February 8, 2018

Periscope Data CEO Harry Glaser explains the business imperative of diversity, data teams

By 
Kevin Truong

Although it started as a side project from two old college buddies, Periscope Data has transformed into an industry leader in the field of data analysis by providing tools to the growing population of data science professionals. Its recent rocketship growth was capped by a move to a new 45,000-square-foot office in SoMa in January. Led by CEO Harry Glaser, the company has added major enterprise customers like New Relic, NPR and Ernst and Young.

How’s business? We have about 130 employees and we’ve between doubled and tripled that over the last year, so business is going very well. We’re hiring a ton, both in engineering and in sales and marketing. We’re selling the product to larger and larger customers, to more true enterprise companies, which has required a larger sales footprint.

What are the specific needs of data teams that your product is meant to address? It’s the ability to run the queries faster. We have a pretty sophisticated backend that runs queries quite a bit faster than it was possible before. That helps them turn their analysis around and have business owners make decisions much faster. The other thing is a workflow around these analyses. Say you want to route cars around the city more efficiently or optimize your marketing channels. A workflow where I can start this analysis, iterate on it and hand it off to a business user has been very compelling.

Many companies are trying to transition their operations to become more data-driven. What are common threads you see from companies successfully making that change? They need to realize that it’s a human problem, not a technology problem. The first thing they need to do is hire and empower a data team, they need to get a head of data, they need to empower that person with budget or employees to drive change through the rest of the organization. What that team is going to do is align themselves with the head of marketing, sales, the COO, the CFO and say what data do you need to make decisions and we’ll partner together in making that decision.

What is the business rationale behind the Unified Data Platform? Where we really started was as a tool for data analysts. They’re in charge of doing deep dives in the data to figure out what is driving key business trends. We found that they sit next to and work closely with data scientists, who build models for the future of the business, as well as data engineers, who are in charge of preparing this data, organizing it and storing it. We learned that there was a wider opportunity ... (to) provide a place for those employees to collaborate.

As the leader of a company seeing super fast growth, how have you seen your role as CEO change? Your job changes probably every six months. The main lesson is that you have to embrace that. Where CEOs of high-growth companies struggle is hanging onto the job you had nine months ago and not recognizing you have a new job now.

The concepts of diversity and inclusion are almost buzzwords in Silicon Valley. You’ve made them a core part of Periscope’s philosophy. Why? It’s definitely something that I’m passionate about and it’s because of places I’ve worked in my career where there’s not been that same level of commitment to diversity and inclusion, and it becomes a problem in the culture where people are excluded and the culture can turn negative. Most importantly you have to have an inclusive culture from the get-go. Looking around at yourself and your company and asking the question “Would everyone feel welcome here?” Be it through more flexible hours or careful selection of what the team does for fun or how we talk about ourselves or our customers and partners. If you can do that, then you’ll see you won’t be banging your head against the wall about the actual diversity metrics because you’ll find that people from underrepresented groups will want to work at your company.

What is the business imperative of these values of diversity and inclusion? You absolutely are stressed about keeping the lights on or selling to that first customer, but this is not an either/or problem. Having an inclusive culture makes all of those things easier not harder. If you are able to attract a wider pool of talent than a competitor, you may be more successful than that competitor because you have access to better engineers, better salespeople, better leaders.

What do you say to entrepreneurs who are looking internally and intimidated by the scale of the problem? Everybody is somewhere along this journey. Some people are way at the beginning; some people are in the middle. I would challenge that at least in the technology industry, nobody is close to the finish line. It’s OK to make that first hire from an underrepresented group. It’s OK to have that first all-hands meeting where you say “maybe the focus on alcohol and ping-pong is not healthy for our culture.” The fact that you are beginning the journey is good news and you should be proud of that.

Harry Glaser, co-founder and CEO, Periscope Data

What it does: The company’s platform provides analytics over the full lifecycle of data, including storage, analysis, visualization and reporting.  

HQ: San Francisco

Background: After graduating with a degree in computer science, Glaser packed his bags and moved to the West Coast where he spent nearly four years at Google. He started Periscope Data with his college friend Tom O’Neill when they saw the level of interest in the data analytics tool they built to test their own apps and projects.

First job: Counselor at computer camp

Education: B.S., computer science, University of Rochester

Residence: San Francisco

Bay Area employees: 130

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