Slowing Down and Learning
This story dates back to the earliest days of RJMetrics. The company — and by “company” I mean myself and my co-founder, Jake Stein — was far enough along that we had quit our day jobs. Unfortunately, it was not yet far enough to have a real product, funding, or customers. In other words, the pressure was on.
In those days I was singularly focused on shipping code. As far as I was concerned, it was a race against time to release a product that would generate revenue and keep us from going belly-up.
However, when I look back at the startup chaos of that time, one thing I did in those early months always strikes me as odd: I put down my keyboard, picked up a book about MySQL, and studied my ass off.
SQL is the Lingua Franca of data analysis, and MySQL is the people’s database platform. I had developed a working knowledge of SQL at my previous job, but felt I was missing the fundamentals that would allow me to reach expert status. It felt wrong to be building a tool that abstracts away the need for SQL without first knowing SQL inside and out.
So I went into full-on college student mode: Flashcards. Notebooks. Sample tests. After several weeks of intense study, I went to a testing center in South Jersey, took a formal exam, and received a MySQL Developer Certification (these exams are now offered by MySQL’s owner Oracle).
All that time I could have been writing code, shipping features, and bringing us one step closer to that elusive first sales demo. Instead, I took the time to stop and look around, and I’m glad I did. My energy was better invested in furthering my understanding of the most important tool for my target market and target customers.
When it was all said and done, my entire view on the space and opportunity had evolved. We decided Jake should go through the same process, even though he was not a developer, and the value it created was immense and persists to this day.
Almost immediately, we could feel the effects of our investment in education:
- Faster development — Since RJMetrics used MySQL as its own core database platform, I immediately became better-versed in how to design an efficient system that could run quickly and not break the bank with hosting costs.
- Thought leadership — This newfound expertise made it possible for me to participate in the MySQL community forums, establish a voice in the market, and publish blog posts like this one, which still drive traffic to our site to this very day despite being written almost seven years ago.
- Better team — Knowing what to look for made me better at interviewing engineers and appreciating the depth of knowledge someone might bring to the table when it came to databases and data analysis.
- Increased sales — Jake’s performance and confidence grew with his SQL knowledge, as he increasingly felt like he had a level of expertise that could extend as deeply as necessary when speaking with a more technical prospect.
Although the short-term benefits gave RJMetrics a nice boost, the most potent value was in the foundation it established. Jake and I better understood the technical underpinnings of our product and believed in its use case at the core. We were able to speak the language of our customers. We understood what good performance looked like. We embodied our target customers and built a value proposition that mattered to us and them.
For the last seven years, this deep connection to our product vision has kept me excited about building our company. I remember those early days studying in my attic with great nostalgia. Chasing that sense of curiosity and adventure is what keeps my head popping off of my pillow every morning to this day.