Oct 13, 2021
Imke Feldmann is among the first few to have recognized the incredible value and potential of this thing called Power Pivot in Excel (which was the precursor to Power BI). And did she ever run with it, launching quite the successful solo consultancy and training service! She exemplifies the helpful nature of the data community through her blog, The BIccountant, where she shares her amazing Microsoft BI tool knowledge.
Her background is in Finance and Accounting, but you'll quickly realize she knows a great deal more than just Finance and Accounting!
References in this Episode:
Rob Collie (00:00:00):
Hello friends. Today's guest is Imke Feldmann. We've been working for a long time, nearly a year to arrange the schedules to get her on the show, and I'm so glad that we finally managed to do it. For a moment, imagine that it's 2010, 2011, that era. During that timeframe, I felt not quite alone, but a member of a very slowly growing and small community of people who had glimpsed what Power Pivot could do. And for those of you who don't know what Power Pivot is, and that was the version of Power BI, the first version that was embedded only in Excel. And at the time, the way the community grew, we'll use a metaphor for this. Imagine that the community was a map of the world and the map is all dark, but slowly, you'd see these little dim lights lighting up like one over here in the UK, one in the Southwest corner of the United States, very faintly.
Rob Collie (00:00:51):
And these would be people who were just becoming aware of this thing, this Power Pivot thing, and you'd watch them. They'd sort of show up on the radar, very tentatively at first kind of dipping their toe, and then that light would get brighter, and brighter, and brighter over time, as they really leaned in, and they learned more and more, and they became more adept at it. And this was the way things went for a long time. And then in 2011, out of nowhere in Germany on the map, this light comes on at full intensity, brightly declaring itself as super talented and powerful. And that was what it felt like to come across Imke Feldmann.
Rob Collie (00:01:27):
Like all of our guests, there's a little bit of that accidental path in her career, but also a tremendous sense of being deliberate. When this stuff crossed her radar, she appreciated it immediately. And I didn't know this until this conversation, but she quit her corporate job in 2013, the same year that I founded P3 as a real company, and became a freelancer. So for eight plus years, she has been a full time Power BI professional. There truly aren't that many people who can say that in the world. Our conversation predictably wandered. At one point, we got pretty deep into the notion of M and Power Query and it's screaming need for more buttons on its ribbon. And Imke has some fantastic ideas on how they should be addressing that.
Rob Collie (00:02:14):
We also, of course, naturally talked about the differences between remaining a solo freelancer as she has, in contrast to the path that I chose, which is scaling up a consulting practice business. Along the way we reprised the old and completely pointless debate of DAX versus M, I even try to get Tom hooked on M as his new obsession. We'll see how well that goes. Most importantly though, it was just a tremendous pleasure to finally get to talk to Imke at length for the first time after all these years, we literally crossed paths 10 years ago. So it was a conversation 10 years in the making compress down to an hour and change. I hope you enjoy it as much as we did, so let's get into it.
Ladies and gentlemen, may I have your attention, please?
This is The Raw Data by P3 Adaptive podcast, with your host Rod Collie, and your cohost Thomas LaRock. Find out what the experts at P3 Adaptive can do for your business. Just go to P3adaptive.com. Raw Data by P3 Adaptive is data with the human element.
Rob Collie (00:03:24):
Welcome to the show Imke Feldmann. How are you today?
Imke Feldmann (00:03:27):
Thank you, Rob. Great. It's a great day here over in Germany.
Rob Collie (00:03:30):
We have been talking about doing this for the better part of a year. So I'm glad that we're landing the guest, Imke is here. I really appreciate you doing this. So why don't we start with the basics. What are you up to these days? What do you do for a living?
Imke Feldmann (00:03:48):
I have people building great Power BI solutions these days.
Rob Collie (00:03:55):
Imke Feldmann (00:03:55):
That's how I fill my days.
Rob Collie (00:03:58):
I hear that that's a good business.
Imke Feldmann (00:03:58):
Yeah, it is.
Rob Collie (00:04:03):
So, and your website is?
Imke Feldmann (00:04:06):
Rob Collie (00:04:07):
Is that what you are on Twitter as well?
Imke Feldmann (00:04:08):
Yes. That's also my Twitter handle theBIccountant without an A in the middle. I just replaced the A from accountant with a BI.
Rob Collie (00:04:17):
There you go.
Imke Feldmann (00:04:18):
Rob Collie (00:04:18):
That's right. So that means that I'm going to make a tremendous leap here, wait till you see these powers of observation and deduction. You must have an accounting background?
Imke Feldmann (00:04:29):
I do, yes.
Rob Collie (00:04:30):
See you look at that. That's why I make the money. Okay, let's start there, was accounting your first career out of school?
Imke Feldmann (00:04:39):
Yes. I went to university and studied some economics or business stuff there, they'll know it's translated into English. And then I worked as a business controller. After that, I took over a job to lead a bookkeeping departments or to work with an area where the numbers came from basically. And then after that, I worked as the finance director, where I was responsible for a whole bunch of areas, controlling bookkeeping, IT, HR, and production. So that was quite a job with a broad range of responsibilities.
Rob Collie (00:05:18):
So you mentioned, kind of slipped IT into that list, right?
Imke Feldmann (00:05:23):
Rob Collie (00:05:23):
There's all these things in that list of responsibilities that all seemed they belong together, right? Bookkeeping, accounting, control or finance, IT. We've run into this before, with actually a number of people, that a lot of times the accounting or finance function in a company kind of wins the job of IT by default.
Imke Feldmann (00:05:45):
Yeah. It seems quite common in Germany, at least I would say.
Rob Collie (00:05:48):
I get multiple examples, but one that I can absolutely point to is Trevor Hardy from the Canadian Football League, he is in accounting, accounting and finance. And just by default, well, that's close to computers.
Imke Feldmann (00:06:00):
Rob Collie (00:06:01):
And so it just kind of pulls the IT function in. Now is that true at really large organizations in Germany or is it a mid market thing?
Imke Feldmann (00:06:09):
No I would say a mid market thing.
Rob Collie (00:06:12):
That's true here too. So when there isn't an IT org yet it ends up being, oftentimes it falls to the finance and accounting function. Hey, that's familiar. It's kind of funny when you think about it, but it's familiar. And isn't finance itself pretty different from accounting? How much of a leap is that? What was that transition like for you taking over the finance function as well? We tend to talk about these things, at least in the US, is like almost like completely separate functions at times.
