To keep up to date with all of the latest news in SaaS, sign up here.
Most, if not all, intelligent business decisions are backed up by reliable data. The ability of a business to collect, present and analyze its data is often directly related to its ability to capitalize on it. In today’s business world, there are more opportunities to gather data than ever, and companies need efficient tools to ensure they are making the most of it.
Peter Fishman co-founded Mozart Data to help businesses make these pursuits more accessible. With a start in academia, it wasn’t always a sure bet that he would reach this destination, but after decades of work in data infrastructure, Fishman was ready for a venture of his own.
Co-Founding Mozart Data
Fishman co-founded Mozart Data with the help of his friend Dan Silberman, who he met nearly 20 years before they began working on Mozart Data. The two crossed paths in college, with Fishman sharing that, “I did a Ph.D. in economics, but ultimately found my way to an application of the statistics in technology.” They both worked in the data space for some time afterward, but their first business venture together was not related to the tech space. “We ended up founding a hot sauce company together,” Fishman says. (The world’s first bacon-flavored hot sauce, to be precise.) A fun side project for the two.
At the time, they were both working in the data space, and the idea for Mozart came after the duo realized they were responsible for the same centralization of data at every company they were working for. Finally, they asked themselves, “Why don’t we turn ourselves into a service?”
“We wanted to take the field that we were real experts in, and rather than going to another company and put in the same infra, we thought we could do that at scale by building Mozart Data,” Fishman says.
So, with this idea starting to form, how did Fishman move forward with solidifying the business plan? Well, it turns out that his motivation came from an event that was a turning point for many people around the world: The COVID-19 Pandemic.
“I have to say that the pandemic was one of these things that was horrendous for humanity, but it did do a couple of things for me personally and professionally, which was massively focus my energies towards what was really important.” Fishman then brings up an idea which he refers to as “working your way down the ladder” that he feels many people in the tech and/or startup space can relate to.
“Being able to add value to a hundred-thousand-person company, then a thousand-person company, then a hundred-person company, then a 10-person company, then a one-person company.” After his experience working in data with various companies, gradually working his way down the ladder, he would finally be in a position to provide value to a two-person venture, when Mozart Data was founded in April 2020.
“The story isn’t really that crazy,” Fishman says. He and Silberman sat down and thought about what they would miss from their previous work and what they could carry forward in their new company. “We’d really missed some of the infrastructures that we’d built, or that we both independently built, that would help you clean your data.”
That was how Mozart Data began, focusing on data cleaning, but they would change course as they observed the market and realized there was a demand for more. “We wanted to make a complete all-in-one platform, which people were pulling for that had the key elements of the cleaning product we cared about.”
Providing Key Business Insights – The Function of Mozart Data
“The easiest description is, we are your data infrastructure or your data pipelines,” Fishman explains. “We help extract and load data from different SaaS tools, databases, and CSV files, bring them to a central warehouse, under the hood, and ultimately help you clean it and transform it.” From there, Fishman describes how this data offers businesses insight into their decisions and helps them understand how they can interpret their data most effectively.
Many people that aren’t as intimately connected to the data space and the logistics involved may only think of data as the chart that is produced at the end, the graph showing a very neat and organized overview. But there are a lot of steps before you get to that point, and that is what Mozart Data takes care of.
“We really help you get your data in the type of shape that’ll be usable at the company in ways that help you understand…we help you build your data model.”
Fishman emphasizes how important it is to link up with the right partner when founding a company. “Dan and I, we like to say we both dated around; we both were talking to a few other folks at the time. What we found was that we both gravitated toward each other.”
Mainly due to the restrictions in place from the Pandemic, the co-founders didn’t meet up in person for the entire first year of Mozart Data’s existence. This meant that the back and forth that many co-founders might experience during the beginning of a company was not doable, the two largely iterated separately from each other, which provided another challenge to the founding of the company.
The next big lesson Fishman was confronted with was how non-linear progression is for starting up a company, and he used his graduate school education as an example. “When you’re going through school or college, you make sort of linear progress. You learn a bunch of stuff, you take a test, and at the end, you get your test results back. And that means you’ve learned something, or you haven’t learned something.” However, he feels that graduate school and starting up a company present a different path forward.
