Let me venture to say that humans across time and space have all had this singular thought, at least once in their lives: the world is a terrifying place.
This thought may have dawned on some of us during an especially awkward teenage day in junior high, or at some summer bbq, or during a meeting at work. I have had this thought more times than I’d care to recount – and every single time it occurs in my mind, another thought pops up immediately after: I wish I had more information. I wish I knew more about what I was getting in to.
During my time at the Rady School as an MBA student I learned the skills to take data and turn it into knowledge. Here are some things that stuck with me:
- I caught the data science bug from Thomas Roemer, our quantitative analysis professor at the time. I was inspired by his passion for pulling treasure out of data – trends, predictions, insights and a little more information to inform big decisions. Along with the spreadsheet wrangling skills I learned in his class, my time at Rady was filled with real support and encouragement from faculty to pursue my entrepreneurial visions.
- Alex Zak’s classes on business development were pivotal in my ability to build real partnerships with customers, vendors, and other companies.
- Leadership lessons with Wendeline de Zan still resonate in my mind and help guide me before I present to a large audience.
There were too many moments to count, too many fellow Rady students to name, and too many faculty and staff to mention here who have developed my skills and confidence as a strong and visionary business leader.
Some time after graduating from Rady, I exited the companies I had built and grown while I was a full-time MBA student. I moved to Costa Rica and began a journey where I worked and lived in 10 different countries over three years. Then in 2011, I moved back to the US and started a consulting business helping VCs, accelerators, incubators and angels support their portfolios of startups. In 2013, I was recruited into President Obama’s stealth startup – also known as the Presidential Innovation Fellowship – where I succeeded in demonstrating how open data could foster economic growth in the poorest countries of the world.
Through all these experiences and during times of anxiety and uncertainty, I found solace in seeking out data that told me a little more about what I was getting into. This is precisely the inspiration that led to my newest startup, Popily. Together with Chris Albon and Jonathon Morgan (my co-founders who also happen to be nationally renowned data scientists) we created a visual data exploration and storytelling technology.
As lofty as it may sound, it is this pursuit of knowledge to provide some comfort in life’s decisions, that drives me forward every day. This is why I started a data science company with my wonderful and hilarious co-founders: to create a tool for regular people to get insights from data quickly, without having to be an expert. I started it to help others know a little more about the great big unknowns and to provide some small comfort around those hundreds of decisions we make daily. Popily is still in beta and there is a long road ahead of us, but the path forward is clear. This is how I know to make the world a little less scary, a little more filled with optimism and to bring a little more magic and surprise into our human and corporate lives. That is why I started a data science startup.
As a teenager, Vidya Spandana (Full-Time MBA, ‘08) co-founded DMV.org, turning it into a multi-million dollar business by the time she earned her computer science and engineering degree.Vidya has since spent 15 years advising startups on strategic growth. In 2013, she became a Presidential Innovation Fellow and is the co-founder of Popily – a visual data exploration startup.