BLOCK71 Singapore Entrepreneurs Feature — Holistics
In this week’s Entrepreneurs Feature, we speak to Vincent Woon, CEO and co-founder of Holistics, a start-up which powers the data operations for businesses.
1. What is Holistics and how did it come about?
Holistics powers the data operations for businesses.
Companies ask questions based on their data in the form of charts or numbers on a regular or ad-hoc basis. However, the process of preparing these data and reports is repetitive and time consuming. Data is also stored across different online applications which makes it difficult to have a single view of reporting.
Holistics automates the data pipeline process from source data to insights, reducing the time data teams spend preparing reports. Users can schedule email reports to be sent, or setup thresholds to notify them about changes in their business data.
There is a workspace for SQL analysts and data scientists to query, transform, and share datasets easily with each other. They can also troubleshoot slow-running queries on the fly without technical help.
Our CTO, Huy, used to work as a data engineer in a company that was handling 100 million daily records. His data team (who needs to build reports) was frustrated with how Tableau works, so he built Holistics and it was well received internally.
Over lunch, he shared the idea of bringing the product to market with me. I was skeptical at first, having sold business intelligence (BI) software before, including one that is the largest ticket size in the region for one of our local real estate companies. The software he built was rudimentary then, but my interest was in the possibility of working with 2 very brilliant engineers on how we can design a modern solution to a 50 years old industry.
We spoke to many companies and people, and realize that what he shared was a real problem for some tech companies. Not many tech companies have the resources (or luxury) of assigning their engineers to build their internal data tools instead of working on the core product. One startup even shared with us privately that they assigned the junior/low performing engineers for their internal platform, so their top engineers can focus on their core tech product development.
2. Where do you see Holistics in 5 years?
We want to help people learn how to work with data, and make data work for them.
Our software goes beyond letting people work with data, but also help them to understand concepts behind data thinking. We will also connect the data community and companies looking to build up data capabilities.
Already, our customers have feedback to us how some of their non-technical colleagues picked up SQL on the fly after using Holistics. Or for data analysts who’s surprised that they can actually run ETL without writing system scripts or accessing the command lines.
As a result, we have customers who transitioned from non-analysts roles to being a data analysts. This is something we will continue to make it easier for them.
Data operations will continue to be fine-tuned. Imagine a data warehouse that automatically suggests tables to be aggregated after knowing the size of database tables and the frequency/concurrency that users access them.
3. What differentiates Holistics from its competitors?
Holistics goes beyond data visualization and integration by automating data operations.
Business Intelligence (BI) is a 50 years old market, and most established BI vendors were built at a time before big data trends, and they are playing a catch-up again to a higher level complexity of data needs. These vendors either:
- Focus on either (1) data visualization or (2) ETL (data integration/engineering), requiring their customers to hire different teams to buy and learn different tools to use them for reporting. When a data issue happens, it takes time to identify and troubleshoot whether the root cause is in the visualization or ETL layer.
- Centralize and store data from different data sources in their own warehouse on behalf of their customers. This results in over-expensive license where customers have to actually spend time trimming and curating their data from their source data to the vendors’ data warehouse. In addition, these vendors are largely limited to on-premise deployments because of data retention concerns.
Holistics is built at a time when big data trends is emerging. Unlike existing vendors who provide silo data visualization and ETL (data engineering) solutions, Holistics fully automates data operations from ETL to data visualization without the need to store our customers’ data.
A crude analogy to this can be compared to taking airplanes flights to the process of preparing data. The customers of existing BI solutions take either indirect flights (different tools), or require the use of a private jet (dedicated planes) to bring them to their destination. Holistics customers enjoy a direct flight to their destination without the overheads of a dedicated warehouse.
4. What are some of the greatest challenges in the course of your entrepreneurial journey and what did you learn from them?
It’s about bridging the new world of data (where we are going to) and the status-quo data world (where people are comfortable with).
The innovation in Holistics is not so much in the end results (pretty charts/dashboards), but in the process of preparing and creating them. Some management teams do not care about the tools their data teams use (even to the extent of dictating) as they see BI software as a black box to get the reports they want.
We’ve learned that data analysts are our internal champions, and our team works really hard to provide them the best analytics workspace available, reducing the friction points they face in different parts of their process. And we provide an affordable tool that makes it easy to justify to their management to purchase Holistics.
5. Is there any book/movie/song that inspires you in your entrepreneurial journey and why?
Business at the speed of thought by Bill Gates. I picked this book up as part of a book exchange 10 years ago and I find his vision of how technology can transform the way businesses work inspiring. That was the book that got me interested in enterprise software.
I don’t watch many movies, but I love mangas and animes! I loved the leadership theme from <One Piece> and the team spirit from <Prince of Tennis> and <Slam Dunk>.
6. How does Holistics hire the dream team?
We hire for potential and a proven ability to execute. It’s not just about getting a high-achiever (to do what he was already doing well before) to join Holistics at a better pay.
We classify our team into two main groups — The engineers and growth team.
Hiring engineers is typically a case of finding good developers who relish a better technical challenge and mentor. Huy is reasonably influential in the Vietnam software engineering community, which brings us first-hand access to some of the top developers in the country. We also engaged a director of engineering to help us identify, recruit and retain talents. Engineers who join us are naturally drawn towards solving hard problems and have good thought process beyond saying they are good in a programming language.
I find growth members who has potential to be good in at least 2 domains. When hiring them, they need to be show potential in at least 2 of the 6 skills-mix we need: Sales, Marketing, Content, Design, Analytics, Product Management and Technical Skills. Normally, they start with 1 skill they are proven in, and we look to mix them with another skill for them to learn and grow in Holistics.
7. What was your most memorable moment in BLOCK71 Singapore?
It’s the friends and people I know that worked there with me since the day we started at the old office (Singtel Innov8 office). Everyone was hustling, keeping their heads down and we shared problems over coffee together. Some of them have moved office or pivoted, but there’s still a number of us at the current office!
Are you an entrepreneur working on a cool product and looking for more than just a co-working space ? Do apply for a hotdesk here and become part of the exciting community that we offer at BLOCK71 Singapore.
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