DataGrail’s Employee Spotlight series highlights the person behind the professional, digging deep and discovering what drives our team members.
This week, we sat down with Earl — our Chief Product Officer and co-founder — who shares a slice of his background and how he started DataGrail. Earl has a decade of experience working on the software end of a variety of data-driven products and brings a depth of knowledge with him to DataGrail.
What is your role at DataGrail?
My role here is figuring out what customers need and shepherding the delivery of that. This involves setting our roadmap and managing tradeoffs between features, current customer demands, strategic needs, etc. Generally, being a founder also means you are the last stop on stuff getting done.
I definitely recommend working with your team before you start a company — if at all possible. Starting a company is a stressful experience, so it helps to have pre-existing trust built into professional relationships. The work rapidly scales past your ability to know what’s going on, so it's crucial to delegate work between each other and know that it’s safe in their hands.
What does your family think you do?
For a long time, my Mom just wanted to know if I work at Google yet. My brother built a chain of pizza restaurants from scratch, so I’m not the first entrepreneur in our family. I think that seeing my brother succeed helped her feel comfortable with non-traditional routes to success.
My loving wife, Courtney, gets to hear about my work every day. She understands the highs and lows of building a startup from the ground up and is extremely supportive — which is really helpful when you have to pull 16 hour workdays.
Most people's perception of what software engineers do — sitting at a computer and staring at a screen all day — is fundamentally flawed. In fact, I find writing code to be the easy part; it’s picking the highest value pieces to implement and coordinating with your team as well as other teams in the company that provides the most challenge.
Why did you choose to go into technology, specifically at a startup?
Startups have upsides and downsides. I think you should view working as a startup as a bet on yourself. At a small company, you’ll generally be given as much responsibility as you can handle. That’s not to say working at a mature company is bad — just a different experience.
What has been the greatest challenge so far at DataGrail?
Honestly, I think starting any company has the same risk: you make a large investment way before you’re even sure if it’ll work. Even with customer interviews and so forth, you’re betting with your time and resources — particularly for software engineers in the San Francisco Bay Area, as there’s a high opportunity cost. Simply, you must be comfortable with and embrace that risk.
What is your proudest moment at DataGrail?
The first contract — especially when it doesn’t come via a relationship — is awesome. We were literally just 3 guys in a room when our first customer signed. Although it may seem trivial, signing for our first office was also a big milestone for me. Having a space dedicated to DataGrail was critical to establishing the company culture, and in turn, working towards the fulfillment of our vision.
What advice do you have for future employees?
My opinion on what makes you successful at DataGrail is simple: our goal is to make money, and we do that by helping our customers. The best employees understand the business context for their work and how it supports our customers. Hands-on employees will understand more than anyone else about their work, and they’ll have some of the best insights (missing features, bugs, new ideas) on how to better help our customers build privacy and transparency into their businesses.
How do you define success?
I think success has multiple factors. One is, of course, personal: I’d like the company I started to be successful. However, I don’t think you can separate your success from that of your employees.
Success has a personal definition. For example, engineers may want to become leaders or staff engineers or anything in between. But whatever their goals are, I want their time at DataGrail to materially move them along their own path.
At DataGrail, we invest a great deal time and effort into training and developing our employees to make sure that everyone works efficiently. This leads our staff to be successful in their personal efforts, which in turn, drives success as the company.
Where do you see yourself in 3 years?
What do you enjoy doing in your free time?
Something many of our employees are aware of is my interest in the gym. My goal is to achieve a 250kg deadlift by the end of the year, and I’m on my way. I also enjoy spending time in the city, eating mass-building meals, and spending time with my dog, Elvis, who is well-loved at the office.