Russ: Hi, I’m Russ Capper and this is HXTV, the show that champions Houston’s innovators and entrepreneurs. My guest today, Jeff Reichman, Founder and Principal with January Advisors. Jeff, welcome to the show.
Jeff: Thanks, Russ.
Russ: You bet. Tell us about January Advisors.
Jeff: January Advisors is a data science consulting firm, so we work with all things data; from finding and locating data, to analyzing it, to visualizing it and communicating it. Mainly, we work with public sector and non-profit clients, so a lot of the data that we work with is publicly available or it tells us something about the world around us.
Russ: Ok, so interesting. I have a background in the computer world, and back in the day we called it data processing. That’s all that we would say. It wasn’t a science yet but, my God, the way that it’s grown because of storage and processing speeds, there’s just massive amounts that people get to work on. Is that your world?
Jeff: It is. It absolutely is. We do a lot of infrastructure work, because there’s more and more data being collected and it’s growing exponentially, and so, there’s a lot of infrastructure work. And then, there’s new ways of being fluent and communicating it. People are becoming more and more understanding of what data means and how important it is in business transactions in an advocacy work.
Russ: Ok. And there’s also these people, I don’t know if you do this, but that deal with disparate data. It’s not all the same. In my era, you had these specific fields that had specific characters, and if you add an extra character it blew everything up and stuff. Do you deal with disparate data?
Jeff: We do. We deal with all different kinds of data. Sometimes, the data structures that we use, you know, one little character will spend me hours and hours of just finding the needle in the haystack. Sometimes, it’s about scraping Tweets and understanding how to process emojis and sentiment on that. It really runs the gamut.
Russ: That qualifies as disparate, for sure. It was interesting, I heard you say, I mean, you said, we sort of interpret the data and explain it, which, on one hand is the most important part of it, but we live in this era of fake news, we live in this era of people twisting surveys, and that sort of thing. Does your comment mean, ‘hey, we’re going to look at it and whatever the data says we’re going to be good at telling you exactly what that is.’
Jeff: I think so. I think that we bring a certain puzzle piece to the larger picture in the sense that our clients are really the experts. They’re the policy experts, they’re the business experts. And we can bring some heavy metal, high powered machinery to work. So, we’re able to deploy lots of really good algorithms, lots of really good best practices to help organize and understand that data, and then we can develop internet friendly, web friendly maps and graphs and charts that can help communicate it. So, what we find is that a good engagement for us is when our clients are really the subject matter expert in their field, and then they kind of hire us as hired guns to bring data science expertise.
Russ: Give us an example of a typical January Advisors client application.
Jeff: Tough question, because we have a lot of different kinds of clients. One that’s on my mind right now is we’re working on a dashboard with the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition. We were able to get 800,000 criminal court dispositions from Harris County, going back about ten years. We built a dashboard that allows anybody just to load it up on the internet and start to apply filters. So, if you want to understand bail trends, if you want to understand sentencing disparities with African Americans, if you want to understand whatever it is in the criminal justice system you want to study, you can look at the outcomes right there and get a better sense of how judges are performing, how cases perform when you have an attorney or not an attorney, and then on top of that, we’re working with the organization to promote that in an advocacy campaign. What happens when you have people talking about facts in the criminal justice system on Facebook, and on Twitter. And so, it’s really, to your point in the era of fake news, it doesn’t make facts any less relevant, it just means that we have to be very diligent, very pedantic in the details and get it out there in the same way.
Russ: Do you ever work with companies, or individuals, or politicians that are wanting you to study a data set and tell them what it says, and in so doing, sometimes you give them disappointing information?
