June 17, 2021

Amplifying the Impact of Data Scientists: Jared Parker and Patrick Dougherty, Co-Founders, Rasgo

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Amplifying the Impact of Data Scientists: Jared Parker and Patrick Dougherty, Co-Founders, RasgoAmplifying the Impact of Data Scientists: Jared Parker and Patrick Dougherty, Co-Founders, Rasgo
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Editor's note: 
Welcome to the Unusual Founders Spotlight series! The goal of this series is to introduce the founders in our portfolio who are currently building the future across categories and industries.

In today’s digital world, data is abundant and organizations are left to grapple with how to make sense of an excessive amount of disparate data. According to McKinsey, big data initiatives in the US healthcare system could account for $300 billion to $450 billion in reduced healthcare spending. Alternatively, bad data is estimated to be costing the US about $3.1 trillion a year. As this example illustrates, the ability to transform data into actionable insights has invaluable outcomes. For this reason, data scientists have become one of the most sought-after roles in corporate America to help companies glean more value from its data.

As though the job of deriving insights from inordinate amounts of data isn’t difficult enough, Forbes reports that Data Scientists spend over 80% of their time collecting, cleaning, and organizing data. Unsurprisingly, 76% of Data Scientists view these tasks as the least enjoyable part of their role. The leading companies who are able to solve this challenge state 200-300% improvement in time from project start to model deployed in production and delivering business value. 

Jared Parker and Patrick Dougherty, co-founders of Rasgo, worked in the field with thousands of data scientists in their roles at Dell, Slalom, and Domino. Through these roles, they saw firsthand that data science projects continuously failed due to technical limitations and inefficiencies in the feature engineering process. Jared and Patrick understood many ML projects never made it to production. Those that did were plagued with end user frustration due to the sheer time it took to clean, join, and transform data. Realizing there was a huge opportunity, Rasgo was born in 2020 to amplify the impact of data science by enabling end users to explore, clean, join, and transform data into highly curated ML features at 10x velocity. In just nine months, Rasgo has secured global enterprise customers across finance, manufacturing, biotech, retail, and alternative energy. Rasgo helps thousands of data scientists access and transform data into highly curated ML features in minutes, not weeks. 

We recently sat down with Jared and Patrick to discuss their vision for Rasgo, navigating the challenges of entrepreneurship, and more.

Unusual: Can you give us a little background on yourselves?

Jared: I’m Rasgo’s CEO and Co-Founder and Patrick is the CTO and Co-Founder. Both of our backgrounds have always been in data science. I ran sales at high growth startups backed by top investors. Patrick is the brains behind the operation and started as a data scientist at Dell, moved into data science leadership, and then built the data science and data engineering practice from the ground up at Slalom. Throughout both of our careers, we worked closely with data scientists across different organizations and verticals. Despite the different industries we worked in, we saw a very consistent set of challenges and acute pain points we wanted to solve. These insights are what sparked Rasgo.

Unusual: Did you both always know you wanted to be entrepreneurs and eventually start a company? 

Jared: For me, starting a company and being an entrepreneur was a personal dream ever since I was 14. I didn’t know it’d be a tech company until much later in life, but I always knew I wanted to create my own business. I lacked the courage to go and do it until I met Patrick about three years ago. I’m a sales founder and have been in sales my entire career. I needed to find a really good engineering leader who I could really trust and had a lot of credibility to come up with the idea that we’d ultimately go build a business around.

Patrick: I started writing code when I was in high school. My dad worked for a commercial roofing company and I was the only person there that really knew how to work a computer. I had a similar role in college when my dad built a startup. I helped him get that company off the ground from a technology perspective. Through these two experiences, I realized at some point I wanted to start my own business. I just needed to make sure I had the right partner in crime, the right experiences, and skill sets under my belt in order to do it well. 

Unusual: You both touched on that the two of you bring two different dynamics to the table. Jared, you have more of the sales background, and Patrick, you bring the technical chops. How do you think you’ve been able to leverage these two dynamics as you’ve built Rasgo?

