July 19, 2023
Ryan Buick
Ryan Buick

Using data to power business outcomes with Jonathan Barrett, CEO at Joon Solutions

Welcome to the Canvas podcast, where we bring on data and business leaders to talk about how to make data easier for everyone. Today, I'm super excited to have Jonathan Barrett, Founder and CEO at Joon Solutions, on the show. Joon Solutions is a data consulting firm and one of our partners that we've really enjoyed working with.

Tell us about yourself!

I'm going to date myself, but I started working in data in 2008 with my first venture with a partner of mine back when enterprises had data centers that they owned, and we did the virtualization of a disc. With traditional discs, you had to allocate physical discs, and then you could do virtual pools of discs.

I then moved into the data warehouse space and data science with IBM and Teradata. For IBM, I was part of the services team that did the Cognos go-to-market after that purchase. And then for Teradata we worked with the Global 2000. Mostly I was in the innovation space and entertainment. It’s been a lot of fun.

What led you to data in the first place?

I actually got a degree in finance and business management. I got my Series 7, my Series 66, and my LAH to start trading securities. And I was going to join a company called Ameriprise Financial, which is the financial services arm of American Express, at the same time as the 2008 crash.

So I go into the office of American Express. And it's just going nuts, right? Phones are blowing up. The managing partner that took me on was like, Hey yeah, this isn't going to happen anymore. You will keep your license, but everything's over for now.

I had always really been into technology, even though that wasn't the degree I pursued. And data and finance are right next door. If you're looking at your analytics and data constructively, you'll look at it through a financial set of eyes, right? An uncle of mine helped founded a company called Network Appliance. He just put me in touch with this guy, and then that was kind of history. That's the Avalon Tech disc storage thing. Yeah, it was a funny thing that happened there.

What led you to start Joon?

I was at Teradata at the time, and towards the end of my time there, the cloud was just emerging. And I saw the trend that there was a big push from Teradata management to move more into Enterprise and Mid-Market because they've had a position in the mega majors, as they called it, or the global enterprises for a long time. They also saw it coming, but they didn't have enough momentum to get the cloud fast enough.

I was excited about what was happening. I just saw that you could get so much more done using a cloud data warehouse, and it was so much more feasible and agile to do things in the cloud. And I realized, as an independent consultant, I could do four projects at once instead of just one.

The time to value and my earning potential went way up with the advent of the cloud. I was independent for years before we started to build the business about three years ago.

What does Joon specialize in?

Over the last couple of years, we've been at the forefront of the technical space in data. We spent a lot of time getting our certifications, lining up our partnerships, and climbing the ladder.

Companies started to know who we were and that we were serious. This past year, we like to push the idea that we're vendor agnostic. We appreciate all the tools that are out there, but the closer you get to the executive teams’ goals, the more technical details fall away.

We see ourselves moving closer to a management consultancy where we focus on use cases and solve business issues. Our current top service is our business strategy consultation, which is basically an audit.

Whereas a management consultancy would do an audit of your business and they'd focus on the financials and accounting. We would do something similar, but what we do is based on empirical data, which is a fairly new idea.

For the longest time, all companies ran on spreadsheets and the idea that Finance rules all. And I think that still is very much the case, but we're trying to rethink this and get a more holistic view of the consulting space.

The first things our competitors discuss are data pipelines, warehouses, and consolidation strategies. But unless you're talking to a technical audience, the value is not going to be that transparent. You're going to look like a cost center. We want to get away from that.

What's a typical customer for you?

We focus on larger SMEs and Enterprises. We don’t do greenfield opportunities and don’t work with many startups. We have the most success with “lifting and shifting”. By that, I mean moving from more legacy, on-prem systems to something modern.

A good example is a global logistics company now whose infrastructure was Oracle Exadata. They reinvested in it and built it up and built it up along with Cognos. We’re moving them to BigQuery and Looker, and it’s just humongous. There are over 400 developers on their team, and just making that shift is huge. There are millions and millions in cost savings, and the total cost of ownership is reduced significantly.

