Interview with Greg Laughlin (Statwing)
Statwing is a web based data visualisation application.
I interviewed Greg Laughlin, Statwing founder to find out more. This is the hundred and ninety fifth in a series of DW startup interviews. Big thank you to Greg!
How would you describe Statwing in under 50 words?
Statwing is a really easy to use data analysis tool. We take the power of high-end statistical analyses and put them in a package that’s more intuitive than analyzing data in Excel.
How did you meet co-founder John Le?
We worked together at CrowdFlower, a San Francisco microtask crowdsourcing startup. We built a product together there.
What gap in the market did you discover that persuaded you to launch Statwing mid 2012?
My background before CrowdFlower was statistical analysis of survey data, using a statistical tool called SPSS. John’s background was artificial intelligence and machine learning, and he largely used a similar, open source tool called R. And we both fell back to Excel for simpler analysis.
We both found that these statistical products made it really hard to do the basic analysis and visualization that almost anyone wants to do when analyzing a dataset (e.g., relating one variable to one other variable, for example). And Excel was fairly clunky and not that powerful. We figured if we had such different data analysis backgrounds and had such similar pain points, there must be a lot of other folks out there just like us.
How long did it take to put together the initial version of Statwing?
It took about 9 months to get an MVP out there. There’s the old saying that if you weren’t embarrassed with what you launched, you launched too late. Well. We didn’t launch too late :)
You’re currently hiring new employees. In what direction are you looking to expand?
How different is the current version of Statwing compared to your initial launch?
The single biggest chunk of work in the last 6 months was overhauling the user interface.
We picked up a UI advisor (he designed the TiVo user interface), and we now spend a couple hours a week going over the UI in painstaking detail, complete reengineering the interface. We’re pretty proud of where we’ve gotten it to. Some of our users find Excel very confusing, but Statwing very intuitive. Conversely, some of our users are pros in advanced statistical software but prefer to use Statwing when we have the appropriate functionality. That’s not an easy balance to strike.
How easy is Statwing to use for someone with zero knowledge of statistics in the first place?
Very easy. We started out thinking we’d try to replace the advanced statistical tools, like SPSS. But as we did usability tests with our Excel-using friends they said things like “Y’know, this is what I typically do in Excel, except it’s much faster and easier.”
Statwing runs statistical analyses behind the scenes, but presents the results to users in very plain English (with optional Advanced output if folks really want to dive deep into the stats). A lot of our users don’t even think of Statwing as a statistical tool, it’s just a tool that makes it really easy to explore data.
How do you differentiate yourselves from your competitors?
Our competitors, like SPSS, SAS, and Stata, were all built decades ago by statisticians, with statisticians in mind. Statwing is the first statistical tool that’s easy and useful even if you don’t have advanced statistical training.
Insomuch as we’re also competitive with Excel, we’re different in that (1) we’re much more intuitive to use, and (2) we subtly integrate statistical functions into our analyses, so you’re getting a lot more power than you do with Excel.
Do you have a background in analytics and statistics or is your interest more on the software development side?
Personally my background is more in the world of data analysis. I’ve taught myself enough rudimentary programming skills to be slightly useful/dangerous, but my cofounder John does almost all the technical work. He studied math and computer science in college, so he’s pretty evenly split in terms of being a software engineer and a data analyst.
What advice would you offer to any soon to be startup founders out there?
From the obvious department: If the user interface of your product is important (e.g., it’s an analysis tool, not a social coupon site), get expert UI help in as soon as possible. Ideally you’d have a cofounder that knows some of that stuff.
UI design sort of seems like it would be simple, so it’s easy to just try to just do it without any expert assistance. But then your product sort of sucks, but it’s hard to pin down why.
Failing that, you need to be even more religious about usability testing than you already should be.
Can you convince the reader to start using Statwing in under 50 words?
If you’ve ever tried to analyze a bunch of data in a spreadsheet, you’ll move five times as fast and learn a lot more about your data in Statwing than you would in Excel.
If you’re using SPSS or R and you only need the basic functionality, you’ll move ten times as fast in Statwing, and you won’t tear your hair out.
Finished reading? Check out Statwing!