Jared: It’s been mission critical to the business. What we’ve accomplished over a nine month span across product, engineering, and go-to-market is unmatched by any other seed company—at least from what I can see. This success stems from complete trust. Patrick owns his domain, I trust him to own his domain, and I don’t get in his way. Conversely, Patrick trusts me to own my domain and doesn’t get in my way. We come together for critical decisions that impact the company broadly. However, for the most part, I spend 10 hours a day driving the business forward, while Patrick spends 10 hours a day driving the product forward. In my mind, having two co-founders with two different areas of expertise has been a critical differentiator between us and the rest of the market.

Patrick: We’ve really used each other as a sounding board to make sure we’re getting the creativity of an external perspective, while still owning and running our domains. It’s been really valuable for me to have that. At any point I can pick up the phone and get an unbiased—or somewhat objective—view on the specific problem I have. I think the separation of our two areas of expertise allows us to give each other a different perspective versus if we had similar responsibilities.

Unusual: Walk us through your “aha” moment that led to the formation of Rasgo.

Jared: Patrick and I stumbled upon the problem we were trying to solve in a very unique way. We were both out in the field supporting customers in their deployment of critical technologies, such as cloud data warehousing and data science platforms. Meaning, we weren't coming at this issue as engineers of one company or seeing one company’s problem statement. We were able to see broad applicability of a problem statement across a number of different industries. So, when Patrick and I started partnering on joint customers, we heard the same challenge from the same type of user 20 some odd times. When you hear the same issue so many times from an end-user, the opportunity becomes very obvious. Like, “Hey, this is an underserved user. There's a critical pain point they're trying to solve and no one is helping them solve it.” We realized if we didn’t solve it, we would miss out on a big outcome for us and the market. And if we didn’t do it, someone else would. 

Patrick: 100%—the “aha” moment was very simple: These companies were publicly stating that they were at one level of maturity on AI and ML. Privately, when we were on the ground with a number of Fortune 500 companies, we realized they weren’t at the level they publicly bragged about. Rather than build a product for where they said they were, we were much better suited to build the thing they actually needed to help them achieve the vision they actually wanted to get to. That perspective was unique and once you see it once or twice, you think it’s probably an outlier. But once you see it 15 times over the course of a couple of years, you realize that’s the reality and we need to find a solution.

Unusual: Give us the elevator pitch for Rasgo and the problem you’re trying to solve.

Jared: Rasgo is a feature store for the data science community to accelerate transforming raw data into highly curated features that drive model training and model serving workflows.

Unusual: We often hear the glamorous side of entrepreneurship, but what about the flip side? What has been the hardest thing about being entrepreneurs?

Jared: Every single day we go through these unreal highs where everything is going so well and it feels like we’re going to conquer the world. You know, “We're going to build the biggest business of all time!” Then the next hour, something blows up in our faces and we experience the lowest of lows. This cycle will happen three to four times every single day. The most challenging thing for me as an entrepreneur has been learning how to psychologically and emotionally stay calm throughout those massive spikes and declines. It’s important to recognize these ups and downs are the nature of the beast. The team that can stay even keel and just grind through the ups and downs is the team that's going to win.

Patrick: I agree with that. The other thing I would add is getting really comfortable with failing and actually realizing that failing is a great outcome—as long as it's a very clear outcome. When I refer to failing, I'm talking about the experiments that we run. One of our core values is to keep initial experiments to less than five days. This gives us the ability to receive feedback where we take pride if we can design the right experiment, go test something, get an answer, and then iterate from there. This process is extremely valuable, but it’s a bit unsettling to realize—especially from an engineering standpoint—that a significant amount of your time could be spent on things that don’t ultimately make it into the final product. So, learning to be comfortable with that has been a challenge. This process is one of our biggest competitive advantages, but at the same time, if you’re not on board with this mentally, you can kind of get burnt out.

Unusual: On the flip side, what has been the most fulfilling thing about being an entrepreneur?

Jared: Building a team—that process has just been so awesome. We've hired such a diverse group of people who are quirky and eccentric in their own right. Every Monday, we have a sprint planning call where we go over the weekly deliverables from a product perspective, but the first 10 to 15 minutes everyone is just catching up and shooting the sh*t. I always smile during that point of the meeting because it really is something to build a culture where people are collaborating, having fun, and helping each other get better. It's so rewarding to see and to watch. 

