My Baby Went to College

In 2004, I founded Capital Analytics, dba Vestrics, with some brilliant scientists from Duke University and three terrific angel investors. Our idea was simple – apply drug trial methodology to training investments by isolating the outcome to obtain a true ROI (vs. everyone using surveys). The methodology was being applied in other industries and we were confident the work could be done in learning and development. Early on, we tried to build a software program that could do what we thought could be done. We spent a bunch of our early money and failed miserably. After being told “no” many times, we found a few consulting customers that helped keep the lights on, and produced what became some of our early ground-breaking work.

As told in the preface of my last book, in 2005 I attended my first industry event, a Masie conference. The conference was very interesting and covered a wide variety of topics about learning — but none on analytics. A few presenters talked about how to create and deploy surveys. There was one breakout about ROI. About 50 people showed up, we put our chairs in a big circle, and a prominent professor started the discussion. About a half-hour in, I got into a heated argument with many of the other attendees who shouted YOU CAN’T MEASURE THAT WAY; PEOPLE ARE TOO COMPLICATED; SURVEYS ARE ACCURATE; IT CAN’T BE DONE; on and on. It was a beat down. I mean I got my ass kicked for well over a half-hour. After all that, I didn’t even get one sales lead! I didn’t attend another industry event for three years.

But we persevered despite the naysayers and quietly stuck to our work. Over the next ten years, we, along with other industry leaders, helped shepherd advanced analytics into the human resources profession. Through this period, we published fifteen case studies and three books on predictive analytics and received industry recognition every year since our first (Gartner’s 2008 “Cool Vendor of the Year”). The framework and methodology we developed worked well in consulting. We asked ourselves, could we automate the work of our consulting data analysts and statisticians? We tried and we succeeded, creating one of the first human capital predictive analytics platforms that launched in 2005. I’m proud to say Vestrics won several awards. Ultimate Software (ULTI) acquired Vestrics last summer.

What has this to do with My Baby Went to College? Building a company from scratch is a lot like raising kids. You put everything you have into it, emotionally, physically, and if you’re an entrepreneur, financially. There are many struggles and many moments of joy along the way. At some point, you put one foot in front of the other just to keep going. It’s hard work with no guarantee things will work out well. Many times, they don’t. When your child finally gets through her teenage years and leaves for college, one experiences two opposite, but equal emotions: pride and loss. I have been experiencing both since Vestrics left home and went to a terrific university.

So, my baby went to college, and after a successful transition I am venturing out again and looking forward to a variety of new adventures:  joining a few boards, advising organizations, mentoring early stage entrepreneurs, some speaking and writing (possibly another book on people analytics).

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