data, right? It's a lot to do around deciphering if they're having this issue, so that's where we come in and help companies essentially organize that data ... once it's organized, visualizing it, and making sure that it gets in the right hands in an effective way.

John Gilroy: So, when I first heard the term "business intelligence," BI, I thought that was just being able to make money in a business. So what business intelligence is it's visualizing information that a business might produce. Is that how you define business intelligence?

Scott Love: I would define it like that, absolutely. I mean, the best example I give to a lot of people is a CEO might get a report of every order placed ... 200,000 line Excel sheet. What are you gonna make out of that? Tough to make any real insight into it. That's where we come in. If you're able to visualize it and then give them that ability to drill down ... Much better business intelligence, if you want to use that term.

John Gilroy: Well, Yasir, I've used a lot of Excel spreadsheets and so have you. Why don't ya get the first question first?

Yasir Khalid: Yeah please. Lovelytics. So, Lovelytics comes from your name.

Scott Love: Sure.

Yasir Khalid: But did you have any problems initially with this ... Because for me when I first saw it, my initial thought process was maybe something related to maybe dating.

John Gilroy: A dating service? You're barking up the wrong tree there. And you put your name in.

Scott Love: Yeah, actually that's funny. I've gotten that, like, once or twice, and it's something that I didn't really think about. I mean, it's understated how difficult it is to think of a name. In starting a company, I would put that as, like, top three most difficult part. And something that truly delayed me starting the company, so ... No, I've actually gotten that before. The way that I thought about it, I didn't want to use my last name being "Love." I didn't really want to use it in the last, in the company name ... Just wasn't something I wanted to do, but if you start to think of something, talk to other people, like, you have to use that. It's too easy, so ended on that. But no, I see where you're coming from, but unfortunately, sorry. Not a dating company.

John Gilroy: You know, Brian ... 'cause I'm an old guy, in my youth, there was something called, "The Summer of Love." It was in the 1960s. Brian, I'll let you have the next question.

Brian Howell: Yeah, so I could see a ton of applications for this in the business to business space, but individuals now are collecting more and more data about themselves. Do you see any potential for a B2C application of visualization?

 

IMG_7416.JPG Brian Howell

 

Scott Love: I mean, I think that there is a lot of applications for that. I wouldn't say that's something we've come across at this point, but I mean, you're starting to see it, right? I mean, I even see, on a different level, I see people inside of companies. Let's say we go into a project for a large data warehouse development or something like that. People come up to us afterward and like, "Hey, I've been working on this small little side project. Can you just take a quick look and help me out with..." You know, even things like that or just siloed inside of a company, people are starting to do so. I'm sure on a personal level that's bound to become something soon, right? I think that's where a lot of these BI tools come in, where they're able to allow people who maybe aren't technical. I mean, I don't come from a technical background, and you're able to pick up these tools relatively quickly. And I'm sure that's only going to get easier and easier to do so...

John Gilroy: Alexander.

Alexander: As data grows in importance and this sort of society, I think you're seeing more and more people who are previously not really into data world start to realize it's gonna be a centerpiece of their business. Have you, over the course of your work, seen any change in the types of people who would come and be seeking these services?

Scott Love: Yeah, definitely. So, I think, you know, a lot of companies ... What's funny is even the younger companies seem more interested in doing this data-type work initially, right, because they have younger people running the companies. Generally, they don't have as much data that they've gathered. Maybe they've only been around five or ten years. Where now, I'm starting to see a lot of these larger companies that were ... I think they're starting to realize they're falling behind a little bit, right? The Fortune 100 type companies where we've started working with them as well. I mean, they've always had aspects of it, but they're starting to realize that they really need to become efficient in this, and making it available to larger portions of their company, not just C-level people who can't have iPad executive dashboards. Every salesperson needs to have one that's available offline that they can track, whatever they might need.

John Gilroy: I deal with a lot of aerospace engineers, and when new airplanes go up and come down, there's all kinds of sensors, and they're collecting thousands and thousands of bits of information, and everyone knows it's called the Internet of things, IoT. I mean, what about structured, unstructured data ... People throw st- ... I mean, how do you organize it for your analytics?