Imke Feldmann (00:06:43):
It depends, but at least it had something to do with my former education, which wasn't the case with IT. So, I mean, of course on a certain management level, you are responsible for things that you're not necessarily familiar with in detail. You just have to manage the people that know the details and do the jobs for you. So that was not too big an issue I must admit.
Rob Collie (00:07:10):
My first job out of school was Microsoft, an organization of that size, I was hyper specialized in terms of what I did. At this company at P, we are nowhere near that scale, and there's a lot more of that multiple hat wearing. I've definitely been getting used to that over the last decade, the first decade plus of my career, not so much.
Imke Feldmann (00:07:31):
Yeah. That's interesting because I basically went completely the other way around. I see myself now as working as a technical specialist and as a freelancer, I don't have to manage any employees anymore.
Rob Collie (00:07:47):
Well, so now you wear all the hats?
Imke Feldmann (00:07:49):
Yes. In a certain way, yes.
Rob Collie (00:07:51):
Okay. There's no HR department necessarily, right, so it's just you. But marketing, sales, delivery, everything.
Imke Feldmann (00:08:01):
Yep, that's true. Yep. And when I first started, I tried to do everything by myself, but the test changed as well. So in the past I started to outsource more things, but to external companies, not internal staff.
Rob Collie (00:08:17):
So you're talking about outsourcing certain functions in your current business, is that correct?
Imke Feldmann (00:08:22):
Rob Collie (00:08:22):
So it's interesting, right? Even that comes with tremendous risk when you delegate a certain function to an outside party whose incentives and interests they are never going to be 100% aligned with yours. Even we have been taken for a ride multiple times by third-party consulting firms that we've hired to perform certain functions for us.
Imke Feldmann (00:08:46):
Oh, no I don't outsource and your services that I directly provide to my clients.
Rob Collie (00:08:49):
Oh, no, no.
Imke Feldmann (00:08:50):
Rob Collie (00:08:50):
No, we don't either. But I'm saying for example, our Salesforce implementation for instance-
Imke Feldmann (00:08:56):
Okay, mm-hmm (affirmative).
Rob Collie (00:08:57):
... Has been a tremendous money sink for us over the years. Where we're at is good, but the ROI on that spend has been pretty poor. It's really easy to throw a bunch of money at that and it just grinds and grinds and grinds. And so this contrast that I'm getting around to is really important because that's not what it's like to be a good Power BI consultant, right? You're not that kind of risk for your clients. But if you go out and hire out some sort of IT related services for example, like Salesforce development, we're exposed to that same sort of drag you out into the deep water and drown you business model, that's not how we operate. I'm pretty sure that's not how you operate either. And so anyway, when you start talking about outsourcing, I just thought, oh, we should probably talk about that. Have you outsourced anything for your own sort of back office?
Imke Feldmann (00:09:52):
Back office stuff, yeah. My blog, WordPress stuff, or computer stuff in the background. So security [inaudible 00:09:59] the stuff and things like that, things that are not my core, I hire consultants to help me out with things that I would formally Google, spend hours Googling with.
Rob Collie (00:10:09):
Imke Feldmann (00:10:10):
Now I just hire consultants to do that. Or for example, for Power Automate, this is something that I wanted to learn and I saw the big potential for clients. And there I also did private training basically, or coaching, or how you called it, hire specialists.
Rob Collie (00:10:27):
To kind of getting you going?
Imke Feldmann (00:10:29):
Rob Collie (00:10:30):
And those things that you've outsourced for your back office, have there been any that felt like what I described you end up deep in the spend and deepen the project going, "What's going on here?"
Imke Feldmann (00:10:41):
I'm usually looking for freelancers on that. And I made quiet good experiences with it, I must say.
Rob Collie (00:10:49):
Well done. Well done. All right. So let's rewind a bit, we'll get to the point where you're in charge of the finance department, which of course includes IT.
Imke Feldmann (00:10:58):
Not necessarily so. I felt quite sad for the guys who I had to manage because I said, "Well, I'm really sorry, but you will hear a lot of questions from me, especially at the beginning of our journey," because I had to learn so much in order to be a good manager for them. So that was quite different situation compared to the management roles in finance that I had before, because there I had the impression that I knew something, but IT was basically blank.
Rob Collie (00:11:30):
I would imagine that that experience turned out to be very important, the good cross pollination, the exposure to the IT function and sort of like seeing it from their side of the table, how valuable is that turned out to be for your career?
Imke Feldmann (00:11:45):
I think it was a good learning and really interesting experience for me just to feel comfortable with saying that I have no clue and ask the people how things work and just feel relaxed about not being the expert in a certain area and just be open to ask, to get a general understanding of things.
Rob Collie (00:12:09):
That's definitely the way to do it, is to be honest and transparent and ask all the questions you need to do. It's easier said than done. I think a lot of people feel the need to bluff in those sorts of situations. And that usually comes back to haunt them, not always.
Imke Feldmann (00:12:25):
No, that's true.
Rob Collie (00:12:27):
Some people do get away with it, which is a little sad. So at what point did you discover Power BI?
Imke Feldmann (00:12:35):
I didn't discover Power BI, I discovered Power Pivot, for your blog of course.
Rob Collie (00:12:41):
Imke Feldmann (00:12:43):
Yes, yes, yes, yes. I think it was in, must be 2011, something like that.
Rob Collie (00:12:50):
Imke Feldmann (00:12:51):
Yeah. Quite early. When I was building a multidimensional cube with a freelancer for our finance department, then I was just searching a bit what is possible, how we should approach this and things like that. So we started with multi-dimensional cube because that was something where I could find literature about and also find experts who could have me building that. But when doing so, I really liked the whole experience and it was a really excellent project that I liked very much. And so I just searched around in the internet and tried to find out what's going on in that area. And this is where I discovered your blog.
Rob Collie (00:13:35):
I have no idea. First of all, I had no idea that my old blog was where you first crossed paths with this.
Imke Feldmann (00:13:42):
I think [inaudible 00:13:43].
Rob Collie (00:13:44):
And secondly, I had no idea that it was that early. I mean, I remember when you showed up on the radar, Scott [inaudible 00:13:51] had discovered your blog and said, "Hey, Rob, have you seen this? Have you seen what she is doing? She is amazing." That wasn't 2011, that was a little bit later. I don't remember when but...
Imke Feldmann (00:14:06):
No, I think we've met first. I think we met on the Mr. XR Forum on some crazy stuff I did there. I cannot even remember what that was, but I started blogging in 2015 and we definitely met before.
