Data is the new gold. The company with the best insights about its customers wins over the competition. However, many businesses still struggle to wrangle all their raw data into something that’s usable. Data only has value when it’s served in the right format, and more importantly, is accessible to the people who need it.
Holistics empowers everyone to answer their own data questions without the need to rely on the data team. The platform lets technical teams define and curate a set of business metrics so non-technical teams can build their own reports and charts without writing SQL. No more “request queue frustration” for both non-tech employees and data engineers!
The value of a self-service data intelligence platform is clear from the numbers. Holistics has 250 customers across 30 countries who use the software to make their data accessible and actionable. Currently, the company does $1.5 million in ARR and they are on track to hit $2 million by early next year.
Their platform runs over 5 million queries every month to support customers’ analytics operations. Ninety-one percent of their customers say they can deliver business answers within a day of adopting Holistics. It’s also one of the top analytics tools for Software Advice FrontRunner 2018-2021 and a Capterra Top Performer for 2021.
Bringing Data To Non-Techies
There are two ways that companies usually deal with making the plethora of data accessible to other business departments. One, the company buys certain data tools that allow non-technical people to upload and explore the data by themselves. But if they don’t understand how to use the software, they’ll pull the wrong data.
The other extreme is that the company’s data is only accessible to people who know how to write SQL queries. In that case, non-technical departments need to ask the data team every time they need data. So, either you need to wait for the data team to get your reports or you risk getting the wrong data.
Holistics solves these problems by catering to both experiences in the same platform: a SQL-friendly interface for data analysts and a self-service experience for non-technical users. Data teams can prepare a collection of data sets and other users can play around with the data and create their own dashboards without needing technical expertise.
Huy Nguyen, the co-founder and CTO of Holistics, says, “It’s kind of like cooking based on someone’s vetted recipe. The ingredients and cooking techniques have been laid out for you and all you need to do is follow simple steps to get the desired outcome.”
The result: data teams can help business users help themselves. And that’s what they call self-service business intelligence. Now data teams will be able to spend more time on high-value work, instead of dealing with ad hoc queries, and business users won’t need to wait days for crucial data insights.
What Sparked a Great Idea
Rather than a startup founder or CTO, Huy sees himself as a builder. He’s been a software engineer since high school. He moved away from Vietnam to study Computer Science at the National University of Singapore (NUS). There, he joined a special program for entrepreneurs, where they fly students to an international country to work for a startup for a year and learn the ropes. He went to Sweden to work for a bio haptics startup and to Palo Alto to work as a software engineering intern at Facebook.
When he graduated from university, he joined a startup called Viki (it’s like Hulu, but for Korean dramas) as a data engineer. During that time, Huy was part of a small team that built the entire data infrastructure for the business, along with a lot of internal data tools. According to Huy, “One of the tools evolved into something useful. And then I thought, ‘Hey, this could actually help a lot of other businesses too.’”
That tool was a dashboarding solution that allowed a user to input a query and quickly get a data report, without the need for a data engineer. “I asked my boss, my CEO, my CTO, and my CFO if I could run with it and they were all very supportive. I’m very grateful for that,” Huy says. “Then I went out to find co-founders who would be able to turn this into a real business with me.” In 2015, Huy and his two co-founders, Vincent Woon and Thanh Dinh, had everything they needed to start Holistics.
The Challenges of First-Time Founders
In the beginning, Holistics only had one customer, a big enterprise company. Huy says, “They acted sort of like an investor, since they were our only source of revenue. During that first year, we put most of our effort into building out the features and support that that client needed. Our development was customer-driven; whatever the customer asked for, we built.” This did not leave a lot of time to strategize for the business’s future.
In the early years, Holistics grew very slowly. As first-time founders, they had to go through some rough patches to get to where they are today. Huy says, “We probably made most of the mistakes in the book – if not all of the mistakes. As inexperienced founders, we didn’t know anything about marketing or business strategy or hiring staff.”