Scott Love: Yeah, I think that's the biggest challenge that I come across a lot of times is one, these business intelligence tools are sometimes sold as, "You have your data, pop it in, and you can use it right away" where to your point, you get millions and millions, or billions and billions, of rows of data, that's just not the case, especially 99% of the time, it's not organized in a way that's effective. So, that's a tough conversation that we usually have to have in that first meeting of, "Hey, where's this data coming from? Has anyone organized it?" Most the time, I would say people say, "Yes" and then they start looking at it and the answer quickly turns into, "No," but no, that's absolutely one of the biggest issues that we run into in this space.

John Gilroy: So, Yasir, have you ever used Tableau and what do you think of it and how does it apply to Scott's company?

Yasir Khalid: Yes, I've used Tableau. It's been a while 'cause I've been hopping across different platforms: Click, Power BI most recently, Adobe Analytics. It's a different arena, but coming to your services, is it just dashboarding that you provide? What is the portfolio services that you provide to your clients?

 

IMG_7411.JPG Yasir Khalid 

 

Scott Love: Yeah, absolutely. So, I think dashboard's the most attractive thing that we can sell, right? Everyone loves this beautiful looking dashboard, they can see all their information, it's much better than an Excel sheet. Honestly, that encompasses a very small portion of the business we do. A heavy portion of it comes from the data aspect of it, just as are previously mentioned. I mean, it's quite a bit of work when you have to consolidate a lot of data sources. A lot of times people want some sort of automation, so we also work with a tool called Alteryx that's great for what was traditional ETL, what they call data blending now, and being able to automate it and make it available to the business user in the same way Tableau made data visualization available. That data side of it is really where a lot of our work comes from. Additionally, training ... I mean, of course, as a big company, you start to roll this out. That's become a much larger piece of our business as well.

John Gilroy: You know, Brian, when you come up into Microsoft, it's really tough competition. That's what Tableau is going up against, the bigger groups. Have you used any of these tools at all?

Brian Howell: I've seen some demonstrations of Tableau, but not for anything more serious than Fantasy Football.

Scott Love: That's a good thing to use it for.

Brian Howell: Yeah, one of the questions I have when I was kind of going through some of your material is how do you educate your customers, your clients, about the value of visualization? I think at the executive level, it's just numbers, bottom line, that kind of thing. How do you show them the value of seeing something in a visual way?

Scott Love: Yeah, absolutely. So, I mean, there's two parts of it. There's certain clients that we do some sort of initial proof of concept or guided evaluation for to, we actually have to prove it out, to prove it out to them because showing them examples isn't gonna get 'em anywhere. I would say a majority of them though we are able to show some dashboards that we've pre-built out, just to give them a visual of actually what they would be utilizing.

But more importantly, I always start our meeting with ... We do quite a bit of research before we go onsite to any customer, and being able to come in with some very clear benefits. For example, a lot of, let's say, nonprofits in the area. They have to build reports that they send out to all of their funders on a daily basis, weekly basis. Sometimes, they have one employee almost completely dedicated to that, so if we can spend "x" dollars upfront and completely automate that service where it goes from taking eight hours to one hour or even less, very easy ROI there, easy selling point, so for me, it's two-fold. It's actually showing them. I mean, people don't know what they don't know, so we do have to put something in front of them. But going through very specific benefits of, "Hey, this is gonna save you money here, or save you time, or make you money in this way" usually is our best way to go about it.

John Gilroy: Alexander, did you visit the website for Scott here?

Alexander: I did, yeah.

 

IMG_7431.JPG Alexander 

 

John Gilroy: Yeah

Scott Love: Yeah

John Gilroy: Did you see it Mapbox? I've never heard of Mapbox before, have you?

Alexander: I have never, no.

John Gilroy: Yeah.

Alexander: Well, I guess my question would be how did you actually fi- ... or how did you get into this field 'cause I know for me, I've used Tableau before, never used Mapbox, but used Tableau. It's a great tool, really good for visualizations. So, just from a perspective, how did you stumble upon Tableau and the data industry as a whole?