Rob Collie (00:14:21):
That's what it was. It was the forums. And Scott was the one that had stumbled upon what you were doing there and brought my attention to it. I was like, whoa. It was like...
Imke Feldmann (00:14:34):
That last really some crazy stuff. I think I was moving data models from one Excel file to another or something like that. Some crazy stuff with [inaudible 00:14:43] and so on.
Rob Collie (00:14:44):
You obviously remember a better than I do. But I just remember being jaw dropped, blown away, impressed, by what you were doing. And the thing is the world of Power Pivot interest at that point in time still seems so small. The community still seems so small that for you to emerge on our radar fully formed, already blowing our minds, that was the first thing we ever heard from you. That was a real outlier because usually the way the curve of awareness went with other members of the community is that like, you'd see something modest from them. And you'd sorta like witnessed their upward trajectory as they developed. Of course, you've continued to improve and learn and all of that since then. But as far as our experience of it, it was you just showed up already at the graduate level, just like where did she come from? So cool. So you said that you enjoyed the multi-dimensional cube project?
Imke Feldmann (00:15:43):
Mm-hmm (affirmative). Yes. I don't know MDX, but I totally enjoyed the project. So being able to build a reporting solution for my own company, basically then for the company I worked for, and doing it live with a consultant with a freelancer on my hand, discussing how things should look like and just seeing the thing form before my eyes and grow. And this was just such an enjoyable experience for me.
Rob Collie (00:16:11):
So the thing that's striking about that for me is, there's no doubt that the multi-dimensional product from Microsoft was a valuable product. It did good things. But I never have heard someone say that they really enjoyed the implementation process as a client, right?
Imke Feldmann (00:16:31):
Rob Collie (00:16:31):
You had a freelancer doing the work. So something you said there really jumped out at me, it was, sort of like doing the project live. So the way that this worked traditionally, at least in the US, is the consultant would interview you about your requirements and write a big long requirements document and then disappear and go build a whole bunch of stuff and come back and show it to you, and it's completely not what anyone expected. It's almost like you're on completely different planets. Obviously, if you'd had that experience, you would not be saying that you enjoyed it. So there had to be something different about the way that you and that freelancer interacted. Do you remember what the workflow was like?
Imke Feldmann (00:17:16):
What we did is that we often met together and just looked at where we're at and what the next steps should be. And we definitely had specific targets in mind. So there were some reports that I had defined as a target, and around these reports I was aware that we needed something that a proper data model, because I also knew that I wanted to have some sort of a general set up that could be carried from Excel as well. So I knew about cube functions, and I knew that on one hand I needed these reports that had formerly been within our ERP system. Also, I wanted them to be in a separate solution that was under my control and independent from the ERP system. And on the other hand, I wanted some more. So I wanted the flexibility to be able to vary this data and for certain other purposes in the controlling department as well. So basically being able to do ad hoc analysis on it.
Imke Feldmann (00:18:23):
And we met often and I showed a certain interest in how the table logic was created. So I knew that the MDX was over my head at the time, but I showed a very strong interest in which table are created, how they relate to each other, and that was quite unusual. At least this is what the [inaudible 00:18:47] the freelancer told me.
Rob Collie (00:18:49):
Imke Feldmann (00:18:50):
He said that he doesn't see that very often that clients showed this sort of interest.
Rob Collie (00:18:56):
Did he say, "Yeah. You really seem to be having fun with this. Most of my clients don't enjoy this." You said that you met very often, so were there times where he was writing MDX while you were in the room?
Imke Feldmann (00:19:10):
Sometimes yes, because I said, "Well, can we switch this a bit or make some changes?" And sometimes he said, "Well, I can try adjust now." Because he came over for one day or half a day, and then we spoke things through and defined further things. And if we were finishing early, he would just stay and do some coding there. But apart from that, he would work from home and do the big stuff.
Rob Collie (00:19:37):
OLAP originally it stands for online analytical processing, where online meant not batch, right? It meant you could ask a question and get the answer while you were still sitting there.
Imke Feldmann (00:19:51):
Okay. Oh, really?
Rob Collie (00:19:53):
That's what online meant.
Imke Feldmann (00:19:54):
Rob Collie (00:19:56):
It basically meant almost like real time. It's a cousin of real time, that's what online meant at that point, as opposed to offline where you write a query and submit it and come back next week right? So that's what the online and OLAP comes from.
Imke Feldmann (00:20:12):
Rob Collie (00:20:13):
We would pick a different terminology of OLAP were it invented today. So something interesting about, it sounds like your experience, and I did not anticipate drilling into your experience with multi-dimensional on this conversation, but I think it's really important is that at least some portion of that project that you sponsored and implemented with the freelancer, at least some portion of the work was similarly performed online. Meaning the two of you were sort of in real time communication as things evolved. And the old model and the vast majority of multidimensional solutions that have ever been built in the world, the MDX powered solutions, were built and an offline model, where the majority of the communication supposedly takes place in the form of a requirements document.
Rob Collie (00:21:05):
And that was a deeply, deeply, deeply flawed approach to the problem, that just doesn't actually work. So I guess it's not surprising to me that the one time I've ever heard someone say they really enjoyed that multi-dimensional project, that at least a portion of that multidimensional project was sort of almost like real-time collaboratively performed rather than completely asynchronous, right? I guess we want to be really geeky, we could say it was a synchronous model of communication as opposed to an asynchronous one. And Power BI really facilitates that kind of interaction.
Imke Feldmann (00:21:41):
Rob Collie (00:21:42):
The reason why the MDX multi-dimensional model worked the way it did, or there was two reasons, one is a legitimate one on one of them is more cynical. So the legitimate reason is, is that it required reprocessing of the cube for every change, it's just too slow, right? The stakeholder, the business stakeholder doesn't typically have the time or the patience to sit there while the code's being written, because it's so long between even just implementing a formula change sometimes would be, well, we need to wait an hour. And so the attention span of the business person can't be held for good reason there, right? And so that sort of drove it into an asynchronous model.
Rob Collie (00:22:23):
The other reason is, is that that is asynchronous model turned out to be a really good business model for the consultants, because the fact that it didn't work meant that every project lasted forever. And so that's the cynical reason. But Power BI is not long delays. You change the measure formula, or you add an extra relationship, or heck even bringing in a new table, just a brand new table, bring it in, it wasn't even in the model, now it's in the model. End to end that can sometimes be measured in minutes or even seconds. And so you can retain engaged collaborative interest. Now it's not like you're always doing that, right? There's still room for offline asynchronous work in our business, but really critical portions of it can be performed the other way. And I think that makes a huge difference.
