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Minimalist Approach to Business

In our Value Proposition page, we talk about the transition of data science and computation from big to small; from big mainframes to small laptops; from big companies to small teams. Rajdeep and Jamie have both worked for big companies. They decided, together, to build a small company, and one that doesn't wish to be big because with the transformation that has taken place in computation, the things we want to do can best be done small. Stay small. Stay effective. Stay crucial. This minimalism is not easy. It's the more difficult way. Our School of Hard Knocks talks about the difference between ease and simplicity and the difference between difficulty and complexity, and how these things fit into a Minimalist perspective.

Eliminate the Unnecessary, Focus on what Remains
We were inspired by a 2014 TEDx talk by Ryan Nicodemus and Joshua Fields Millburn called A Rich Life with Less Stuff, which espouses a minimalist way of life. Their punchline is that when you eliminate all of the things that aren't really necessary, you have more time to focus on everything that remains. When we applied that to our business, what remained was good computational science, good software construction, and continuous learning. That's what we love to do. It hadn't really registered before, but when we subtracted all of the things that aren't really necessary, we realized that those were the things consuming most of our time when we worked for big companies. In the big company days, on Friday afternoon you might have found us doing mandatory corporate compliance training. Today, you are likely to find us at a university colloquium on optimal control theory. It's still training, but now we're training up on what we feel is our core. Now, you are likely to find us at a coffeehouse on Saturday morning trying to figure out new multicore methods for solving differential equations. Our big company bosses would have considered that goofing off; we consider that working on the essentials. The sad part is that in a twisted sense, our big company bosses were right. In the big company, different things become essential. For them, the piles and piles of compliance training probably were essential. But not for us. And for the big company, finding better ways to do computation probably was goofing off. But not for us. Better computation is our essential!

YouTube Video

We don't know how to build a big company that remains effective and responsive. We don't think anyone does. But we have seen that bureaucracies are both self-perpetuating and obstructive, even when they don't want to be. We don't have a special guy to fix our computers. We fix them ourselves. And because we don't have that special guy, we also don't have anyone telling us what software we can and can't use, or closing off network ports that we need to do our work, or managing white lists of the web sites we can access, and so on. We think not having that guy is a big net positive for us. Bigger companies with more people and higher turnover may need that guy. They may employ people who don't know how to administer account permissions on a Unix-based computer. They may even have to employ people that they don't fully trust. But that's not our company, so we don't need that guy.

No Chartjunk
Our minimalist approach gives us a ruthless view of overhead. We are not against process, but any process that takes time or costs money needs to justify itself. Any deliverable that we agree to do needs to be worth doing. We are not against travel, but it needs to be something we can't do with Google Hangout. We are not against professional media services, but if we use them, they have to convey our message and it needs to be a part of our message that we cannot convey ourselves.  Moreover, it's about being useful rather than slick. Perhaps the best description of this is what Edward Tufte calls the "Data-Ink ratio", which is essentially the fraction of the lines on a chart that carry information. Tufte calls a line that doesn't carry information "chartjunk". We know that it is impossible to eliminate all chartjunk, and we know that we are guilty of creating chartjunk in places. But at least our minimalist motives force us to be conscious of chartjunk so that we can decide whether that chartjunk is worth keeping. Sometimes more importantly, our minimalist motives force us to decide whether that chartjunk is worth getting rid of! We make these decisions not just with chartjunk in our charts, but also in our communications with customers, and in our business overall. 

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