Scott Love: Yeah, absolutely. So, it actually goes back to when I was in sales - won't mention the company name - but they didn't have any data for the sales people. I mean, I was going around selling and I had no clue what competitors were in the area, anything to do with essentially doing my job, so I became fascinated in this idea of, "Hey, what third-party sources can I use to help me personally." There's definitely some selfish side to it, but really started using it there and then decided, "Hey, I really like this industry." I started picking up some of the basics and found a job at one of the Tableau services partners. They also worked with MicroStrategy and Microsoft and all of them across the board, but really that's where I got very interested in utilizing the tools. I started working a lot with Tableau. They have a huge office here across Potomac, so got to know some of the sales reps. The community that they have is great. Not saying the other BI tools aren't. I just personally had some good relationships with some of the reps in the area and the team and loved their conference that they put on, so that's really how I got started in that BI space.

 

IMG_7421.JPG Scott Love, CEO- Lovelytics

 

John Gilroy: Yeah, in the last three or four years, Tableau has just blown up and they're very popular in many areas in the Washington DC area. So tell me about Mapbox, and is that similar to what Google provides or what a company like Boundless provides. I mean, what's it all about?

Scott Love: Yeah, absolutely. So, how I got involved with Mapbox is they also have a nice office here, which they just moved into across the Potomac in DC, so a lot of the mapping solutions that companies are using ... Inside of Tableau, let's say their out-of-the-box capability. They're great for 95% of what people are trying to do, but what Mapbox essentially is offering is full customization. So, it's the easiest example I can give is if you're a commercial real estate company, and you go into Google Maps and you just wanna highlight all the buildings you might own in downtown New York City, you can't do that because Google's pretty much completely locked it or you can really have to find creative ways around that where Mapbox takes the complete alternate approach where it's, "Hey, you can customize anything you want." If you want the buildings to bounce up and down to music, which I've seen. If you want to highlight individual buildings ... For commercial real estate, maybe you want to highlight the buildings and then zoom in on a 3D image of it and see each floor color-coded by occupancy. So that's really where I'm fascinated by the mapping aspect of it. I think there's a lot that can be down in that, especially with asset tracking and in that whole side of the business.

John Gilroy: You know, I've seen case studies with Tableau. It's just amazing, some of the geographic things I bring up. It's reinforces the point.

Scott Love: They really integrate with ... Mapbox integrates well with Tableau, so that helps our side as well.

John Gilroy: The sponsor for this program, by the way, is Radiant Solutions, and they specialize in geo-spacial data projects. That gets into a lot of crossover here.

Scott Love: There you go. Absolutely.

John Gilroy: They work with a lot of federal government clients.

Scott Love: Gotcha.

John Gilroy: Yasir?

Yasir Khalid: So, what's your business development strategy and how do you generate leads and do you create user stories and personas and identify different segments within the market or any specific targets or segments that you are focused on and how successful have you been up til now?

Scott Love: Yeah, so, oof, tough question. So, no, to start, I see our business development strategy as three-fold. We have a lot of relationships here in D.C. being that we're local. That makes it easy to work with a lot of these sales reps where I've built trust and I'm able to help them essentially close some of their software deals. In return, I have introductions to those companies where we can then help them with services and everything across the board there. Additionally, different events, whether it's Tableau Conference, whether we're hosting our own individual events here nearby in the D.C. area. I'm able just to make those connections. You know, some of them, it's a federal government type event. We can talk about how other agencies are using Tableau, so those events are definitely helpful. And then additionally, we're able to actually resell Tableau licensing, so from a more traditional sales aspect of it, we're able to go out and make a percentage of that sale, but more importantly, that makes us really self-sufficient because not only can we sell the software, we can then help you implement it and go through services as well.

John Gilroy: Now, Scott, I'm asking you the most important question anyone's every asked you. What kind of watch you rockin'?

Scott Love: Well, Apple Watch with a nice $6 Amazon band.

John Gilroy: That's the combination.

Scott Love: Very expensive, absolutely.

John Gilroy: So you're visualizing data right now as we speak, aren't we?

Scott Love: Absolutely. You got it.

