Interview with Brett Hurt, CEO and cofounder of data.world

Josiah Motley · November 13, 2020 · Short URL: https://vator.tv/n/5140
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A look at Machine Learning Data Catalogs, how the company helps clients manage data, and more

Image: Unsplash

Data drives the world, but understanding that data is not an easy task. Between all the different data points, how they tie together, and what to do with the information once you hopefully start to understand it, it can be a monumental task if you aren't prepared.

And realistically, many companies aren't equipped with the tools and specialists to do the data justice. As data becomes more prominent across the board, the number of B2B companies focused on helping businesses organize and understand their data is growing.

One such company is data.world, which recently raised $26 million in capital funding.  

Data.world helps businesses organize their mass amounts of data by cataloging different sets and applying that to a variety of business processes. That's a very basic overlook of it, as even just talking about data can be a daunting task.

To help with that, I had the chance to interview Brett Hurt of data.world to learn more about the company, what inspired it, and how data could change in the coming years. You can find the full interview below.

Image: Unsplash

Care to introduce yourself and your role at data.world?

Sure, I’m Brett Hurt, and I’m the CEO and Co-founder of data.world--born, raised, and based in Austin, Texas--and proud of it! Previously, I founded and led Bazaarvoice through its IPO (named one of the top five IPOs by the WSJ in 2012), follow-on offering, and two acquisitions. I also founded and led Coremetrics, which was rated the #1 Web analytics solution by Forrester Research.

Coremetrics was acquired by IBM in 2010 for around $300m. Beyond that, I’m a seed-stage investor at Hurt Family Investments (HFI) in partnership with my wife, Debra. HFI is involved in 93 startups, 29 venture capital funds, and counting (we are mostly active in Austin). Last year, I published a book, The Entrepreneur’s Essentials, that is available for free online at Medium. It covers 22 of the most important lessons I’ve learned in my entrepreneurial journey. 

In just a couple of sentences, what is data.world?

Data.world makes it easy for everyone—not just the “data people”—to get clear, accurate, fast answers to any business question. Our cloud-native data catalog maps your siloed, distributed data to familiar and consistent business concepts, creating a unified body of knowledge anyone can find, understand, and use.

We’re also a Public Benefit Corporation and B Corp, and home to the world’s largest collaborative data community, which is free and open to the public. Our team today is 75 people strong, and although we’re working remotely now, nearly all of us are based here in Austin.

What inspired the creation of the company?

We were inspired by the vast depth and breadth of human knowledge, and frustrated by how difficult it is to access. I knew Jon Loyens (Chief Product Officer) from Bazaarvoice, and I’ve known Matt Laessig (COO) since our Wharton MBA days (and also at Bazaarvoice). Jon worked with Bryon Jacob (CTO) at HomeAway. 

We founded the company in 2015 and launched the product in 2016. Since our early days, we’ve been guided by our mission, which is to create the most meaningful, collaborative, and abundant data resource in the world.  

My prior startups, Bazaarvoice and Coremetrics, showed me the power of data to help transform businesses first-hand. I love seeing the impact of data on company culture--businesses become much more operationally efficient and better at identifying new opportunities. In these pandemic times, that has become more important than ever. 

What exactly are Machine Learning Data Catalogs?

This year we debuted in the Forrester Wave for Machine Learning Data Catalogs as a Strong Performer with the highest-ranked Current Offering (we shared our thoughts on this exciting news here). 

The enterprise data environment is messy and siloed. Data catalogs become necessary because they inventory and analyze your environment to make it easier to find, trust, and work with data and analysis. However as data grows exponentially, regulations get more strict, and companies want to empower self-service and AI-driven analytics, Machine Learning Data Catalogs (MLDC) have shown how AI and ML techniques can handle that scale in powerful and intuitive ways.

Data is obviously big business, but can feel overwhelming - what does data.world do to make it more manageable?

Glad you asked this question this way, because it gets at the foundation of what we’re built to do: we want to make it less overwhelming. To do that, we’ve crafted a user interface that looks more like Facebook and Google and less like an IT tool. Usability is central to us, but an afterthought for our competitors. 

When you can find, trust, and use data quickly and easily, it’s not overwhelming--it’s liberating! data.world is designed to empower you with clarity, accuracy, and speed. So data.world offers things like natural language search; it keeps data connected to everything you need to understand it; and it offers a ton of features that make it easy for data people, subject matter experts, and everyone else to team up and tackle big company problems. 

Other than using something like data.world, what other recommendations do you have for companies regarding data management?

Focus on people, not just technology. Specifically, data literacy and data culture. When more of your people use data confidently in their day to day, and their tools evolve towards usability and empowerment rather than pure restriction, you get this incredibly modern combination of forces that multiplies the value of your data. 

DataPractices.org, which we co-created and is now under the stewardship of the Linux Foundation, is an awesome resource. There you’ll find the Data Values and Principles manifesto we co-authored with dozens of leading data thinkers in various domains, and a set of free and open courses designed to help everyone from the novice to the expert data practitioner. 

Where do you see big data management and utilization heading in the next 10 years?

The biggest trend is Agile Data Governance. It’s well underway, but we think it will be the norm in the next 10 years, or sooner, in the same way that agile software development is now the norm. Agile Data Governance is the process of creating and improving data assets by iteratively capturing knowledge as data producers and consumers work together so that everyone can benefit. It adapts the deeply proven best practices of Agile and Open software development to data and analytics. To quote our Chief Product Officer, Jon Loyens: 

“Enterprises waste millions of dollars on failed data initiatives because they apply outdated thinking to new data problems. This results in overly-complex, rigid processes that benefit the few and make the rest of us less productive.

Agile Data Governance adapts the best practices of Agile and Open software development to data and analytics. It iteratively captures knowledge as data producers and consumers work together so that everyone can benefit. 

We believe this methodology is the fastest route to true, repeatable return on data investment.” 

Anything new coming to data.world in the coming months?

Yes, of course! We’re excited to expand our Agile Data Governance capabilities to help enterprise users more quickly and efficiently discover new data, request access, enrich metadata, and see how data is used within organizations. 

We’ll unveil new machine-learning (ML) tagging features, using AI to help organize and classify information assets, including automatically identifying which ones may be sensitive in nature. This will increase productivity while making data stewards’ jobs easier and more enjoyable. 

We’ll also invest even more in bridging the gap between metadata and data management by providing a platform that more powerfully captures, generates, and distributes metadata efficiently for leverage in other programs. It ensures that data consumers discover and use data products with metadata crawling, virtualization, and data quality benefits.

What do you believe is the future of data governance? 

Once again, Agile Data Governance. We believe the future of data governance is toward openness, transparency, and agility. 

While some vendors are motivated to swing in the other direction--needlessly limited access and being reactive--we think that arming people with accurate, accessible knowledge will transform companies, governments and, if we’re lucky, humanity. That’s why one of our mantras is, “Data from anywhere, knowledge for everyone.” 

I'd like to thank Brett for taking the time to answer some of my questions.

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Josiah Motley

Contributor at various blogs, with a focus on tech, apps, gadgets, and gaming.

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