“In graduate school… you’re trying to think about a problem, and you can work on that for hours or days or weeks or months or even years and ultimately make no progress on it. It’s quite challenging and it’s very similar to startup.” So, where some problems have very clear metrics for progress and success, Fishman feels that founding a company is much more abstract. “It’s not like, okay, I went to work for 40 hours this week…and now the company is 40 hours better. That is not how it goes. Typically I went for 40 hours this week, and in 12 of those minutes, I made a huge gain; for 30 of those hours, most of that time was wasted, and for the rest of that time, maybe something useful was pushed forward.”
This has led Fishman to conclude that managing your mentality and understanding that progress will be non-linear is most important. You have to be realistic and understand that while all your work hours are important to contributing to your final goal, they may not all feel as momentous.
Reaching the Target Audience Early On
Fishman explains the big difference between companies launching consumer products and B2B products. “For consumer products, you have to launch and get countless numbers of customers to be meaningful and important. For B2B products, a successful company after their first year might be able to count their customers on their hands.” Fishman understood this starting out, and so the first goal of Mozart was “going from zero to one” and finding that first customer.
Fortunately, Fishman and Mozart Data are graduates of Y Combinator, and with that foundation, they were able to have 3 customers six months into the company’s lifespan. These and other connections would continue to be incredibly important for Mozart Data and are what Fishman describes as one of the key elements of their early reach. “We cheated. A lot of our initial customer base, that first handful of customers, were people that we knew from past lives.” Both Dan and Fishman would communicate with previous team members and collaborators, offering their services at no charge just to get a foot in the door.
While this networking effort was important, Fishman still identifies that there was another, and perhaps even more significant contributor to their early reach. They were “hyper-focused”, and following a mantra they learned through Y Combinator, “Do things that don’t scale.”
For Mozart Data, this meant when they were working for other companies they would focus on key questions and ask how they could address these issues moving forward with their business. “What is it that they cared about? What did they want? What were their company requirements? What did they ultimately want out of the product? What were the end uses? That would tell us a little bit about the types of data we would need to support the types of data we need to ultimately bring to their warehouse.”
For other founders looking to find a way to identify their customers, Fishman would advise that you “cheat” and leverage your network while doing the work that doesn’t scale, and finding the key issues that your company needs to solve.
Who Has Mozart Data Affected with Their Work so Far?
While you can check out some case studies on Mozart Data here, Fishman cites a few specific instances where he knows Mozart made a difference. “Greenfield’s going into their data sets and really starting to derive some key insights typically by an operator. “But even more particularly, Fishman talks about the different features that Mozart provides.
“One is the technology side, which would be the real ability to spin up in an hour, what otherwise would take months.” Fishman describes how this helps people avoid the excuse of them not having the time for this level of data organization. The second thing that Fishman mentions, is removing data engineering challenges, to enable operators to work more efficiently.
“Some companies, they might have a very smart, talented data savvy operator that doesn’t have the data engineering chops and maybe not even the data cleaning and data analytical chops, but what you see is that as they get into the data, they sort of force themselves to really pick up some of these best practices.” The Mozart Blog is noted as an important source of content that helps these operators uncover these practices (otherwise they can learn through intense trial and error).
“I’ve seen a number of operators at companies transform into really powerful data analysts. So in addition to having those operation skills, they’ve really been able to add not just basic data analytics, not just the ability to analyze data from a single source…but the ability to really have a full data analyst toolbox and have that drive their business.”
What Is Fishman’s Advice for Those Looking to Start Their Own Software Business?
“Well, the first is, to buckle up.” Fishman references the current state of the economy and how it has made many things more challenging, especially raising money. However, when it comes to software businesses, Fishman also notes that they can be bootstrapped to a degree with scaling up and then being assisted by investors. This can still be tricky, however. “The problem is that investors no longer write blank checks to folks looking to start software businesses, you have to get to more historical norms…prove that there is a business there.”