John Gilroy: Data visualization  . . .  Alexander.

Alexander: Yeah, so I'm interested in funding, especially for funding in this area. How easy was it to get funding? We know data is a very hot area right now, so did you encounter any difficulties or  . . .?

 

IMG_7415.JPG Brian and Alexander

 

Scott Love: Yeah, so I would say this is, like, my first big mistake I made as a founder. I kind of pushed off funding toward the end. I don't know if that was more of, "I don't really want to deal with it" subconsciously. I just thought, and when I was at Purdue, I studied entrepreneurship. We kind of learned, "Oh, you just go to the bank. You can get a loan. You can go to Venture Capital. They'll hand you some money." So once I started realizing that you're a start-up, I had a couple years of experience in the industry. But as a professional services firm, no one's really handing out business loans to small companies, so started to look at funding it a little bit of myself, and then also with friends and family. Then, once you have a little bit of money coming in through the revenue side, I mean that opens up other opportunities. But, I think that's something I didn't really expect when I started this was having to figure out, I guess rookie mistake, but just I should have looked into funding from banks a little early on.

John Gilroy: You know, Brian, earlier in the interview, Scott used the word, "data blending." Now, you just tossed that out there. Now, four or five years ago, that wasn't a popular term. People using the term, "data lake." When you first said data blending, I thought, "Will it blend?" There's a risk in blending data. You can come up with the wrong conclusions if you blend the incorrect data, won't you, Brian?

Brian Howell: Yeah, I thought as far as risks go, just the fact that you're taking data from companies that could be sensitive. How does that transfer process work? Are you taking their data off premises? What's the security like around that?

Scott Love: So it can really change. Usually, I defer to the client being that most the time, I'd say they're a large organization, so they generally have pretty strict rules around the data. So for me, it's easy just to defer to them, and generally, barring any crazy financial aps, that we can make that work. But for companies, there are some that like to have it completely onsite. And for us, we're willing to work either remote. Obviously, there needs to be some sort of data transfer there that's secure. Or we can go onsite and stay within their own premise there.

John Gilroy: Yasir, limitations, you know? Sometimes, you can't boil everything down to a data point in a chart. Have you experienced that or what do you think about the value of data visualization, limitations of data visualization?

Yasir Khalid: Actually, that's what I was thinking about. So, have you limited yourself to Tableau as a solution that you're uniquely serving or do you plan to expand the offering for your clients, especially who are operating in certain environments and maybe they are locked in, you know, with all the licensing and most importantly, the technical know-how within the company. And, secondly, there is the question of how you generate value in big enterprises who are looking for end-to-end solutions as ... Do you see yourself becoming an information architecture partner with the big names, Fortune 500s ... or is it just focused on visualization only

Scott Love: Yeah, absolutely. So on our end, to answer your first question about being Tableau-only. Right now, completely Tableau-specific, and I don't really see that changing. I just believe in their mission. I like the organization, and they're treating their partners in a great way. Not saying that there's anything wrong with any of the other BI tools out there, but just for me personally, that's been my experience. So that's really why I want to stay strictly to Tableau. I want to make sure we don't expand too fast when we're a still relatively young company, so the idea that, "Could we go out and become partners with every tool in the market?" Absolutely. People would take our money and love to have another partner in their team, but for me, staying only with Tableau, I want to make sure that we can become great in one tool. Alteryx can become great, and we do a lot of data work, whether it's data modeling, data blending, anything along those lines ... the training aspect of it.

So, I think we can continue to expand our services offering. I just want to make sure ... I mean, my biggest concern is making sure any tools we work with that we truly are great and that people are bringing us on are bringing us on for a reason. We're not learning on the job. That's not why they're bringing us in.

John Gilroy: So Brian, I went to Scott's Twitter feed today and I saw retweet of something about data scientists, a number one job in America. Do you want to be a data scientist? Would you consider Scott to be a data ... or how would you even define that term?

Brian Howell: Yeah, I mean, that's an interesting question and kind of getting into how you identify people that you'd like to work with. Is a background in data science really important or how important is that compared to a background in visual design or graphic arts and presenting things visually?

