Every other Friday, we sit down with a founder in our space to hear their story. This week we caught up with Jeff Nelson, Founder & CEO of Cinchapi.
After working with companies in the Bay Area and then Mailchimp and Ionic Security in Atlanta, Jeff decided to plunge into startup life at TechSquare Labs. As part of our Founder Friday Series, Jeff shares his vision, challenges, and inspiration while building Cinchapi.
Where did you work before starting your startup?
Before I became a full-time entrepreneur, I worked with great companies. Here in Atlanta, I worked with MailChimp, Ionic Security. Before that, I worked in the San Francisco Bay area. Each of these companies was concerned with data, privacy, and security.
What inspired you to be an entrepreneur? How did Cinchapi happen?
I have always had an entrepreneurial mind. While I was a kid, I organized sports leagues on my block. I was elected as Student Body President. I always had a mind to bring people together and improve a community or an organization. I wanted to work for other people for a few years to see what people liked to do and share experiences with them. When I was building Cinchapi, it was more than a business. I wanted people to feel like they were at home and comfortable. I wanted to duplicate the things I liked when I worked for others and narrow down the things I didn’t like. But the aha moment…I remember sitting at work one day. I wasn’t frustrated. But something just came over me and said now is the time. This is exactly how you are going to do it. Then I developed a plan which I have been executing ever since.
What problem are you trying to solve at Cinchapi?
Cinchapi is building tools for people to do cool things with data. Data is the key to solving really challenging problems in healthcare, financial fraud, and cyber security. Dealing with data is really hard. It is vast, and now we are working with real-time data generated from connected devices everywhere. People think about data in three distinct stages. They collect the data, understand the data and finally do something with it. Since these are separate processes, it’s not efficient and cost a lot of money. At Cinchapi we bring all these processes together in one platform which is hassle free. We let you query data using natural language, and we use machine learning to make it efficient. You don’t have to do any tedious work. The computer does it for you.
Could you go back to the genesis of the product? How did you decide open source was a key component of Cinchapi?
I am very passionate about open source software because I have benefitted from it. As a developer, I learned how to contribute by using and developing open source software. So, from a personal standpoint I wanted to give it back to the community. Also from a business perspective, open source allows anyone to access, make better and learn from it. Then you create a community about organic evangelism. Open source is like free marketing. You give something which people can access and let them build an ecosystem as well.
What would you say is your vision for where you want to be in a year or two?
I am fascinated with the notion of computing without complexity. As I mentioned earlier, ease of use is a very big deal. We want to build on what we did in 2016. We are building platforms where people can do amazing things with data. 2017 is all about the commercialization of those platforms. That means getting customers, big enterprises, solving their challenging problem whether it’s healthcare, cyber security, logistics and financial fraud. We want to continue to scale it and improve its efficiency.
What has been your biggest challenge?
To be honest, the biggest challenge is to be an engineer and a CEO at the same time. You have to think differently. My instinct is to build technology which is fast and pure. However, as CEO, my primary responsibility is to get customers and make them happy. Sometimes achieving those goals is not a pure engineering thing. The challenge is to balance those two mindsets and move business forward.
What is your advice for anyone just starting out in business?
Just in general, I feel time is the most important thing. Whatever you are going to do, always look at optimizing time. A practical example of that is interviewing people. In big companies, it’s a month-long process to find a perfect fit. In a startup, it’s all big risk. Just do things. Fail Fast. Correct it. That’s what it means being in a startup. Being agile and making quick decisions.