3 years Data Minded!Thursday, Aug 24th, 2017
This month Data Minded turns 3 years already. Like every startup, we've had our ups and downs. But looking back I'm extremely proud of the team we've built, the projects we've implemented and the direction we're heading. Three years ago, I couldn't get my foot in the door at any company. I started to doubt whether I made the right choice leaving my cushy McKinsey job. So I'm very grateful for our first customers, Telenet and Lineas, to believe in us from the very beginning. And I am honoured that we are still serving both of them today, on top of several other big names such as bpost, de Persgroep, Goodyear and Essent, and many more organisations. We are a bootstrapped company and we've been profitable since the start. Today, clients usually find us, we don't have to find them. And our best marketing channel is doing successful projects at other clients.
It's been an incredible rollercoaster for me personally as well. I've done every role imaginable in the company. I've been the engineer and the architect, I've been the secretary and the CFO, I've been the company mascotte and the scapegoat, I've been the business developer, the sales, the implementor and the support. And for most of these roles, I had no idea what I was doing. I'm still learning along the way, and I make sure to surround myself with people much better and much smarter than me. There are a few lessons that keep coming back which I would like to share:
If it's not a "Hell Yes!", it's a "no": Our engineers are the number one reason why we are successful. Not our sales deck (which sales deck?), not our processes, not our branding, and definitely not me. I know every company says that, but we put engineers first at everything we do. That's one of the main reasons why I started Data Minded in the first place. Hire the best people, and then get out of their way. In hiring, we have one rule: if it's not a "Hell yes!" it's a "no". And although it's been difficult at times to not offer a job to someone who we were "pretty confident" in, this has resulted in the amazing team of A-level players we have today. If due to a tragic accident, Data Minded gets split in two tomorrow, with on the left all our clients, our brand, all our source code, our processes and everything, and on the right all our people, I will join the right side in a heartbeat. I hope they will let me in. :-) Because I know with this team, we can start a new company from scratch. I have no clue what I would do with the empty box on the left.
Embrace Lean in everything you do: If there is one thing Belgian companies are struggling with, it is being Lean. And not just "we're doing two-week sprints"-Lean, but the "we're constantly experimenting and validating our assumptions in the real world"-Lean. People assume they know what they are doing, and they assume they know what they are talking about. In reality, you only start learning when you are iterating with clients. Especially when you are in the type of industry that we are in: rapidly changing, high tech, innovation. There are no maps of the world here. Planning is mostly useless. We've made a lot of mistakes in the past 3 years, but we try, to the best of our abilities, to make sure those mistakes are small, and we don't get carried away by big visions, over-confidence and long roadmaps. This is a learning journey in itself for us.
Understand the power law: I've read "Zero to One" from Peter Thiel, at least 10 times. The part I liked the most, is what he calls "the power law". We are trained to think in terms of the normal distribution. But most things in life are not a normal distribution. Some companies are worth more than all other companies combined. Some pieces of code are more important than all the other code combined. Some decisions are more important than all the other decisions combined. Yet we try to distribute our time and our energy equally. It's important to keep focus on the one or two things that really matter, and obsess like crazy to execute on those things really well. For a small organisation, it means to focus on the one thing you do uniquely well. We're not going to compete with the Big 4 consultancies on the breadth of our offering. We're not going to compete with the Indian consultancies on the number of engineers we can provide. But what we can do really well, is deliver world-class data engineering for the Belgian mid-size to large enterprises. That is the one thing that really matters for us. And from that position of strength, we can try to expand our offering to adjacent areas.
What does the future hold? I don't know. We're experimenting with several ideas. But one thing I'm really excited about, is that we are maturing our offering, and we are trying to have an impact for our clients on a more strategic level. Will we succeed? I don't know. But I hope I get to write a blog celebrating 4 years Data Minded as well, and I'll share what I've learned then!
Also published here: https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/3-years-data-minded-kris-peeters