Introducing MJR Analytics … and How Two Years Go So Fast When You’re Learning Something New

Today I’m excited to be launching MJR Analytics, a new consulting company focusing on modern, cloud analytics projects using technology from Looker, Qubit, Fivetran, Oracle and Snowflake and development techniques learnt from my time working as an analytics product manager at a startup in London.

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Our new website (and no that’s not me sitting in the chair)

So what have I been up to in the two years since I left my old consulting company, and how has that experience and the way I’ve been working with analytics technologies over that time inspired me to start another one?

Two years ago I announced on Twitter that I’d left the company I’d co-founded back in 2007 and intended to now take on a new challenge, and then spent the rest of the week at Oracle Open World cycling over the Golden Gate Bridge and coming back on the ferry and trying to decide what that challenge might actually be.

 
 

For most of my time in the IT industry I’d been working on projects implementing products from vendors such as Oracle and I’d always been interested in how these products came to market, how software vendors came up with a strategy and roadmap for those products how the team behind those products worked with the engineers who built them.

I’d also become increasingly interested in the startup world and towards the end of time time at Rittman Mead had taken-on an informal role advising Gluent, Tanel Poder and Paul Bridger’s product startup who were building software that enabled big enterprise customers to offload their data warehousing workloads from expensive proprietary databases onto to cheap, flexible storage and processing running on Hadoop clusters.

What appealed to me about working more formally with Gluent was the opportunity it gave me to work with two smart founders and an even smarter development team developing a product built entirely on big data technology I’d until then only scratched the surface with on consulting gigs. The product marketing role I took on was all about establishing what market that product was primarily intended for, how we went about positioning the product to appeal to that market and how we then brought that product to market.

Understanding these four things are crucial if you’re going to actually get customers to buy your startup’s product:

  • who is the buyer

  • what problem does your product solve

  • what is the value solving that problem, and

  • why you’re the first product to solve it for them

otherwise you’ll spend your time building a solution to a problem that nobody actually has, and that’s the reason the majority of tech startups end-up failing. Solving a problem for a market that’s willing to pay you money to solve is called “product/market fit” and if your product has it, and you’ve built your business such that it scales linearly as more customers discover your product, then you’re going to make a lot more money than a consultancy constrained by how many hours in the week your consultants can work and the upper limit on how much you can charge for a single person’s time.

I also learnt the distinction between product marketing, product management and product development in my time at Gluent. Going back to my time as a consultant attending product roadmap sessions at conferences I never quite knew which parts of the product team those speakers came from, but in summary:

  • Product Marketing is about taking a product that’s typically already built and then deciding the product’s positioning and messaging, then launching the product and ensuring the sales team, sales engineering and customers understand how it works and what it does; as such, this is a marketing role with a bit of technical evangelism thrown in

  • ProductDevelopment is the actual building of the product you’re looking to sell, and requires an engineering skillset together with the inspiration that typically came up with the product idea in the first place along and an entrepreneurial side that made you want to build a company around it

  • Product Management is more of a customer-facing role and is about understanding what your customers want and what their problems and use-cases are, and then creating a strategy, roadmap and feature definition for a product that will meet those needs

Despite my undoubted product marketing skills based around PowerPoint and internet memes:

 
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In product marketing, it’s never too soon to put a Santa hat on a photo of the founder

in the end it I realised that it was product management that interested me the most and, after a couple of meetings with an old friend who used to run product management at Oracle for their business analytics product line and who had recently moved to London and now lead the product team team at Qubit, a technology startup created by four ex-Googlers building marketing technology products based-around Google’s big data and cloud technology, I joined their team later in 2016 as product manager responsible for the analytics features on their platform.

I spoke about the Qubit and the partnership we established with Looker back in May last year at a presentation at Looker’s JOIN 2017 conference in San Francisco and the slide deck below from that event goes into the background to the product and the problem it solves, helping customers using Qubit’s personalization platform make more effective use of the data we collected for them.

