Cafe or Office Space?
Cafe or Office Space?
- Posted by Kaleigh
- On November 18, 2019
Joe Reis started climbing while in high school in Lander, Wyoming, surrounded by some of the best climbers in the world. He quickly became obsessed and even had a few sponsors. After visiting Salt Lake City during the Outdoor Retailer trade show (OR) over 20 years ago, he returned – planning to stay for only a few months – but never left.
Now, Joe and his business partner Matt Housley own and run Ternary Data out of the third floor of The Front, utilizing Rumsy’s and the free WiFi. Their company, with clients and partners such as Amazon and Google, helps organizations build solid data foundations, including proper data pipelines, stories, infrastructure and data science.
Continue reading to dive into their business model, climbing history and why they think Rumsy’s has the best food in Salt Lake City.
The Front Climbing Club: Where are you both from and how did you end up in Salt Lake City?
Matt Housley: I grew up in Tacoma in Washington state. I came here for college and grad school and have been here ever since.
Joe Reis: I’m originally from Omaha, by way of Lander, but ended up in Salt Lake on accident.
How and why did you get into climbing?
MH: I did some climbing in the early 2000s, but Joe has gotten me back into it. It doesn’t hurt that we work in a climbing gym now.
JR: Climbing was always a part of Lander, even before it became mainstream – it had NOLS and hard climbers like Greg Collins, Frank Dusl, Todd Skinner and Paul Piana. I became friends with Paul’s kid and helped them all with the climber’s festivals, which started while I was in high school. I kind of just grew up climbing in Todd’s garage on their woodie. We’d go bouldering in Sinks Canyon because we couldn’t afford a rope. It shaped me.
Do you remember when you first came to The Front and what that experience was like?
JR: I moved here in November of ‘98 and started going to the old Front at its Sandy location on 9000 S. It was cool, like a breath of fresh air. It was my first time being in an environment where bouldering was accepted.
I first started bouldering before it was a commercial thing, before crash pads became available. It was the sport you did when you were poor, crazy or a loner. But The Front had a true bouldering scene and was associated with companies like Pusher and Cordless. It was a cool time to move here and be a part of everything, because bouldering and climbing were coming to their own and there was a scene for it.
Can you describe your career path and how you arrived in your current field?
MH: I varied a lot before the data field. I started in physics and got a PhD in math and taught for a few years. Eventually, a friend kept bugging me about taking a data scientist job, so I got it.
JR: I started at the U as a mechanical engineering major but switched to and finished in math. I got a job in the early 2000s working in data and analytics. I always sought out those types of jobs, but I’m not sure why.
When did you decide to start your own company?
MH: About a year and a half ago. Joe had already been consulting on his own. Joe and I met through a mutual friend and started emailing.
JR: We realized we were doing the same thing and it just made more sense to join forces. Lots of companies weren’t doing what we were, which was data engineering. It was kind of a risk and the attitude toward it has changed now, but it used to be something akin to a glorified janitor.
Data is a huge topic these days. What does access to data now allow you to do that wasn’t possible 10 or more years ago?
JR: I think you have more flexibility now because data is democratized. And it’s a lot easier now to get insights and value from data. But it’s a lot easier to make mistakes, too.
Tooling and technology are better than they used to be – you can get technology at a fraction of the price you used to. In the past, you had to invest a lot of money. Now, you can just rent it out on the cloud for a few cents an hour. And machine learning is huge, too. You used to have to write everything yourself.
But the techniques haven’t changed much. We’re still using the same models as in the 50s.
Is data something all businesses should be thinking about and planning for?
MH: Data can help you, and your competitors are likely already using it.
JR: For most businesses, it would be a good idea to start thinking about it. Nowadays, everything in business is competitive. But you can leverage data to improve customer experiences. And it makes problem solving easier.
How would you describe Ternary Data?
JR: We help companies get more value from their data. Our approach is to focus on building solid foundations for companies. And our engagement model is quite interesting: “Coach the team. Advise the boss.”
It’s a two-prong approach – teach data teams how to be effective with best practices and skillsets while consulting and advising C-level executives on how to think about data and strategy.
Who are some of the companies you’re working with? Are they local or further afield?
JR: We work with a lot of companies that are headquartered in Utah but have a national presence. They range from smaller companies like The Front all the way to Google and Amazon. Everyone has the same problems [to solve].
What was the process like for working with larger companies?
MH: It’s all about reputation. We managed to build and work up our knowledge. It’s like a retail shop or club, like The Front. It’s about the services we offer.
JR: Overnight reputation takes a long time. It’s mostly related to word of mouth. Once we started working with Amazon, Google immediately began working with us, too.
Why run your business out of Rumsy’s and The Front’s third floor?
MH: Well, it started when we began emailing after our friend’s introduction. We initially met here to climb and work out, then sat in the courtyard because it was summer, and the weather was nice. Plus, Joe knows a lot of people here, and Rumsy’s is less crowded than most coffee shops and has car charging.
And the food! The tacos and beer are good!
JR: It’s kind of funny. We didn’t have any intention to work here. But for the cost of a monthly gym membership, we also had a decent space. And working out is key. We’re both pretty active, so it’s a good way to break up the day. Rather than drive from the office to the gym, make the gym your office.
And the food is great! The burritos are the best in town!! They can be made however you want, and it’s the most bang for your buck.
How do clients like Google react when you have meetings at the gym or when you tell them where your office is?
MH: The tech industry can be weird – you can show up in a suit and khaki pants and people might think you don’t know anything. But you also don’t want to look like a total shlub. We balance that – people think we must know what we’re talking about. Sometimes we’ll be on a video call and someone will be leading and take a whip behind us – it’s so funny.
JR: People get a kick out of it! It’s kind of become our shtick. Tech companies are building climbing gyms in their offices, but we’re already here. Sometimes Google asks us if it’s an OK time to talk because we’re climbing. Or sometimes I’ll be on the auto-belay with a business call in my ear. It’s awesome.
Maybe it’s a stretch, but do you apply any lessons learned in the vertical world to your business practices?
MH: In climbing, you must persevere and problem solve, which is what we get paid to do. We’ll enter a business, find a problem and solve it, then hand it off to the team.
JR: Bouldering has always been part of my existence and how I execute on things tends to be reflective of that. Ternary Data solves problems no one else seems to solve. We help people get unstuck. Like in bouldering, we’re creative and think outside of the box.
Do you have any advice for budding entrepreneurs?
MH: Don’t get an office. You don’t need one. Start light and live lean. Like climbing, you must focus on long-term perseverance. You might not be able to do a 5.8 right away but keep at it.
This business is the same way – you start out not making money because you don’t have a reputation, but you work away at it.
JR: Everything will take two or three times longer than you think. There’s no secret to be an entrepreneur, you just have to put in the hard work. You’ll get discouraged and want to quit, but that’s totally natural.
Warren Buffet once said it’s a “combination of hard work and removing ignorance.” Well, after a span of many decades you become less ignorant. We make a lot of mistakes but we’re good at not doing those things again.
And have humility – you’ll get your ass kicked. Like bouldering hard problems, you just have to stick with it.
For more information about Matt, Joe and their company, visit Ternary Data’s website.
This interview has been edited for grammar and brevity.
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