Jeff Nelson shuffled around the silicon scenes of Chicago, St. Louis, New York, and the Bay Area before laying seeds in Atlanta. This talented developer has flexed his tech muscles at MailChimp and Ionic Security, but recently shifted toward startup life at TechSquare Labs as the founder of Cinchapi. The smart technology platform provides real-time analytics and machine learning to help businesses gain insights faster. Nelson is also curating perspectives on black experience through his media site, Blavity.
The serial entrepreneur shares what he hopes to accomplish in Atlanta, and why he’s here to stay…and slay.
What startup/tech projects are you currently working on?
I’m working on Cinchapi, which is a startup that believes we can increase human potential by simplifying the way we interact with technology. We do this by building smart products that learn about our users and their preferences automatically. We offer an enterprise analytics platform that curates relevant insights from different data sources in real time using natural language.
What inspired you to establish Cinchapi, and what services does it provide?
As a developer, I’ve had too many experiences where tools that were supposed to help me, actually slowed me down because they were unintuitive and complicated. I was constantly frustrated that I spent more time learning and managing the tools than I did tackling the problem I initially set out to solve. What good is great technology if it merely distracts us by creating more work? What if we could conceal complexity without compromising capabilities? My passion is helping people be more productive, so I wanted to create a technology company that has simplicity and efficiency for users in its DNA. Everything we do must be “down with O.P.P.” which for us means “open & press play”.
Cinchapi is focused on removing the bounds from data so people can give meaning to information without the hassle. The analytics process is fundamentally broken because its costly and time consuming. For example, we want to kill the dashboard because there is a much better way to get continuous intelligence from big data. Our platform allows you to search any data sources using natural language to get actionable insights auto-intelligently curated in real time.
How has working at other startups in town, including MailChimp and Ionic Security, prepared you to start your own startup?
As much as I’m focused on building great software that is easy to use and building a great company that is valuable to customers, I’m equally focused on creating a great place for people to work. I’ve been fortunate to work at some really great companies here in Atlanta and also in the Bay Area. One of the key things that I’ve learned is that you must be very intentional when planting the seeds of culture. I want Cinchapi to be a company where our people are not just dedicated to the products we build, but are also devoted to our vision to make other people more productive in their work.
You moved to Atlanta from other places in the country, how is it different and why do you like it?
I lived in Chicago, St. Louis, New York and the Bay Area before moving to Atlanta. I love Atlanta because so many non-natives are drawn to the city, so not only is there a the culture of southern hospitality, but there are also influences from other regions that people bring when they move here. In many ways, Atlanta feels like home since I’ve called so many places that, but it also has this unique concentration of arts, media, technology and education that you won’t find anywhere else.
You also helped found a media site called Blavity. What inspired you to start it and what voice does it offer to site visitors?
We had this term back in college called “blavity” which is black + gravity. It’s that moment when you find everybody that’s black taking over the lunch room even though you’re < 4% of the population. You start thinking how did we all find each other?! At the lunch table, we discussed everything: a dialogue about critical race issues, gossip about the off-campus dorm party, intellectual banter about critical race issues, and lots of smiles.
Once we graduated. my co-founders and I started Blavity because we wanted to re-create that experience for us and others. Our goal is to aggregate and bring together different perspectives on the diversity of Black experience into one platform. How do you stay informed & on-top of emerging trends?
I get most of my articles from TechCrunch. I also stay updated on the local startup scene by subscribing to Hype and Venture Atlanta’s bi-weekly digest. Other than that, I’m pretty bad at staying on top of the latest trends. I haven’t created a social networking account since LinkedIn! Sometimes I find out about new things when talking to friends. That’s a good gauge as to whether something has traction and is worth my time.
You mentioned that you’ve had an entrepreneurial outlook for most of your life. Why the interest in startups and the technology field?
When I was younger, I never intended to work in technology. I was fortunate enough that, growing up, computers were always around so I learned how to code and tinker at an early age. But it was all for fun – not something the childhood version of me assumed you could turn into a career. Even in college, I majored in Computer Science because it came easy to me and our homework assignments were month long projects instead of nightly assignments. And, I was elected Student Body President, so I assumed I’d have a career in politics or public policy.
But, at a certain point, I got tired of the bureaucracy and realized that technology companies are on the ground solving many of society’s problems about which I’m passionate. I always planned to start my own company after working for a few years and it made sense to combine my love for coding with my entrepreneurial ambitions.
What’s on deck for your startup ventures in 2016?
Cinchapi is coming out of stealth mode! This summer, we’re going to partner with some enterprise companies to launch a few pilots and some of our open source projects. Also, we’ve bootstrapped the company so far, so we may raise a seed round of financing later this year.