Rather than hiding SQL in a drag-and-drop interface, Holistics.io makes the language the star of the show, and helps analysts build comprehensive reports
In the world of media production, there is no software quite like Adobe Creative Suite. Whether it is Photoshop, Premiere Pro, Final Cut or Illustrator, the entire rolodex of products has one thing in common: It is not friendly to newbs.
And yet, for nearly every person who has taken the time to learn the software, it becomes nearly impossible to use anything else. There is nothing more frustrating than knowing how to do something, only to be restricted by the software, and Adobe’s success is built on the feeling of near-total creative control.
Holistics.io, a Singaporean business intelligence startup, approaches its product with the same mindset. Instead of catering to non-technical people with an ‘easy to use’ interface, Holistics is catering to people who already know what they are doing (or can devote the time to learn).
“One of the differentiating factors is a lot of the platforms out there are designed for the non-technical to use. So they will strip down the complexity in favour of a bare-bones drag-and-drop interface. So although it is great for a non-technical, it hides the complexity of the environment,” explained Co-founder and CTO Huy Nguyen in a conversation with e27.
The B2B SaaS product leverages SQL by allowing data analysts to enter queries, choose the visualisation they want and then help present the data in a way that is useful to the non-technical people on the team. Furthermore, every time a business person opens the report, the SQL query runs again so the most up-to-date data is presented.
Nguyen believes SQL is the new Excel, and that in many ways, the people who know how to use SQL will find jobs in the same way masters of Excel were employed over the last couple of decades.
The end result is this: Instead of a drag-and-drop interface that is easy for the masses to use (but runs into trouble when certain metrics are requested), it is a platform that makes life easier for data professionals already familiar with SQL.
“All of the [competition’s] tools want to hide SQL from [the user], and give them a drag-and-drop interface. What we do is reverse this and promote SQL as a first class citizen,” said Huy.
This is why the comparison to Adobe is apt. SQL takes time to master, which means Holistics is targetting the ‘professional user’ — much like how it is nearly impossible for amateurs to make decent graphics on Final Cut Pro in the first few months. However, once the user has gotten the hang of the product, it becomes extremely powerful.
For example, one of Holistic’s customers built over 400 unique reports within two months of onboarding the platform. That kind of diversity of data would be difficult to reproduce on a more ‘user friendly’ system.
If the idea sounds too niche to work, the company is proving that theory wrong. Holistics is completely bootstrapped to this point, has six employees, and is already profitable.
Plus, the startup has a client list that includes well-known brands like 99.co, Tech in Asia, Grab, Kaodim, Traveloka and KFit. (Grab was its first customer.)
Finding engineering talent
One of the key tenets of the Holistics business model is that it builds its platform around a company’s existing infrastructure. According to Nguyen, they are one of the only companies to work with a client’s database — a stark contrast to most other solutions that require a complete shift to the new software.
“Basically our customers onboard the platform and then they engage the data team to build the reports and dashboards,” says Nguyen.
As one might expect from this type of company, Holistics requires top-notch engineers to fill its ranks. The engineering team is based in Vietnam and while, yes, Nguyen admits finding talent is hard, he says it is not impossible. Plus, the team has two characteristics that make it an attractive place for an engineer to work.
“We have a strong background in engineering so that attracts the good ones, [and] our engineering problems are quite challenging,” he said.
Over the last year, the company has focused on figuring out the pain-point it wants to solve and how to convey the correct message to customers.
Holistics thinks it has a solid platform, and because it has been positioning itself as a global company, the startup is beginning to spread its wings. Which means, because it has found its audience, the next step is figuring out how to scale the product.
Now, Holistics is starting to spread its wings and is working to build a scaleable product for a global audience (currently, the company does need to instal the infrastructure manually). It wants to build a lightweight product so “any new tech startup can just onboard Holistics and have their data analytics infrastructure taken care for them.”
One of the more interesting nuggets from Holistic’s client outreach strategy is the company’s use of the question/answer website Quora. Nguyen says the company actually landed its American client through inbound marketing by participating in the platform.
“So we didn’t know, but if you look at it, when people search ‘What is a BI tool for startups?’ or ‘what is an affordable BI tool?’ It always go to Quora. Someone on Quora will ask that question. So you just go in, make your pitch, and if it is compelling enough they will visit your site,” explained Nguyen.
Data analytics is crucial for the success of any business in the internet economy, and Holistics is trying to prove that the best way to approach it is not by making it easy for the company to use — but rather by empowering those who are best to find its full potential.
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