Imke Feldmann (00:23:13):
Yep. And that's what I like about it. So it's so great to be able to have, as a consultant, to perform really relatively large tasks without any further involvement of other people. Which, I mean, honestly, I don't call myself a team worker, not because I don't love other people also, but teamwork means you have to communicate with other people, make sure that they know what you're working on. So there are so many interfaces that have to be maintained if you're working with other people. And so I really laugh the way I work currently being able to deliver full solutions as a one woman show consultant. That is really a pleasure for me. That's really my preferred way of work, I must say. Because I can really focus on the things that have to be done and I'm able to deliver value in a relatively short time for the clients.
Rob Collie (00:24:14):
That's a really interesting concept. There are certain kinds of problems in which collaboration, a team collaboration is absolutely necessary. The magic of collaboration sometimes can beat problems that no individual could ever beat. At the same time though, there's this other dynamic, right, where having a team working on a problem is actually a real liability because the communication complexity between the people becomes the majority of the work. Here's a really hyper simplified example. There used to be sort of a three-person committee, if you will, that was running our company P3, me and two other people.
Imke Feldmann (00:24:57):
Rob Collie (00:24:58):
And so all leadership decisions were essentially handled at that level. Well, things change, people move on, right? And so we went from a three person committee to a two person committee. We didn't anticipate the two of us who stayed, right? We did not anticipate how much simpler that was going to make things. We thought, just do the math, right, it's going to be like, well, it's one less person to get on the same page. So it's going to be a one-third reduction in complexity. It was actually double that because we went from having three pairs of communication, right, the triangle has three sides, to a line that only has one side, right? So there was only one linkage that needed to be maintained as opposed to three geometrically, combinatorially, whatever we're going to say, right? It just became-
Imke Feldmann (00:25:45):
Rob Collie (00:25:45):
... Exponetially simpler. And so for problems that can be soloed, you have this amazing savings in efficiency, in clarity, even, right?
Imke Feldmann (00:25:59):
Rob Collie (00:25:59):
There's just so many advantages when you can execute as one person, then there's the other examples like our company at our size now, even ignoring the number of consultants that we need to do our business, just the back office alone, we need the difference in skills. We need the difference in talents and interests and everything. We simply could not exist without that kind of collaboration. However, when our consultants were working with a client, usually it's essentially a one-on-one type of thing, right? We don't typically put teams of consultants on the same project. We might have multiple consultants working for the same client and they might be building something that's somehow integrated, but it's still very similar, I think to your model, when you actually watch sort of the work being done, there's this amazing savings and complexities.
Imke Feldmann (00:26:50):
Yup, that's true. Of course I have a network in the background. So when big problems arise where I need brain input, of course, I have a network, but it's not a former company.
Rob Collie (00:27:02):
And that's how we work too, right? We have all kinds of internal Slack channels. For some reason we adopted Slack years ago before Teams was really a thing. So Slack is sort of like our internal social network. There's a lot of discussion of problems, and solutions, and a lot of knowledge sharing, and people helping each other out behind the scenes in that same way. Again, we do bring multiple consultants into particularly large projects, but it's not like there's three people working together on the same formula. In Power BI, the things that you do in ETL, the things that you do in power query are intimately interrelated with the data model and the decks that you need to create. And imagine parceling that out to three different people. You have one formula writer, one data modeler, one ETL specialist, you would never ever get anywhere in that kind of approach.
Imke Feldmann (00:28:00):
Not necessarily. I mean, the tax people are the person responsible for the data model. He could write down his requirements. He could define the tables basically. And then someone could try to get the data from the sources. But of course, then you get some feedback that the data isn't there or that the model has to be shaped in a different way. So it has two sides to it. But that's interesting to see that you have the same experience, that Power BI models or solutions of a certain size that can very well be handled by one person alone. And that really brings speed, and flexibility, and agility to the whole development process I think.
Rob Collie (00:28:41):
You communicate with yourself at what's above giga? Peta, petabit? you communicate with yourself at petabit speed and you communicate with others through a noisy 2,400 baud modem that's constantly breaking up. It's amazing what that can do for you sometimes. So there comes a point in your journey where you decide to go freelance.
Imke Feldmann (00:29:07):
Rob Collie (00:29:08):
That's a courageous leap. When did that happen and what led you to that conclusion?
Imke Feldmann (00:29:13):
I made the decision in 2012 already to do that.
Rob Collie (00:29:19):
Imke Feldmann (00:29:20):
And I just saw the light. I just saw the light in Power Pivot and then Power Query came along and I saw what Microsoft was after. And as I said, I enjoyed the building of the cube, getting my hands dirty, reading about the technologies behind it and so on. And this was what I felt passionate about. And I also had the idea that I needed some break from company politics. And so I just thought, well, I give it a try. And if it doesn't work, I can find a job after that or find a company where I work for at any time after that. So I just tried it and it worked.
Rob Collie (00:30:05):
So you decided in 2012, did you make the break in 2012 as well?
Imke Feldmann (00:30:12):
I prepared it, and then I just in 2013, I started solo.
Rob Collie (00:30:18):
Okay. 2013 is also when we formally formed our company. For 2010-2013, it was a blog. I had other jobs. I had other clients essentially, but I wasn't really hanging out the shingle so to speak, as you know, we're not an actual business really until 2013. And I guess it's not much accident that we both kind of did the same thing about the same time, it's that demand was finally sufficient I think in 2013 to support going solo. In 2012, there weren't enough clients to even support one consultant. And so, oh, that's great. And I think you really liked Power Query too, does M speak to you?
Imke Feldmann (00:31:02):
Yes. Yes. Yeah.
Rob Collie (00:31:03):
It does, doesn't it?
Imke Feldmann (00:31:04):
I really prefer Power Query or M over DAX, I must admit. It has been much more liable to me than DAX.
Rob Collie (00:31:15):
Oh, and I liked you so much before you said that. I'm team DAX all the way.
Imke Feldmann (00:31:23):
I know. I know. I know. I mean, of course I love to use DAX as well, but I really feel very, very strong about Power Query. And I mean, I had such a great journey with it. I mean, it was really [inaudible 00:31:35] work for me personally, that I did with it. And it was just a great journey to understand how things work. I mean, this has been the first coding language for me that I really learned. And it was just a great journey to learn all the things and starting to blog about it. And of course, I started basically helping people in the forum, that's where I basically built my knowledge about it, solving other people's problems. And this was just a great journey. And Polar Query has always been good to me than DAX.
