Thomson Nguyen ’07, Co-Founder and CEO of Framed Data, partnered with fellow Cal alum Elliot Block ‘08 to build a predictive analytics platform that answers two basic, but fundamental questions for any business: Why are customers leaving? And when are they about to leave?
Using machine learning and model ensembling techniques to make user predictions Framed Data provides dashboards that tell you why users are leaving, and an API that tells you which users are leaving, when they're estimated to leave, and the reasons why.
Thomson recently shared his insight on being a Cal entrepreneur and offered advice to students looking to work in the startup world.
Q. Can you tell us a bit about the genesis of the Framed, what was your inspiration for creating it, how did you meet?
We initially met at the Open Computing Facility, a student-run computer lab at UC Berkeley. We offered free user accounts, printing pages, and a friendly physical space where people can study or use a computer. I was a General Manager of the OCF, responsible for staffing, general fundraising, and oversight of the facility. Elliot Block (my cofounder, ’07) was a Site Manager, responsible for keeping the technical infrastructure alive and working, training volunteers up on the technical nuances of our servers, and running the ‘engineering team’ we had at the OCF. We love joking that we still do the same thing ten years later.
Our original impetus for creating Framed came from a startup we both worked at, where I was a data scientist and Elliot was a data engineer.
Q. Tell us about how you think your time and experience at Cal shaped the type of entrepreneur you are?
Our time at Berkeley has definitely prepared us for the pains of starting a technology startup. Our company, Framed, makes useful data analytics software for other businesses—if we’re not a useful product, people won’t pay for it. Too often we forget that the point of startups in Silicon Valley is to create something useful for other people. Our time at Berkeley ingrained in us a public education rooted in service, an onus that we carry with us in the private sector.
Q. What is the hardest thing about being a founder of a fast growing startup? What keeps you up at night?
The hardest thing about being a founder is definitely focus—there are always many, many different things to work on. One day it’ll be sales, the next day fundraising. In some ways being a founder is a test of grit—it’s a marathon, not a sprint!
Q. How did you bounce back from your early failures and use those experiences to fuel your later successes?
When we initially started we had several ideas of what Framed could be in the field of data analytics and business intelligence. We built a couple of these ideas and found out quickly that there was very little market or demand for these ideas. Building something that few people want can be a very demoralizing experience, but with persistence and a good framework to improve your ideas it would be only a matter of time before we improved our initial approach into something that our customers have found instrumental to their own business processes.
Q. Knowing what you know now, what would you have done differently at Cal, or what activities would you have taken advantage of to prepare for your career?
I spent a lot of my extracurricular efforts in the OCF—while I’m grateful for the life-long friendships and connections I built there, I definitely would have branched out and diversified my interests and classes when I was at Cal. Berkeley is one of the few universities with both world-class experts in every field of study and a diverse student body with different experiences and stories to draw from.
Q. What advice would you offer Berkeley students just beginning their careers in the startup world, either as founders or as early team members?
When you decide to start a company, make sure you choose your cofounders wisely - I really lucked out with Elliot as my CTO. He is my foil in every way at Framed, and I trust him with my life. Finding a cofounder that you trust, works well with you, and is vital to the company’s success is a near-impossible task, but if you’re at Berkeley now then your search is much easier, given the very large and diverse group to draw from!