Scott Love: For me, a background in data science ... I mean, obviously depending on the role. If we're looking for something highly technical, senior-level in a data role, sure. Having a background and understanding the concepts is very important to me. There's individual tools. For example, if you don't have experience in Alteryx, but you have a great understanding of data blending in ETL Solutions, perfectly fine for me. But additionally, to go on your data visualization side of it and understanding ... For me, I think with user adoption, and especially anything that we build, making sure that what we look actually looks nice and you have that understanding of visual analytics or whatever buzzword you want to use there, so that to me is very important. We do work a little bit with a graphic designer who's proficient in Tableau so that we can ... The idea is that you have a dashboard that's designed by a designer but then developed by IT, so you kind of get the best of both worlds, right? Well-designed, performs well, which usually helps with user adoption.

 

IMG_7410.JPG Scott Love, CEO- Lovelytics

 

John Gilroy: Alexander and Brian are in class with me, and one of the students has got a degree in sculpting. It's and he's doing exactly what you're saying. He's taking the artistic capabilities and applying it the world of data, so that sounds like a perfect balance, doesn't it? He only lives two blocks from here.

Scott Love: Perfect.

John Gilroy: Brian, you have any questions, please.

Brian Howell: Yeah, one other thing I was thinking about in terms of how you identify potential customers and clients ... Are you looking at specific industries or sectors that are in the narrative, storytelling business, like media or advertising and that kind of things or are you more looking at agencies with just vast amounts of data, unstructured?

Scott Love: I wouldn't say that we've limited ourself to any individual vertical or essentially targeting, to your point, people who are trying to tell stories. I think it has a lot to do with companies that just need help deciphering that data, right? They've gathered so much of it, and that ranges anyone from ... We've worked with Fortune 100 insurance companies to two-person, local polling companies in DC. Truly can range, and for us, you'd be surprised. Some of the smallest customers actually can build the most value through services like ours, so it's not necessarily reflective of, "Hey, this company's worth 50 billion" ... not necessarily gonna match the same, so ... really, open to working with a lot of different industries, but sure. I mean, of course, there's certain industries that are out there. I mean, right now non-profits in D.C. really can utilize a lot of these services, whether it's tracking their grants, whether it's a lot of internal-type work, reporting. We've definitely worked quite a bit with them.

John Gilroy: Thirty-five hundred non-profits in the Washington D.C. area, and all of them are broke. They don't got no money. They got nothing. "Hey, you wanna buy lunch?" I mean, I was at one yesterday. It's called Five Talents. So, do you qualify for money or funding. I mean, this is the frustration with many people who deal with non-profits in the area is they waltz in and they wind up with egg in their face. I mean, this is ... You have to qualify for payment, don't you?

Scott Love: Absolutely, of course. But sometimes you can build that value, and there is a real return on investment that they can get grants for this type of opportunities. Maybe it's something they've been building up towards. Not every project ... Usually how I like to label all of our projects is phasing them out through, "Hey, we can help you here, and this will be the benefit for task 1. Task 2 will benefit this." So that we can break it down when we have "x" thousands of dollars to spend, no problem. We can just find something that actually brings a benefit and maybe next year, and we can help you out.

John Gilroy: Okay, Georgetown University has a lot of institutes that they get National Science Foundation funding from in order to use data visualization ...Well, we're running out of time here, so Scott, if people would like to have more information about your company, where would they go?

Scott Love: Absolutely, www.lovelytics.com, Twitter @LovelyticsData, same with Facebook and LinkedIn as well.

John Gilroy: Great. If you would like show notes, links, and a transcript, please visit theoakmountgroupllc.com. I'd like to thank our founding sponsor, Radiant Solutions. If you are interested in getting involved in geospatial projects, contact Radiant Solutions.

We are hosted by Eastern Foundry, a community of government contractors who are bringing innovative solutions to the government marketplace. For more information, go to eastern-foundry.com and

If you'd like to participate as a student or startup, contact me, John Gilroy, at theoakmontgroupllc.com. Thanks for listening to Students vs. Startups Showdown at Potomac.

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