Rob Collie (00:32:14):
This is really cool, right? So you fell in love with Power Pivot, so DAX and data model, right? There was no Power Query.
Imke Feldmann (00:32:21):
Mm-hmm (affirmative)-, that's true.
Rob Collie (00:32:23):
Okay. And because we had no Power Query, there were many, many, many things you couldn't do in Power Pivot unless your data source was a database.
Imke Feldmann (00:32:30):
Rob Collie (00:32:31):
Because you needed views created that gave you the right shape tables, right? If your original data source didn't have a lookup table, a dimension table, you had to make one. And how are you going to make one without Power Query? It gets crazy, right? At least unbelievable. So try to mentally travel back for a moment to the point in time where you're willing to, and not just, it doesn't sound like you were just willing to, you were eager to go solo to become a freelancer, right, with just DAX and data modeling. And then after that, this thing comes along that you light up when you talk about. You didn't have this thing that you love, but you were already in, that doesn't happen very often.
Imke Feldmann (00:33:18):
It could be that loved DAX at the beginning, but it just started to disappoint me at sometimes.
Rob Collie (00:33:29):
Thomas LaRock (00:33:29):
It disappoints everyone.
Rob Collie (00:33:29):
I'm just devastated.
Imke Feldmann (00:33:35):
No, I mean, it's amazing what DAX can do, but I mean, we all know it looks easy at the beginning, but then you can really get trapped in certain situations.
Rob Collie (00:33:46):
Yeah. I described these two things is like the length and width of a rectangle, Power Query and DAX. Take your pick, which one's the width, which one's the length? I don't care. And then we ask which one is more responsible for the area of the rectangle, right? Neither. You can double the length of either of them and it doubles the area of the rectangle. So it's really ironic that I'm so sort of firmly on team DAX for a number of reasons. Number one, is that I'm really not actually that good at it compared to the people who've come along since. Like my book, for instance, I think, I look at it as this is the 100 and maybe the 200 level course at university, maybe the first in the second course, maybe, but it's definitely not the third course. The thing that you take in your third or fourth year of university, that's not covered in my book in terms of DAX.
Rob Collie (00:34:44):
And basically every one of the consultants at our company is better at DAX than I am. And that's great. That's really good. And the other thing that's ironic about my love of DAX over M, is if these two were in conflict, which they aren't.
Imke Feldmann (00:35:00):
No they are.
Rob Collie (00:35:02):
Is that I actually was trying for years to get a Power Query like project started on the Excel team. I knew how much time was being chewed up in the world just transforming data, not analyzing it even, just getting things ready for analysis. It's just ungodly amounts of time. And so I was obsessed with end-user ETL. When I was on the Excel team, it was like a running joke, someone would mention in a meeting, "Well, that's kind of like ETL," and other people would go, "Oh no, no, don't say that in front of Rob, he's going to get started and he won't shut up about it for the next 30 minutes." On the podcast with the Power Query team, I told them I'm really glad that no one ever agreed to fund my project on the Excel team because now that I see what Power Query is like I grossly underestimated how much work needed to go into something like that. And I'm glad that Microsoft isn't saddled with some old and completely inadequate solution to the Power Query space, because now that I've seen what the real thing looks like, I'm like, "Oh my gosh, we would've never been able to pull that off."
Rob Collie (00:36:14):
So the thing that I was most obsessed with is the thing that now that it's actually been built, for some reason, I just find M to be, I don't know, there's like a reverse gravity there that pushes me away.
Imke Feldmann (00:36:26):
What I actually would like to see is that there's less need to use M in the Power Query product. So first, the only thing I was dreaming about was finally to have a function library that can easily be shipped from then, or that you can download from internet or wherever, where you can use additional functions in your M code. So this was the first thing that I was really passionate about and thought that we should have such a thing in Power Query to be able to make more cool things, or group steps together. But now what I really think we should actually have and see in Power Query is the ability to build our own ribbons and to the query editor.
Rob Collie (00:37:13):
Imke Feldmann (00:37:13):
Like we have in an Excel. So this is something that in my eyes would really bring a big push to the product and actually would make so much sense for the people who start using these products. I mean the whole Power platform can have so many benefits for finance department, all departments, but I mean, I'm passionate about finance departments. But have you counted how many low-code languages are in there, if you include Power Apps and Power Automate and all these things?
Rob Collie (00:37:50):
Imke Feldmann (00:37:50):
And honestly, in order to come up with any solution that makes sense in a business environment, I would say in all of these solutions, there is no way around the code at the end. I mean, you get quite far with clicky, clicky, but I haven't seen solutions where you get around the languages. And now imagine the typical finance people who really they know the Excel formulas and some of them might know VBA as well. And now their server uses new low-code, no-code word, and just get your head around about five or six new languages that you all have to know and learn in order to get something useful and so on. So I think that's just not feasible for people who have real jobs in the business to learn all that.
Rob Collie (00:38:42):
Well, that's what you're here for, right? That's what your business is for and that's what P3 is for.
Imke Feldmann (00:38:48):
We get them started and the products are great. And if there are people in the companies who have a drive to learn things and take the time they get their heads around it, but it could be easier. It could be easier with things like that, where we could provide additional user interfaces and just make it even easier for people to build great solutions for them or adapt solutions that consultants had build initially, but to maintain them by themselves and make adjustments to them if needed.
Rob Collie (00:39:19):
So [inaudible 00:39:20] has an old joke where he says, when he's doing a presentation or something, he says, "That's a good question. And I define good question as a question I know the answer to, right." And then he says, "But then a great question is a question that is covered by the very next slide." So there's a similar parallel joke to make here, which is that, that idea you just talked about with the ribbons and everything, right? So if I said, it's a smart idea, what I would mean is, again, this is a joke, right? I would mean that that's an idea that I agree with and have kind of already had. But if I say it's a brilliant idea-
Imke Feldmann (00:39:55):
Rob Collie (00:39:56):
... Then it's an even better version of an idea that I've already had that has never occurred to me. Your idea is a brilliant idea.
Imke Feldmann (00:40:02):
Rob Collie (00:40:06):
It goes beyond. So I have been advocating privately behind the scenes with the Power Query team forever telling them that they need about three or four more ribbon tabs. There's just way too many commonly encountered problems for which you can imagine there being a button for, and there's no button.
Imke Feldmann (00:40:28):
Rob Collie (00:40:29):
And it's like, I don't understand. I used to be on teams like that, but I don't understand why they haven't gotten to this. Because it seems so low hanging fruit. They've already built the engine, they've built the language, right? The language can already handle this, but you actually had two brilliant ideas in there that had never occurred to me. First of all, I'm used to the idea that the community can't contribute libraries of functions, they can't do that for DAX.
