Monday, July 8, 2024

ClaraNext - Part I

 It's July 2024.  About 6 months ago a trajectory that extended back over 30 years has come to an end. A career that started with small strategies, grew into big data, and evolved into artificial intelligence powered conversational analytics.  

Chapter 1: Microstrategy 

In January 1993 I had the privilege to join a ragtag group of consultants and analytics geeks at a small, under 20 (at the time) employee startup called MicroStrategy.  MicroStrategy was the brainchild of a twentysomething MIT graduate, Michael Saylor, who believed that "micro"computers, or PCs, could be harnessed using modelling and analytical tools to help drive better corporate strategy decisions in the Fortune 500 - and thus "MicroStrategy" was born. 

By the time I'd joined MicroStrategy the company had migrated away from pure PC-based strategy modelling and towards using databases containing corporate operational information to create analytics and visualizations.  The company was a pioneering vendor offering "business intelligence" (or BI) software, and over 10 years the company (and I) learned how to model and build very large databases, and we created software that could interrogate arbitrarily large data sets and create rich analytics.  

Along the way I also learned how to build a company, manage a P&L, sell and compete against smaller and bigger competitors, partner, IPO, and (after the dot com bubble tore a huge hole in half of the business), restructure, reorganize, and rebuild after crisis and business challenge.  In short, I learned how to an entrepreneur.  

In 2001, after a 9 year odyssey at MicroStrategy, I'd finally decided I need to take a break, recharge, and rethink the next chapters of my life.  I'd recently gotten married, work was a grind, and I found myself thinking about all the good and bad decisions we'd made the past few years, what we'd learned from it all, and wondering if I might be foolish enough to start a business informed by all that knowledge.  

Chapter 2: Claraview 

By October 2001 - I and two partners decided to start a company, Claraview.  The premise was simple -  we were three smart (we thought) guys with a ton of ideas that would change the world of big data analytics.  All we needed to do was build, sell, and be successful.   It took us a nearly a year to land our first big accounts, but we had three key assets - 1) smart, customer savvy, agile founders, 2) access to a network of really talented professionals who'd either left or been let go from MicroStrategy during its several rounds of restructuring, and 3) knowledge of many customers and partners who desperately needed the knowledge we had had to continue building, maintaining, and innovating big data solutions. 

We conceived Claraview as a company that would build solutions that helped organizations achieve clarity of insight - powered by big data.  In 2001 and 2002, however, most of the tech world was still licking its wounds from the bursting of the dot-com tech bubble, and we reverted to the more predicable business model of providing consulting and integration services to customers.  But we founders still harbored a desire to build a big-idea powered software company and during our spare time noodled over and ideated a few ideas.  

By 2006 we'd grown Claraview to nearly 100 employees, were generating millions of dollars of revenue, an had toyed with a few product ideas we considered bringing to market.  One idea was based on applying analytics to the intelligence community.  The other was based on automating business processes with workflow based forms technology.  The third idea - to build a technology platform that ingested unstructured data (think sentences, documents, conversations, etc) and turn it into robust, quantitatively rich insights and analytics - was the charm.  That idea, to build a platform that created clarity of insights by bridging the fields of unstructured data and structured analytics, was ultimately the idea that led to the creation of Clarabridge.  Clarabridge was prototyped  and nurtured by Claraview in 2005, spun into a separate company in 2006, and, once the founders sold off the Claraview business in 2008, became the sole focus for me and our team for nearly 15 years.  

Next: Clarabridge - and the rise of experience intelligence. 

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