Andy Palmer is a serial entrepreneur and Co-founder/CEO of Tamr, a next generation data curation company, and he recently co-founded Koa Labs, a startup club located in the heart of Harvard Square, Cambridge, MA. Andy has been involved in over 50 startups in healthcare, technology and life sciences, is a former rugby player and huge supporter and fan of Rugby.
icrunchdata explores The Personality of Data Analytics by talking to the biggest analytics thought leaders at some of the fastest growing organizations in the big data industry. We recently talked to Andy about his career founding, funding and advising startups, the common theme that he looks for in startups, and what industry he thinks is long overdue for disruption.
Andy, thanks for talking to us today and I’m going to jump right in…
My proudest moments at Tamr have been when we delivered value for our customers and made a real difference. Interestingly, these moments weren’t just about delivering great software - but about how our team interacted with the teams at our customers. We had a moment recently with one of our best customers, GE. Our team - led by one of our superstar field engineers, Clare Bernard - worked hand-in-hand with the onsite team to overcome obstacles to value that the customer had thought were impossible.
We’re expecting more moments like these over the next five years at Tamr, based on our early successes helping GE, Novartis, Roche, Thomson Reuters, Toyota Motor Europe, and other customers simplify their data ecosystems.
My co-founder Mike Stonebraker has said that Tamr’s approach to scalable data unification will be the next big thing in data and analytics - similar to how column-store databases were the next big thing in 2004.
Yes: Working with smart people with passion, a mission to make the world a better place, and a commitment to do whatever it takes to succeed. It sounds cliché, but startups are truly NOT about money. A favorite example is Upstart, which was founded by three ex-Googlers. Upstart is democratizing the commercial lending business by considering not just credit scores - which a lot of young people just don’t have - but also education and experience when awarding loans. Through some interesting proprietary algorithms and predictive analytics, Upstart can help promising people realize their dreams and potential. The Upstart team is crazy mission-driven, incredibly smart and fun-loving. Most of the companies in my portfolio at Koa Labs are similarly mission-driven, smart, passionate and fun.
That’s a layup: healthcare. Outcomes are so poor and costs are so high that the “fee-for-service” establishment can no longer just wait out the latest cycle of innovation. Just as the financial industry radically changed over the past 30 years as consumers gained control over their financial information, the healthcare industry will radically change over the next 30 years as consumers gain control over their healthcare information. Consumers will demand radical changes in the healthcare system that will START with how they access information on their own health. The user experience today is terrible. This is a great opportunity for innovation.
I have been involved in a few startups that are at the cutting edge of this trend, specifically: Twine Health, Kinsa, Constant Therapy, Maxwell Health, Madaket, Mimo/Rest Devices, Podimetrics, Smart Patients, Avado, GiveForward, CarePort, Firecracker and N of One.
First and foremost: doing startups is about teamwork, and startup founders can learn a lot from rugby as a team spot. Second, rugby uniquely teaches individuals how to use their own judgment under extreme physical and time pressure - which is the MOST important startup skill.
Coach Rick Scala, who is coming up on his 30th anniversary as Bowdoin’s head coach, creates teams that have strong values and are committed to winning without ever sacrificing their values in the interest of outcomes. Rick taught me where to draw the line between “whatever it takes to win” and “whatever it takes to win that doesn’t compromise your values.” This is incredibly important in startups, because there are infinite opportunities to do “whatever it takes” to build your company. But if you don’t know where to stop - for example, if you take an order that you know you can’t fill or you misrepresent the state of your company to investors - you’ll almost certainly get yourself into trouble early.
Like startups, rugby is also best played “full contact.” When you’re knocking heads, those are the moments when you most need to know where to draw the line. Stepping on someone’s hand in a ruck might be crossing the line. Giving them a “tap with your boot” to tell them to get their hand away from the ball isn’t. Similar in startups.
Bowdoin rugby is truly a brotherhood and sisterhood. The tight-knit nature of the Bowdoin rugby community is very similar to the relationships that develop between people in startups. I like to say that “startups come and go but relationships between the best startup people last forever.” Same with rugby.
I’m a huge fan of the ref cam. While player-tracking stuff is cool, it’s most educational to see the game from the perspective of a seasoned referee, particularly a true student of the game like my rugby mentor and friend Gary Davoe. In business, the equivalent is looking at your business from the perspective of a shareholder/investor. If you do this continually, you will inevitably build a better business. Same as in rugby: if you can see the game from the perspective of the referee, you will be a better player.
I am incredibly passionate about medicine and healthcare, so I would love to do something that helps people improve their health. The most mission-driven experiences in my career to date were helping start Infinity Pharmaceuticals and working at Novartis Institute for BioMedical Research. I have tremendous admiration for the scientists and doctors who work hard every day at the intersection of medicine, chemistry, biology and business to discover drugs and diagnostics that make a difference in patients’ lives. As a software geek, I like to say that my ideal project would be a social network for kids who have cancer.
For scuba diving, the Great Barrier Reef, which I got to experience when playing rugby in New Zealand and Australia after college.
For fly fishing, the Bollibokka on the McCloud River, a famous trout stream in Northern California. I just recently fished that stream with my son and my rugby buddy Mitch Zuklie. All the rainbow trout with which they populated southern hemisphere rivers in Patagonia and New Zealand came from the McCloud. A few years back, I caught some monster rainbows while fishing Taupo on the North Island in New Zealand. I was there to watch the All Blacks win the 2011 Rugby World Cup. It was pretty cool knowing that that first McCloud rainbow was the long-distant cousin of that fish I caught in New Zealand.
Don’t worry that you don’t have a job or any money. Just move to California and go to work for Apple - or even better, find the coolest young video game company and go work for them doing whatever they need. Your passion for computers and software are what you should focus on. Most of your liberal arts classmates don’t know what they love or aren’t capable of taking risks. For whatever reason, you love risk and you have a passion for software - so go do it - NOW!
And: Whatever happens and no matter what crazy situations you get yourself into, never compromise your values: mutual respect, honesty, compassion, hard work and loyalty. No amount of money or recognition is ever worth it.
Andy, incredible and inspiring advice. Thanks for joining us today to talk about your entrepreneurial spirit, technology and rugby.