Imke Feldmann (00:40:57):
Rob Collie (00:40:58):
That's not even like engineering possible for DAX. And the reason for it is, is that the DAX engine is so heavily optimized in so many ways that there'd be no way to plug in some new function that's unpredictable in terms of what it needs to do. All of these things, they're all inherently interrelated and they make changes in the storage and the query engine to make this function work better and vice versa, because it has to take advantage of the index compression scheme and all of that kind of stuff. It's actually not possible, is the wrong word, but it's actually orders of magnitude more difficult, if not impossible to allow DAX to have UDF, user-defined function type of feature.
Rob Collie (00:41:42):
I don't think Power Query is like that though. Maybe naively, because again, I'm not on the internals team on the Power Query side. But it does seem like a UDF capability is at least much more feasible-
Imke Feldmann (00:41:53):
Rob Collie (00:41:54):
... For Power Query, which does execute row by row essentially. Other languages have this, right? One of the reasons that R is so popular is not that R is so awesome, is that R has tremendous libraries of commonly solved problems that you can just go grab off the internet or off the shelf and plug into your solution.
Imke Feldmann (00:42:14):
I have my own library I've created. You can go to my GitHub and you'll see 50, 60 custom M functions. You can package them in a record and [inaudible 00:42:24] them as a library and your M code, or you could even connect live to them and run them with an execute statement. But this is too difficult, although it's just a couple of clicks, but it's too difficult or at least intimidating for the beginners, who really Power Query beginners who start with the products, I think there's so much potential to make their life easier. And that's not through some coding stuff, or I know this function, I know that function, that's really can only come in my eyes through user interface with buttons.
Rob Collie (00:42:59):
Yeah, I agree. And just as importantly for me, is that I might actually come around and be like, just as much team Power Query as team DAX. Honestly, my frustration is just the M language and just my total lack of desire to learn it. [crosstalk 00:43:16]. It is what it really comes down to. It's not about M, it's not about Power Query, it's about me. Whereas again, I know the need that it fills is massively important. So it's not that I think it's a bad mission, I think it's like the mission in a lot of ways. I was obsessed with it long before I ever crossed paths with business intelligence, I was obsessed with data transformation, end user data transformation. It's just a problem that's about as ubiquitous as it gets. So let's make it happen. We agree, the two of us, that's it, right? It's like we need to go provide a unified front.
Imke Feldmann (00:43:52):
I think that that's an idea in the idea forum, I might send the link that you can maybe post.
Rob Collie (00:43:56):
We want that thing up, voted to the moon. I'll even go figure out what my sign in is on the ideas side.
Imke Feldmann (00:44:08):
Oh, good luck with it.
Rob Collie (00:44:09):
Which is absolutely impossible. I have no idea which of the 14 counts. And then I'll try to create a new one and it'll go, "Nah, you're not allowed to. We know it's you, but we won't tell you who it is, what your email address is." So I completely agree. So there's so many problems. I always struggle to produce the list. It's like I need to be writing down the list of things that are crucial, but here's an example. Remove duplicates, but control which duplicate you keep. That's a problem that can't be solved in the GUI today.
Imke Feldmann (00:44:48):
And you need the intimidating type of buffer that you have to write by hand around it, which is just pain.
Rob Collie (00:44:56):
Remove dups and don't care which one you keep. Okay, fine. That's a great simple button. There should be an advanced section that allows you to specify, oh, but before you keep the dups, sort by this column or sort in the following manner.
Imke Feldmann (00:45:10):
Rob Collie (00:45:10):
And then keep the first one of each group. It's easy for us to say outside the team, but apparently that is a, we just make a joke, right? That's apparently a Manhattan project level of software to add that extra button. Anyway, we'll get that.
Thomas LaRock (00:45:27):
That doesn't make sense to me though. I'm fascinated by all of your conversation and you guys are a hundred miles away from me in a lot of this stuff, but I could listen to it all day. But no, the fact that Excel can't do the remove duplicates, except for like the first of each one of something, that's a simple group by. In my head, I sit there and go that's easily solvable because Excel and DAX does such great stuff that I would never want to do in TSQL, how the hell do we stumble across a thing that's been solved by straight up SQL language that somehow can't get into an Excel?
Rob Collie (00:46:01):
Well, let's explain the problem very clearly and see if we're on the same page as to what the problem is, but either way it'll be valuable. So let's say you have a whole bunch of orders, a table full of orders. That is a really wide Franken table. It's got things like customer ID, customer address, customer phone number, but also what product they ordered, and how much of it, and how much it cost. Okay, and a date, a date of the order. All right. And you've been given this table because the people that are responsible for this system, they think that what you want is a report and not a data source. And this is incredibly common. Okay. So you need to extract a customer's dimension or lookup table out of this. You need to create a customer's table so that you can build a good star schema model. Okay. And Power Query is right there to help you. Power Query will help you invent a customer's look up table where one wasn't provided, and that's awesome.
Rob Collie (00:46:58):
Okay. So you say, okay, see customer ID this column. I want to remove duplicates based on that column. Okay, great. But now it's just that the order that the data came in from the report file or the database or whatever that will determine which duplicate is kept. What you really want to do of course is take the most recent customer order of each customer ID because they've probably moved. They may have changed phone numbers, whatever, right? You want their most recent contact information. You don't want their contact information for 15 years ago. And the M language allows you to solve this problem essentially sort by date, and then keep the most recent, but only if you get into the code manually, and as Imke points out, it's not even if you go into the code, the things that you would want to do, if you do a sort, you can add a sort step to the Power Query with the buttons, with the GUI, and then you do the remove duplicates and it ignores the source.
Imke Feldmann (00:47:59):
Rob Collie (00:48:02):
The GUI almost tries to tell you that it's impossible, but if you know about table dot buffer.
Imke Feldmann (00:48:07):
So the question is why do we have a sort command in Power Query when it doesn't give the sort order? I mean, that is the question to ask. But that's how it is.
Rob Collie (00:48:16):
It sorts the results. It sorts the results, it just doesn't sort for the intermediate steps.
Imke Feldmann (00:48:20):
Why? No, that's quite technical. But would just be great if such a common task could be done with buttons that is reliable at the end. I fully agree.