When it comes to starting a software business in the current market, Fishman recommends a piece of advice that may be cliché at this point, but rings true nonetheless, “Make something that people want.” When the market is flush with funding, it is much easier to sell people on any number of services, even the stuff that may be a luxury. But with the current climate, Fishman suggests you consider what’s at the core of people’s needs, that way your service is a more justifiable expense for businesses.
How Should Businesses Determine Their Pricing?
The pricing model for Mozart Data has pivoted several times already. According to Fishman, pricing is not something companies should expect to nail down perfectly on the first go. One of the most important trends that is affecting pricing today, according to Fishman, is the number of ways that companies can offer low-cost options and trial periods.
“In SaaS today, you generally have to show value before you necessarily make, maybe not a single dollar, but before you make your real margins.” In previous years, software was something you bought sight unseen, through the trust of the brand or word of mouth, now companies can offer freemium packages and trials to allow businesses to preview a service before they commit fully. Mozart Data follows this philosophy as well, but after the upfront trial period, Fishman turns to the idea of “usage-based” pricing.
“A decade ago, you would have to buy a certain amount of capacity, and you would plunk down hundreds of thousands of dollars, and maybe hire a few engineers just to get started. So, your bill might be seven figures just to get data infrastructure started. Today, for the most part, with a tool like Mozart…you can swipe a credit card and it’ll cost you a couple bucks.”
For Fishman and Mozart Data, while they wanted to do something new in the data infrastructure space, they didn’t feel the need to put too much energy into changing how they would bill and charge customers. “We wanted to reinvent the wheel on how companies essentially get started with their data infrastructure, how quickly they could spin that up… what we didn’t want to revolutionize, was how to bill for data infrastructure.”
So, for companies looking to establish their billing, consider where your energies should lie, and if existing models find success, then feel free to emulate them in your business.
What Has Been Most Valuable in Growing the Company?
Many people have great ideas, and when founding a company, they have a vision of their end goal; they see the future of their success. But to get there, you have to grow from humble beginnings, and sometimes branching out can be more challenging than it seems. For Fishman and Mozart Data, one of the most important initiatives is to “Be everywhere.”
“We write content; I do a lot of blogs, podcasts, interviews, you name it.”
Mozart Data also frequently hosts seminars with startup accelerators, and they have a referral system to help existing clients bring in new ones. But most importantly, Mozart Data is focused on making sure the customers they do have feel cared for and appreciated. While attracting many customers is great, the real value is being able to serve the customers they have extraordinarily. “A couple of our customers really love us, and that’s evident in retention metrics and qualitative metrics, like their feedback and the case studies.”
What’s next for Fishman and Mozart Data?
When looking ahead, Fishman tells me, “What’s next? More of the same.”
In the data space, development and innovation are constantly ongoing. So, at Mozart Data, they continuously evaluate their relevance to their core customer base and see where they can evolve to serve current and future customers better.
In April 2022, the company announced it had raised $15 million in Series A funding led by Craft Ventures with participation from Goldcrest Capital, Spearhead, Apollo Projects, and Valor Equity Partners. Since raising its seed round in 2020, Mozart Data has had more than a 500% increase in annual recurring revenue. The new round of funding will help Mozart Data hone in on its current product while introducing additional offerings, such as the ability to support customers with existing Snowflake databases.
Their next big initiative? “Modularizing Mozart. What that means is that maybe you’ve already started down the path of building your data infrastructure. Instead of forcing the entirety of the stack on you, which is a big value prop, if you’ve got nothing, it’s incredible to go from zero to data stack in under an hour. That value prop becomes less and less as you move upstream and have some of the pieces or invest in those pieces. So, the ability to plug in parts of the Mozart Data stack, to accelerate the missing pieces, is the thing that we’re most looking forward to.”
But outside of the practical and technical pieces, there is something even more critical to Fishman, “Ultimately, the thing we constantly want is to get that knowing smile on people’s faces as they’ve figured out something in their data and then have seen their position within the company and within their career really accelerate through that added skillset.”
Stay up to date with Fishman and Mozart Data.
Don’t forget you can subscribe for free to read the full SaaS Mag, including interviews with Asana COO Chris Farinacci, Tomasz Tunguz, and more…