What was the scope of their involvement?
We have a very complex production data environment that's been built over 25 years. It's pretty expansive and had three big benchmarks.
The first thing we did is reverse-engineer that environment into a new production environment, which includes a full-blown SQL formal production environment that’s Microsoft product-based. Instead of a highly normalized environment, it was set up and modeled for BI.
The second part was to spool up the Power BI platform, which is a new product for Microsoft, including each of the components with the combination of the desktop, web services, and the phone app.
The third part was to create a new web environment that combined both highly customized solutions and a bunch of complex calculations, and also leveraged the Azure cloud as well as the Power BI embedded component. This allows you to create these data- and visual-rich solutions that can be monitored in real-time and then publish into your own web environment.
First of all, the data was really complex, so to reverse-engineer that took an enormous effort. Then to start operating out of the Power BI platform—which is very new—it didn't really stabilize for a year. We were about six months into it when we started developing it. Then they had to take all of that and have it operate in our own web environment using some of the embedded components that Microsoft offers through Azure.
Not a lot of people had done this. We had to solve for all sorts of issues, how to control the API, and program around different things. They're constantly evolving it, and it's evolving very rapidly. A lot of things that we developed, they actually came out with a few months later.
How did you come to work with Hvantage?
I worked with Krishna Baderia at Countrywide. We built a very large and sophisticated commercial real estate platform. This was a platform where we had 200 people, 15 offices, a billion dollars a month in production, and $200 million in revenue. It involved all sorts of complex financial engineering/modeling. It had very large positions: our average derivative position was $8 billion, and loans and bonds were something like $3 billion to $3.5 billion.
This is a company that we built. We went from $0 to $200 million in three and a half years. We were working 12 to 14 hours a day. My partner and I built these tools from scratch, mostly coding really sophisticated Excel spreadsheets. We needed these tools to be on a better platform with formal code, certainly something that was compiled, because it was doing a ton of work involving really complex calculations.
Krishna came to work, and he was our sole resource. Without any formal training (compared to us with a lot of years of experience, advanced knowledge, and advanced math degrees), he was able to do all of it with almost no assistance, which is crazy good. He took all of that and put it into a formal production model, coded it in C, and did all sorts of connectivity from simple services, web services, and APIs. Basically, he took our highly functioning prototype tools and put it into a secure production environment. He was able to do that. He certainly got a lot of help from us, but he was able to advance the ball on his own and figure stuff out at a rate that was really special. He instantly became one of our favorite people of all time.
So when he started Hvantage, he contacted me. I tried to hire him at my former firm, but I didn't have a spot and I already had a full team. I build trading desks and manage tradings, but I also help with a lot of strategic initiatives and with building business startups. Inevitably, that requires building out some interesting technology. When I came here and I had an opportunity, he was the first person I called.
How much have you invested with Hvantage?
It was about $20,000 a month.
What is the status of this engagement?
The contract is a year and a half old now. It's ongoing. They've been tremendous at figuring it out and finding a way to accomplish all the things. It sounds like a simple scope, but the product is this really sophisticated website that is getting sales and trading information throughout the day about what their customers are doing and opportunities that they have. We're now evolving a fully-integrated solution to do the round trip ticketing.