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Bringing Perspective and Conviction to Data with Elizabeth Cholawsky, the Chief Executive Officer of HG Insights

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In our universe, there are 200 billion trillion stars. That number is unfathomable to the human brain. The 200 part is something for the mind to try to hold onto, but a billion trillion… no way… we can’t do it. For atoms in the observable universe, the number is somewhere in the range of ten quadrillion vigintillion to one-hundred thousand quadrillion vigintillion atoms. That’s inconceivable (not to mention super hard to say).

There’s a lot of information in our own universe; let alone other universes. We can call all of this data, and at this point, we’re all aware of the potential value of data. But data without perspective is totally useless. HG Insights has always been keenly aware of this truth. Realizing the value of HG Insights’ in offering a unique perspective on troves of data, Elizabeth Cholawsky joined the company and fearlessly took it on a different path. 

But what made Cholawsky stick to her guns and how did she hone her convictions to transition the company toward providing technical intelligence and solutions for the big brain problems? Find out on this episode of Business X factors.

Main takeaways: 

  • Stick to Your Conviction: Business leaders often run into opposition when they want to take the company or a business into a new direction. But sticking to your convictions and honing them throughout your career could lead to surprising results. When Walt Disney planned a full-length animated feature after two successful cartoon series, it was called “Disney Folly” with many detractors believing it would destroy the studio. He pushed forward, running out of money, but ended up taking home an Oscar for Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs and a whole new segment of the movie industry was created. 
  • Get Fired at Least Once: When you walk out with a measly box of goods you accumulated in the office or worse that has been handed to you at reception because you weren’t allowed back in the office building; it can be hard to get over the feelings of rejection and shame. But staying In jobs that you may be unsuited for or where you have a toxic manager and live in fear of being fired is not good for anybody. Leaving or being fired may open new horizons and most importantly you will get stronger with every transition — getting fired could be an inoculation against fear. Getting terminated because you stuck to your convictions or values could be empowering even if it does not feel like that at that moment. 
  • A Big Brain Approach to Problem-solving. For many companies finding a solution to problems means honing in on a narrow set of data or information. In their book, Bulletproof Problem Solving: the One Skill that Changes Everything, Rob McLean and Charles Conn advocate a wider and more comprehensive approach to problem solving. They use the example of obesity, where it has been hard to find the right intervention. In their research, they did not merely look at calorie intake, income, and education, but also wider to something that nobody was talking about, and that was walkability. They spotted that calorific use in Japan was lower because of the structure of their cities – walking to the train station and to the office, which introduced a new set of data that nobody thought about and a major opportunity for cities to rethink their design

Key Quotes:

“I really got very interested in how data-driven decision-making can change things for the better. So really starting in college, I studied, conflict resolution and I was already working on statistical models in the social science arena… So, by the time the CIA recruited me, I had really proven that interest and a little bit of expertise. It takes persistence to write a dissertation. And so they recruited me with the promise that the CIA and the intelligence agencies are a lot more data-driven than opinion-driven. And that was really, really attractive to me and proved true.”

“We solve the harder problems. If you look at the Rev Tech industry, you’ve got a lot of players that are looking to provide contact information, to provide lead generation services there, hundreds of companies down there, very good companies, just basic company information. So, it’s all about execution, but there’s all the planning and optimization work that goes on also. And those kinds of problems are much harder to solve.”

“You need the big brain to solve those problems and the feet and arms can take care of the execution. The bet we made was to stick in the brain area and solve the harder problems. You do need to have a really end-to-end view of what’s going on with your particular market and your particular go-to-market and your particular products to be able to solve those problems.”  

“I canceled a quarter of a million-dollar contract with nothing to replace it. We were still at the time like 45 people, and I was new to the board and it’s like, you got to trust me on this one. This’ll be okay over time, but we’ve got to make a stand here on our beliefs that this is a different industry going forward.”

“You asked me at the beginning of this, how did I decide on these big bets. You’ve got to hone your conviction meter, and get fired for the right reason, knowing that you have a conviction that could have helped that company do better than it is and sticking to your guns there. You gotta push the envelope and getting fired is, I guess, the ultimate pushing the envelope and you see just how far you can go, but I wouldn’t do it very often, right? So, just once it’s important.

Bio:

Elizabeth Cholawsky is the Chief Executive of HGInsights, a Santa Barbara company. Since joining the company in 2018, HGInsights has experienced double-digit revenue growth every year, turning profitable in 2019. It attracted a major investment from River Capital in 2020. Cholawky’s first job after completing her Ph.D. at the University of Minnesota was at the CIA, where she was hired as a quantitative methodologist. She had several other positions in the commercial world in marketing development, product management and product-related business development which included stints at Conversant and Move Inc before she joined Citrix where she was responsible for the GoToMyPC and GoToAssist businesses. Before joining HGInsights, she was the President and CEO of Support.com where she led a turnaround strategy for the company. Cholawsky has won several Stevie Awards, first at Citrix and subsequently at HGInsights.

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Episode 31