Vivun’s Chief Data Scientist, Joe Miller: Why I Joined Vivun

Joseph Miller Joe

Nuclear fusion, cancer research, artificial intelligence…presales? Of all the projects I’ve invested my life into, presales is the one that catches most people off guard–the one that just doesn’t quite seem like the others. But to me, they all have the same appeal: they encapsulate a large, unsolved problem with the potential to induce societal level change.

Now, I get that bundling presales in the same tier as cancer or our need for sustainable energy seems hyperbolic, and certainly some of that is said with tongue-in-cheek. But hear me out. Maybe you’ll come around to understanding a little more about why I find this space so exciting.

Since this is my first of a number of blogs I’ll be writing to share my thoughts on technology, AI/ML and, of course Vivun’s strategy related to such things, let me introduce myself. My name’s Joseph Miller and I’m a scientist, serial entrepreneur, and the Chief Data Scientist for Vivun.

Vivun is a startup focused on delivering the first enterprise solution for the technical presales pipeline. On the surface that sounds very specific and maybe even a little trivial; indeed, I think most companies haven’t given a second thought to exploring what they perceive as a small cog in the vast and complex machine that is their business…and that’s exactly why I’m interested.  As a scientist, I’m always excited about the potential for turning long held ideas inside-out.

I know “Data Scientist” is a sexy title these days, but I prefer just plain “scientist” with a lowercase “s.” Why? Because the thing I think is missing most from business leaders isn’t their appreciation for data science (I think the hype is at a fever pitch at this point), but instead the mindset and perspective that comes from being just a plain ol’ scientist.  I’ll lean on one of my favorite thinkers, Carl Sagan, to synthesize what I mean:

At the heart of science is an essential balance between two seemingly contradictory attitudes — an openness to new ideas, no matter how bizarre or counterintuitive they may be, and the most ruthless skeptical scrutiny of all ideas, old and new. This is how deep truths are winnowed from deep nonsense.

Carl Sagan

Looking around the tech sector, I think most of us would agree we are indeed wading through deep nonsense–the kind that a train/test split just doesn’t solve.  So let’s get to winnowing, starting with the ruthless skeptical scrutiny.  In order to scientifically scrutinize something, we have to first have an understanding of how it currently works and most importantly, why it is built that way. In other words, we treat it like a system and try to understand what were the factors that led to its existence in the first place, and what (if any) are the current factors forcing it to change.

When it comes to technology companies, more often than not, I find the system had noble roots. A company sprouts up to provide a solution for a problem. That’s it. No fluff, no gimmicks or marketing, just good ol’ fashion problem solving. The product team builds this solution and progressively improves upon it (typically led by a visionary product manager), the sales team–armed with a shiny new hammer everyone wants–tees up account after account (typically reaped from a depth of personal relationships) and the presales team delivers demo after demo (is this all they do?).

And that works for awhile…but then then competition comes, the low-hanging fruit has been plucked and as the system evolves, it faces a battery of constraining forces: tighter SLAs, key customer demands, declining technical differentiation, pricing pressures, new or fragile relationships, and of course the dreaded scaling challenges. The list is enormous.

And it’s here, while the business is putting forth its very best effort to grow while meeting all these rapidly accruing constraints, that it develops something of a tunnel vision anchored to processes and principles developed when the world was very different.  It finds itself in these potential wells if you will–these suboptimal equilibriums that are simultaneously internally comforting to the firm for the illusion of control they provide and existentially disastrous for exactly the same reason.

The net effect is a self-induced ignorance to how things could be different, as well as how they could be better. This is where that ruthless skeptical scrutiny of all ideas, old and new, hopefully comes in. Okay, okay, so maybe we can get to a place where we all agree there’s something to be gained from constantly questioning our current processes. But pointing out problems is the easy part; solving them is more challenging. This is where presales intelligence comes in.

Scientists at work

What fascinates me about how tech companies (and all companies are tech companies) evolve is that they amass an unbelievable amount of data along the way.  Sometimes, if you’re very lucky, this is even intentional!  Although, most of the time it either sits in the head of tenured employees or a random Excel file floating about like so many concert tickets in your dresser drawer–just reminding you of a thing you did once.  But what if the most important data you had was sitting right under your nose? That is what I believe presales data is proving to be.

Let me be hyperbolic again.  For over a thousand years Aristotle’s idea of a stationary Earth reigned. Every other theory was built upon this concept; whole systems, calendars, governments, and religions operated this way. Think about that!  For a thousand years, most people just assumed the truth of Aristotle’s idea and went about their day. Then one man had an idea that inverted the whole system (thanks, Copernicus).

Now obviously I don’t think anyone is gonna be burned at the stake for being an advocate of presales. But there is an interesting parallel to the inversion that is coming. It is literally only by understanding the presales data that we can understand “why” a deal is likely (or more importantly, not likely) to close. That’s a single factor, a single idea with the potential to invert the entire way technology is built and has evolved. Why did this deal close? Why did this deal fail to close? Just imagine if you had all that information synthesized through time, across industries, across your teams–down to the personal contributions, and all of this rationalized against the buckets of money just sitting on the table if only your sales team did x; if only your product team would build y; if only your pre-sales team would do z. This data…sitting right under our noses, has the power to align all the silos of your company against what your customers, the people, actually want.

That power of alignment cannot be understated and as any startup founder knows, it’s the first thing you wrestle with as you scale past the build of your MVP. It may be a lot to claim, but I believe at Vivun, we’ve done that for our customers and we’ve personally seen how the dynamics of our customer stakeholders have changed as a result.  The products are evolving in a more rapid, more productive, more targeted direction.  Revenues and efficiencies go up and everyone feels like they’ve got a seat at the table – the same table–and they all agree on what the world actually looks like and what to do about it.

So that’s why I’m excited–I think we’re actually changing how technology evolves our world by changing how it evolves at the companies that produce it.  Now let’s create some change.

Also listen to Joe’s podcast here and find out what he has in store for the Vivun Hero Platform!

Joseph Miller Joe September 10, 2020