The product and data engineering teams at Qubit did an excellent job bringing together the features for this product and in hindsight, the bits I was most proud of included:

  • The business metadata layer we created on Google BigQuery and Google Cloud Platform to translate an event-level normalized many-to-many data model designed for fast data ingestion into a denormalized, dimensional data model designed for easy use with BI and ETL tools

  • Additional integration we created for the Looker BI tool including a set of industry vertical-specific Looker models and dashboards we then made available on the Looker Block Directory and in a Github public repo

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Screenshot from Personalization Analytics Block for Looker by Qubit

  • The multi-tenant data warehouse and hosted Looker instance we then put together to enable customers without their own Looker instance to make use of their data in Google BigQuery, doing so in a way that supported per-tenant extensions and customizations by the customer or their implementation partner.

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Technical Architecture for Live Tap as presented at Looker JOIN 2017

What I’ll take-away from my time at Qubit though was the incredible amount that I learnt about product management, product engineering, how to build and run a successful startup and team who are still highly-motivated seven years in and the introduction it gave me to the analytics and data-led world of digital marketing, eCommerce and modern data analytics platforms.

Consulting is a popular route into product management and the experience I brought to the role in areas such as business metadata models, analytical techniques and the needs of BI and ETL developers proved invaluable over the eighteen months I worked as part of Qubit’s product and engineering teams, but moving into product management within a young, technology-led startup founded by ex-Googlers and working with some of the smartest and most innovative people I’ve ever met involved learning a whole new set of skills including:

  • Developing on a new technology platform (Google Cloud Platform) within a new industry (eCommerce and digital marketing) and understanding a whole new set of analytics use-cases and customer roles (A/B testing, stats models and event-based analytics used by analysts and strategists within eCommerce businesses) that I described in a presentation at last year’s UK Oracle User Group Tech Conference in Birmingham:

  • Working as part of a team rather than directing that team, and managing -up as well as down, a technique I had to relearn pretty quickly in my first few months in the role

  • Learning to achieve my goals through influence rather than in the top-down way I’d been used to getting things done leading customer projects, and as CTO and owner of the company that team worked for

  • Saying no to customers rather than yes as you did as a consultant, as your objective is to build a product that solves the most important customer needs but doesn’t burden you with so many features addressing niche use-cases that you end up with Homer’s car and can’t innovate the product in future releases

 
 
  • How to take a product through its lifecycle from identifying a need that makes sense for your company to meet, through prototyping, alpha and beta releases to successful first launch and then creating a strategy and roadmap to manage that product over its complete lifecycle

  • How to use a new generation of modern, cloud-native data analytics tools such as Looker together with products such as FiveTran, Google Cloud Platform, Qubit, Snowflake DB and Snowplow Analytics that were increasingly also being adopted by the FinTech, MarTech and B2C startups clustering in London and other European/North American tech hubs

I learnt so much from my colleagues at Qubit about products, engineering and building a successful and motivated team that put up with my jokes and built the most technologically-advanced marketing personalization platform on the market.

But what my time at Qubit also made clear to me was that, when it came down to it, what really motivated me to get up in the morning, learn all these new technologies and still be wildly excited to come into work in the morning twenty years later was:

  • using data and analytics to find new insights and uncover new opportunities in a customer’s data set

  • working with that individual clients, over time, to enable them to find more of those insights and opportunities themselves

  • find new innovations in analytics technologies and how we deliver projects to make this process cheaper, faster and more likely to be successful

  • and building a team, and crucially a business, to do all of this at scale and offer a full set of analytics-related consulting services built around modern analytics tools and delivery techniques

Which is why after two years away from the consulting business and two enjoyable, rewarding and enlightening years working on the other side of the data and analytics industry I’m now launching my new consulting company, MJR Analytics; and I hope to be working with many of you as clients or members of our team over the coming months and years.