Patrick: Similarly, I would say having the ability to build a place that we really want to work at. That's one of our north stars as founders. When you have the chance to create something from scratch, it’s important to make sure it's somewhere that you personally would want to work. We look at our culture through the lens of evaluating it as a potential employee and make a conscientious effort to ensure our team feels the same way. If you do that, you will not only learn from a lot of bad work scenarios that people have experienced in prior roles, but you'll really create something special. That power and autonomy are pretty amazing.

Unusual: What excites you the most about the potential of Rasgo?

Patrick: Our users are extremely underserved, both internally within their organizations, as well as broadly as a user segment. Data science has gone through the trough of disillusionment in the Gartner hype cycle—probably about 10 times at this point—and sometimes I feel like it may just be permanently stuck there. Our opportunity to help that user have a better day-to-day job is really unique. Honestly, it’s amazing that there are not more tools being developed for this persona because they are going to have such a big impact in an organization. The sky’s the limit as far as how they can impact your company’s future. Just unlocking some outcome for that user and ultimately, the companies they work at, is a really unique opportunity.

Jared: For me, what excites me about the future of Rasgo is just the explosive growth that I think this company can have. When we first started the organization, we were squarely rooted in helping data scientists become more agile, collaborative, and to enable them to develop core IP for the organization that drives accurate models. I think what we've seen over the past nine months is that there's a much bigger transition in the technology sector, which is much larger than data science. You know, it's the migration of ETL to ELT.  We originally set out to build a super easy to use, easy to adopt, easy to deploy, and easy to configure technology. Essentially, to enable data scientists to get value faster. In building that, we kind of caught the drift of this much broader technology shift to ELT. As organizations like Snowflake, BigQuery, Redshift, and Synapse (cloud data warehouses) continue to take more and more market share from the on-premise data warehousing providers, we're well positioned to draft that and experience explosive growth. It's going to be fun to watch. 

Unusual: What would you say your biggest challenge has been getting Rasgo off the ground and how did you overcome this challenge?

Jared: Our biggest challenge has been finding product-market-fit. As Patrick alluded to earlier, it is a very agile and experimental process. It's really easy as a founder to think, “I've got this vision and I know exactly where the market is going to be in three years. I'm going to create this awesome roadmap and just start building.” Frankly, that's batsh*t crazy. No one knows what the market is going to look like in three to five years—it's a guessing game. You can have a hypothesis and have a feeling about where the market is going to go—and you should have a stance on where it's going to go. However, it’s so important to have the flexibility to be agile day-to-day to make iterations, pivots, and decisions within that roadmap. As a founder, you can’t be afraid to pivot when you learn from users that you need to go a different route. If you look at our original value hypothesis that we had a year ago, and what we've actually built, they’re two completely different things. What we brought to market is exactly what users are telling us they need and can't live without. This is not the case for our original hypothesis a year ago. We overcame this by remaining agile, flexible, experimental, and cutting out the ego. The truth is, no one really knows where the market is going to be in three years, but you can continue to learn from the users. Learn from the market and react faster than your competition. That’s the key thing that separates winners from losers, in my opinion.

Patrick: I’ll go more micro—it’s a challenge getting our engineers aligned with the idea that we're going to build something and then potentially tear it down in two weeks. This basically goes against everything you're taught as an engineer, which is to build things that are scalable, reusable, and well-designed. Fighting through that is almost like retraining a muscle that you've previously trained to do something else. I don’t really think this is something you can just decide, “Oh yeah, I’m just going to change how I wrote code in every other job I’ve had and write differently in this job.” You really have to calibrate and gradually make that shift. Even then, you also need to know when shifting is not the right answer. Once you validate something in your product, you need to double down and build it in a scalable and long-term way. So, building in our team that kind of discipline to know when to pivot or not has been difficult.

Unusual: What is your biggest tip for aspiring entrepreneurs?

Jared: Find an underserved user and be absolutely savage about understanding their current world. I think too many entrepreneurs focus on the idea they have for an awesome solution and start building. The first step needs to be meeting with users. Interview users, understand everything you can possibly know about that underserved user, and capture all the information you need before you even begin to write code.

Patrick: Pick an industry—there’s some piece of software or technology that’s not delivering a great experience to its users and/or not having a good impact on the bottomline of the companies using it. If you can become almost obsessed with improving the experience for those particular users, there’s very likely a significant business to be made within that very microcosmic world. Jump on the opportunity and approach it from the user perspective versus the tech and you’ll get a lot further.

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