He says that the mistakes weren’t necessarily about doing something wrong – it was more about the fact that they weren’t doing certain things they should have been doing. According to Huy, “We had these blind spots and we kept thinking ‘Why didn’t we know about this earlier?’” Because of those blind spots, it took them a long time to get the business off the ground.
Marketing is Easier Said Than Done
The trio of founders each had their own strengths: Huy was the product guy, Vincent was the sales and operations guy, and Thanh was the one with engineering and infrastructure expertise. As mentioned above, the only skill set that was missing between the three of them was marketing.
Huy says, “Marketing is marketing, right? Wrong. Marketing is one of those things that everyone thinks they know how to do because it’s easy to learn, but to master it is really hard. It’s so much more than just knowing how to run paid ads and so on. You need to learn how to think like a marketer.”
One of their biggest marketing challenges was Holistics’ positioning. “We didn’t even really know what positioning meant at the time, we weren’t sure if messaging was the same thing… So, deciding what to say to the customers in a pitch deck and how to market the platform in general was a struggle. We knew that Holistics solved a real pain point for users, we just had to figure out a way to explain our product value to the market,” Huy says.
As a result, Holistics went through a lot of pivots during the first few years. “We called them mini pivots. It was the same product, but we were figuring out how to best fit it in the market,” Huy says. They hired a friend who was a marketing consultant. He worked on positioning exercises with Holistics to find out what resonated with potential customers.
They did an exercise called “Sales Safari”, where the consultant set up calls with Holistics customers and asked them why they were using the platform. The goal was to uncover how customers saw Holistics, what they got out of the tool, and what led them to choose this platform over other available options. These calls were then closely analyzed so that the team could put themselves in the customers’ shoes and truly understand their wants, needs, and motivations.
They learned that their best customers (i.e. the ones who were most happy, bought the quickest, and gave them the least amount of headaches) purchased the platform because they shared the same problem and the same belief on how to solve it.
Their common pain point: They were frustrated that, despite all the business intelligence reports that the data team prepared, other departments kept coming back to them for every small change in report structure – be it an additional column or a change in visualization. As a result, the data team had to spend a big chunk of their time executing these requests.
A company’s belief about how they solve this pain point is what distinguishes Holistics customers. Some believe that this problem all falls on the data team, so they will simply hire more data analysts to keep up with the demand. “Those companies are not the best-fit customers for Holistics,” Huy argues. “Our customers believe that the data team shouldn’t spend their valuable time on low-level, repetitive tasks. Instead, they think that it’s the data team’s job to help non-tech users help themselves to the data.”
With their ideal customer pinpointed, the Holistics team went back and updated all their sales, marketing, and product materials to reflect that common pain point and underlying belief. That’s how Holistics landed on their current messaging and go-to-market strategy. And ever since, things just started to click. Their growth picked up, they had more happy customers, and the support team had an easier time. They even happily removed a bunch of features that didn’t align with their new direction.
Huy says, “Before we solidified Holistics’ positioning, every team in the company had a slightly different perspective on how to sell, how to build, and how to market the product. We also had problems prioritizing what features to build, as different customer segments have different needs. Now, we all speak the same language, we know the type of customer we want to serve, and we have a crystal-clear vision of how the product should be built, marketed, and sold.”
More Money Isn’t Always the Answer
When asked about the possibility of funding, Huy said that it wouldn’t have solved their problems. From his perspective, the problem lay in their inexperience. They’d have appreciated mentorship far more than money. “We would have been more self-aware about our weaknesses and figured out a way to see our blind spots. You just don’t know what you don’t know.”
Huy does think that funding could have potentially allowed them to hire more senior people who would have set them on the right path. “Instead of just trying to be very hands-on and executing on whatever the customer asks for, we could have had a stronger strategy from the start.”
The founders have come a long way since then. In 2018, Huy was listed in Forbes’ 30 under 30 for Asia’s enterprise technologies that use sophisticated analytics to mine big data. As a company, Holistics has now grown to a team of 34 people that work across Singapore, Vietnam, and Indonesia with customers all across the globe.
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