That's where we really see the biggest wins, and it's most easy to prove our value because there's just it's just night and day for them.

Then speaking to what our services are and how we do get that, it really comes down to the way that we interact with the customer. We've adopted MIT's data maturity assessment to focus on data and business strategy.

We do a series of interviews with stakeholders and try to get a holistic view of the company. And by doing so, we discover use cases like route optimization and customer segmentation, which we hear in almost every conversation.

What are the traits of a successful customer that you work with versus a customer that's maybe not so successful?

They need to have objectives clearly outlined so we can take that logic and create something like a semantic layer that has business logic built-in or build a data dictionary that defines their operations. The easier it is for them to explain this to us, especially if there's nothing in place, the better.

It’s shockingly rare that there is good data governance and a good data dictionary or even a glossary of terms in place. Even being able to construct that through communication and understanding is really what makes successful customers.

A lot of the companies we work with in Asia are a bit earlier in the game. So there are still questions like, "Why do we need to consolidate this data?" And that's something that I still get taken by surprise sometimes because I've been doing this so long, and I'm like, how are you doing it?

We work with a lot of equity partners and a couple of VCs. And they'll ask for due diligence in the form of some reporting or model that works. And it's just spreadsheets, just like so many spreadsheets. And I'm like, you guys know that you could do this way easier?

When people are asking for numbers, it's like a compelling event. I've seen revenue calculated in so many ways that it just blows my mind. It's such a simple thing, but so complex at the same time.

When you're Series A and Series B, you're still shifting things so dramatically so often that I do empathize with it a bit. Spreadsheets are really flexible way for you to update your forecasts and do these things. But it hits a certain breaking point. It's either clear to them, or it's your job to make it clear so that they don't run into the breaking point.

I love Excel, and it’s the easiest tool to work with when it comes to financial planning. I've always believed that the first BI tool that would bring the spreadsheet interface to a real usable platform is going to win the thing.

I've always been fascinated with this because I see these kinds of waves where there’s a lot of quick innovation, and then they slow down and start up again. I remember first discovering Looker and thinking this is exactly what on-premise Enterprise BI is but in the cloud.

Cloud vendors and the really ambitious innovators in the space are giving away, really high-powered technology. Snowflake is an incredible tool. BigQuery kicks ass. It's more powerful than we’ve ever had access to. I see giving these tools away for free as an under-utilization.

For example, if you wanted to run petabytes of data on BigQuery, without allocating any server nodes or without doing any special allocation of resources, that's phenomenal. But what happens is companies won’t manage it or optimize it, so their costs will go through the roof.

We've come a long way, but I think that educating people on the products that are out there and how to use them to their full efficiency is really needed.

Whenever we take on projects, we make sure that there's a lot of knowledge and handoff and education through that process so that after we’re gone, they can use this tool or utilize this system to the best of their ability.

We get people that have these tools, and they've invested the money, and their problem still isn’t solved. They think they need to buy more tools, but they could really take advantage of what they have, just with a higher skill set.

That’s one of the huge advantages of Canvas. It’s all managed for you. You get in there, you don't have to worry about any of the engineering stuff. You don't have to worry about piecing things together. It's quite a value add. And in the space that I'm in, where we're trying to educate these enterprises on how to take advantage of the power of the tools that they have, it’s really challenging.

There was all this talk about companies like mine getting phased out by AI or programmers, but the complexity is so high. If a bot could do it, that'd be awesome. It could save me a ton of time. But there’s too much hype. It's still really in its infancy.

Don't get me wrong. We build AI and ML models. But they have a clear input and a clear output.

Where can people learn more about you and Joon Solutions?

We've been doing these free 90-minute strategy sessions to help folks optimize and save costs. There’s been a lot of companies struggling with liquidity drying up. So we just want to be there to help and support. And we mean that sincerely.

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