Rob Collie (00:48:35):
So Tom, I think this one's really just an example of, again, I truly think that M and Power Query, just like DAX and data modeling, the Power BI data modeling, both of these things belong in the software hall of fame of all time. It is amazing, Power Query, M, is just ridiculously amazing. It's one of the best things ever invented. Remember this is someone who's associated with being a critic of it.
Imke Feldmann (00:49:04):
Yeah, you're making progress, it's great to see.
Rob Collie (00:49:07):
And yet I'm telling you that it's one of the top five things ever invented probably. And I think there's a certain tendency when you've done something that amazing to lose track of the last mile. I think it's more of a human thing.
Imke Feldmann (00:49:19):
Maybe, but I mean, what I see is that they are investing quite a lot in data flows, which makes a lot of sense as well in my eyes.
Rob Collie (00:49:27):
All that really does though, as far as you and I are concerned, Imke, is it makes it even more important that they solve this problem. Because it's now exposed in two different usage scenarios.
Imke Feldmann (00:49:37):
Yeah, you're right.
Rob Collie (00:49:39):
And I want my data flow to be able to control which duplicates are kept too. So that's what I'm saying. There's all these big sort of infrastructural technical challenges that do tend to draw resources. And it's not a neglect thing.
Imke Feldmann (00:49:54):
Rob Collie (00:49:54):
It isn't like a willful failure or anything like that, I don't want to paint that kind of negative of a picture.
Imke Feldmann (00:49:59):
Rob Collie (00:50:00):
It's just that out here in reality, the inability to do, even if we just identified the top 10 things like this, addressing those top 10 things with GUI, with buttons, what have I think in the world, maybe even a bigger impact than the entire data flows project, right? Because you would expand the footprint of human beings that are advocates of this stuff and then you go build data flows. You don't have to think of it as either or, right? They should do both. It's just that I think it's hard to appreciate the impact of those 10 buttons when you're on the software team. It's easier to appreciate the impact of data flows, which is massive. I don't mean to denigrate that. I think it's crazy good. It's just that this other thing is of a similar magnitude in terms of benefit, but it's harder to appreciate when you're on the software team. It's easier to appreciate when you're out here in the trenches, living it every single day. And every time I run into a problem like this, I have to put my hand up and say to my own team, I have to say, " Help."
Thomas LaRock (00:51:02):
So a casual observation I have is that you wish for there to exist one tool that will handle all of your data janitorial needs. And that tool doesn't necessarily exist because life is dirty, so is your data and you're never going to anticipate everything possible. Now, should that sorting functionality exist in that duplicates, the scenario gave me? Yeah, probably. But there's always going to be something next. And that's why I go to you and I say, the thing that you've described to me is you need your data to be tidy so that it can be consumed and used by a lot of these features that we've talked about today. And in order to get to tidy data, there's no necessarily one tool.
Thomas LaRock (00:51:48):
You're a big fan of the ETL, Rob. You know that, hey, maybe I need to take the source data and run it through some Python scripts, or some M, or something first before it goes to this next thing. And that's the reality that we really have. What you're wishing for is the one tool, the one button to rule it all. And that's going to take a while before that ever comes around.
Rob Collie (00:52:09):
The thing is though, is that M is ridiculously complete.
Imke Feldmann (00:52:14):
Rob Collie (00:52:15):
You can do anything with it. And it's a language that's optimized for data transformation. So I know you can do anything with C++ too, right? But this is a data crunching, data transformation, specialized language that is really complete. And its UI is woefully under serving the capabilities of the engine. And so I suppose we could imagine and deliberately design a data transformation scenario that maybe M couldn't do it.
Imke Feldmann (00:52:45):
Rob Collie (00:52:46):
I think that'd be a very difficult challenge considering how good M is.
Imke Feldmann (00:52:49):
I think in terms of logic, M can do anything, but in terms of performance, there is some room for improvements. So because there's a streaming semantic running in the background, and as long as the stream runs through all the steps, if you have complex queries, this can really slow things down. And currently there is no button or command in the M language to cut the stream and say, well, stop it here and buffer what you have calculated until here, and then continue from there. So if you have really complex stuff that would benefit from an intermediate buffer, then you can store that in an Azure blob or CSV, or whatever. Specifically if you're working with data flows, you can create some automatic processes that would enable this kind of buffering.
Imke Feldmann (00:53:45):
And then you will see that the speed of the whole process that can really increase dramatically because in some situations, the speed in M drops exponentially. And these are occasions where a buffer would really helped things, but we don't have it yet in the engine of Power Query. So this was what really be something else that would be fairly beneficial if we wouldn't have to make these work-arounds through things.
Rob Collie (00:54:14):
Tom, that just occurred to me, I can't believe this is the first time that this thought has crossed my mind. But I think that you might fall into an abyss of love with M.
Thomas LaRock (00:54:28):
Well, I'm a huge James Bond fan, but...
Rob Collie (00:54:30):
Oh, no. I think you would really, really just dig it.
Thomas LaRock (00:54:38):
I don't think I have time to take on a new relationship at this point. I'm still with Python and R, so I mean, I don't know. I'm not going to disagree, I'm just, please don't start a new addiction for me.
Rob Collie (00:54:51):
Think of the content though, that you could produce over time. The M versus SQL versus Python treatises.
Thomas LaRock (00:54:59):
Rob Collie (00:55:00):
You were made for this mission Tom.
Thomas LaRock (00:55:03):
Okay. So we'll have to talk later about it. You can sweet talk me. You know I've let you sweet talk me into any [inaudible 00:55:08].
Rob Collie (00:55:08):
That's right, that's right. Come on, Tom. Get into M, you know that thing that I have nothing but praise for, that I just love to death, you need to do that.
Thomas LaRock (00:55:18):
For you. That's what you want to do, is you want to learn it but [inaudible 00:55:21] through me.
Rob Collie (00:55:22):
Oh, that wouldn't work. I would be, "Oh yeah, well this is still M."
Thomas LaRock (00:55:29):
You're going to be like, "Tom, where's your latest blog post on M so I can read it and hate upon it even more?"
Rob Collie (00:55:37):
No, I would not read. Just as the first step.
Thomas LaRock (00:55:42):
I'm going to read it, but not leave a comment about how much I hate it.
Rob Collie (00:55:45):
Let's go back to talking about how we did a bunch of big fat Fisher-Price buttons for me to mash my thumbs in the UI. That's what I need.
Thomas LaRock (00:55:54):
You know what? I'll do that. I'll open up VS code and I'll just build this one big button, it's Rob's button.
Rob Collie (00:56:00):
Hey, you won't believe this, but I recently installed VS code.