Jeff: Sure. I think that certainly with a lot of the advocates, when they learn that they’re following a hunch, or there’s a lot of academic studies in particular, angles of an issue, so they know that there’s a problem in the system, but when they actually see outcome data that either confirms it or is even worse than expected, its pretty disappointing. On the private sector side, when you start analyzing marketing data, for example, you might have vanity metrics that executives want to see. Number of site visits—well, that’s great, but if everybody is spending three seconds on the page, it’s garbage Russian bot traffic. So, we have to kind of poke those bubbles of vanity metrics and get down to what’s really defensible. In the public sector, that’s especially important because when a policy maker, a mayor, or a councilmember starts talking about numbers, they’re held accountable to that by the public.
Russ: Absolutely. And they should be, right?
Jeff: Yes, absolutely.
Russ: How old is the company?
Jeff: We started in June of 2009.
Russ: Ok, so you’ve got some years under your belt, I’m sure, too. I would think that business would be thriving right now with what we hear about data science in general. Is it?
Jeff: It is. It absolutely is. I think we’re fortunate to be working in an industry that’s really growing, and it’s got lots and lots of potential. And we have a really interesting niche that gives us projects that are just fascinating. So, we’re able to attract really great people to come work with us because they’re fascinated with the problems that we get to work on.
Russ: Tell us about your team.
Jeff: We have four people right now. My business partner, Neeraj Tandon, is a data scientist and he is also a physician, so he came to Houston because he did his residency here, and we played basketball a lot, and we worked on side projects together as volunteers, and one day he said, ‘you know, I think I want to try what you do.’ I welcomed him with open arms and he’s really been a force multiplier in the company. We’ve been working together for about a year and a half.
Russ: Is he still a practicing physician?
Jeff: He does keep his license active. He’s more of a data scientist right now, but it’s interesting because he brings a different perspective to the table. Data science, in general, brings people from different backgrounds. We also have Niha Pereira, who has a master’s degree in neuroscience and is our lead technical person. So, she is just incredible.
Russ: She’s a neuroscientist, yet she is kind of your lead IT person, would that be right?
Jeff: That’s right. She’s really, really smart.
Russ: So, what I failed to mention, too, is you’ve been playing a role with HX. You headed one of the Steering Committees interacting with government and doing business. For that service, we really appreciate it.
Jeff: Well thank you.
Russ: Take us back to the very beginning of January Advisors. When you started it, is it—today, is it what you thought you wanted it to be? Or is it pivoting some?
Jeff: It’s definitely been pivoting some. I started it because I had a startup idea and I called my old friends who I used to work with at a startup and said I need some help, and they said, well, we need some help. So, I started a company to collect a check to help them, and it started to grow. I started the company when I moved here to Houston. Instead of looking for a job, I said, I’m going to do this. I set up shop at Caroline Collective, and I just grew to love this city. As I started to do more and more different types of projects through the years, I developed some data science capacity and started working with the government, public sector, and it has just been a really good time to be doing that type of work.
Russ: Really cool. So, where would you like January Advisors to be, say, five years down the road?
Jeff: That’s a good question. So, we always have a thesis of working on interesting projects with nice people. Those two things have to be at play. I think that for us, we’d like to work on impactful projects, we’d like to work on slightly bigger projects, and we’d like to deepen our relationships with our existing clients because there’s so much good that they can do with data and if we can continue doing a good job then we can be right there with them.
Russ: Really cool. So, before I let you go, you’ve already mentioned kind of falling in love with Houston, Texas, but tell us what you like about Houston, what Houston means to you and your company.
Jeff: For sure. Houston is definitely an integral part of our company, we are Houston based. Houston is an extremely diverse city, and so when you want to be surrounded by diversity of thought, diversity of culture, diversity of background, I think that there’s no better place to do that than Houston. It’s also a place where people come to do business. So, you have a sophisticated business community that enjoys the amenities that a big city has to offer, and I just, I don’t like snow. All those things combined make Houston a really great place for me to live.
Russ: Great. Jeff, I really appreciate you sharing your story with us
Jeff: Thanks, Russ.
Russ: You bet. And that wraps up my discussion with Jeff Reichman, Founder and Principal of January Advisors. And this is HXTV.
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