Thomas LaRock (00:56:03):
I don't believe it, why?
Rob Collie (00:56:05):
Well, because I needed to edit, not even write, because I'm not capable of it. I needed to edit an interface, add on customization for World of Warcraft. And the only purpose of this World of Warcraft add on interface modification was to allow me to drop snarky comments into a particular channel of the conversation based on the button that I press. I needed a menu of snarky comments to drop at particular points in time. It's hard to type them out all the time, right? So it's just like, now here we go. I dropped one of those. I dropped one of those.
Thomas LaRock (00:56:37):
We got to get you a real job or something. You got way too much time on your hands.
Rob Collie (00:56:42):
That was my number one contribution to the World of Warcraft Guild. For a couple of months, there was the snarky rogue chat.
Thomas LaRock (00:56:48):
You know that is on brand.
Rob Collie (00:56:56):
It prefixed every comment in the chat with a prefix, you came from rogue chat 9,000. So that people who aren't on the joke were like, "Why is this guy, he's usually very quiet, become so obnoxious. Look at the things he's saying." Anyway. So VS code. And that also involved GitHub. Because my friend who wrote the stub, the shell of this add on for me is a vice president at GitHub. So of course he puts the code in GitHub and points me to it and then points me to VS code, and I'm like, "Oh, you're making me work now? Okay. But you wrote the shell for me, so okay. All right. I'll play ball." So it doesn't sound like you regret your decision to go solo.
Imke Feldmann (00:57:40):
Rob Collie (00:57:41):
You're not looking to go back to corporate life.
Imke Feldmann (00:57:43):
Rob Collie (00:57:44):
Not missing that. So what can you tell us about the last year or two? What impact, if any, did COVID have on your business?
Imke Feldmann (00:57:52):
Business has grown especially the last year. So people needed more reports than ever and solutions. So it really, I don't know whether it was COVID effect or just the fact that Power BI is growing and growing.
Rob Collie (00:58:07):
I'm sure it's both. So the dynamic we saw during 2020. So 2020 would be the, if you're going to have a year that was negatively impacted by COVID, it would have been 2020. And what we saw in 2020 was that we were definitely not acquiring new clients. We weren't making new relationships at nearly the rate we had been people weren't taking risks on meeting a new BI firm. That wasn't something that there was as much appetite for as there had been. However, amongst the clients where we already had a good relationship, we'd already been working with them for a while, their needs for data work expanded as a result of COVID because it did, it created all kinds of new problems and it invalidated so many existing blueprints of tribal knowledge of how we run the business. When reality changes, you need new maps, you need new campuses.
Rob Collie (00:59:04):
And so on net, we ended up our overall business still grew modestly over the course of 2020, year over year compared to 2019. But then when the new clients started to become viable again, people started looking, we're interested in making new relationships, 2021 has been a very, very strong year of growth, not moderate, really kind of crazy. How do you keep up with increased demand as a one person shop?
Imke Feldmann (00:59:35):
Rob Collie (00:59:36):
You have to make your peace with saying no. At one point in my history, I faced sort of the same thing and I decided not to say no, and instead decided to grow the company. That brought an enormous amount of risk and stress-
Imke Feldmann (00:59:55):
I can imagine.
Rob Collie (00:59:55):
... Into my life that I did not anticipate its magnitude. I'm sure I anticipated it, but I didn't anticipate the magnitude of it. I'm very grateful that I'd made that decision though, because where we are today is incredible. That's a rocky transition. So today everything runs like clockwork basically. We have a lot of growth ahead of us that seems almost like it's just going to happen, we're just going to keep growing for a long time. But we had to set the table we had to build our organism as a company into a very different form than what it had been when it was just me. And that molting process it was very painful. I don't pretend that the scaling decision is the right decision, it's very much a personal one. I've certainly lived that. If the version of me that made the decision to scale the company knew everything that was coming, it would have been a much harder decision to make. You kind of have to have a little bit of naive optimism even to make that leap.
Imke Feldmann (01:00:57):
I can imagine that once you get these things figured out and with the dynamic that the product has, that has a good chance to get it going into a very successful business, I believe.
Rob Collie (01:01:10):
Well, with your profile and with the growing demand for these sorts of services, the percentage of no that you have to say is just going to keep going up.
Imke Feldmann (01:01:20):
Yeah. But I made my decision and that's just fine.
Rob Collie (01:01:25):
I'm very supportive of that decision. I don't have any criticism of it, again, especially knowing what I know now. But if there's going to be come a point where you're going to be saying yes 1% of the time, and the answer to that is ultimately, well, you just raise your rates, which is also very difficult to do. In the end, it's almost like an auction for your services. You need to run yourself like Google. There's a 40 hour block of Imke time coming up for availability. We'll just put it on eBay.
Imke Feldmann (01:01:59):
I mean, it's just nice to be able to choose with whom you work with. That's just nice. And I earned enough money, so that's fine. So I'm happy with that.
Rob Collie (01:02:12):
How do you choose who you work with? Is it mostly based on industry? Is it mostly based on job function that you're helping? Or is it more about the specific people? There's all kinds of things that could... Let's say if I came to your website today, I filled out your contact form, what are the things that I could say in that contact for a message that would lead you to say no, versus leads you to say maybe?
Imke Feldmann (01:02:37):
What I really like to do is to work with finance directors. So basically not people exactly like me, but I like to see that the managers approached me and they have an interest in the product itself and also therefore an interest to push it into their departments. So this is for me, a very, very good starting point because it's an area I'm familiar with. I know that there's enough critical support to get the decisions that have to be made and maybe also push IT to help with certain things. This is really one of my favorite set ups, I would say.
Rob Collie (01:03:19):
Yeah, we do a lot of work with finance departments as well. How long does sort of your average relationship run with a client? How long do you end up working with the same organization on average?
Imke Feldmann (01:03:31):
That's hard to say, that's really completely different. It can be the initial five days kickoff where we set up a PNL statement connect all the finance data and they go along with that. And basically, never hear again, or just occasionally hear again, "Can you help me with this problem or that problem?" And it could also be going on for years, basically with breaks in between of course, but some customers, they come every now and then when they want to expand things. Now I have a customer that I'm working on some hours or even days ever week since over a year by now.
Rob Collie (01:04:15):
That sounds similar to my experience as a freelancer, when it was just me, less similar to our business today, a little bit less. I mean, I think it's still more similar than not. It's just that the dial has moved a little bit.
Imke Feldmann (01:04:32):
So how long are your engagements then, usually?
Rob Collie (01:04:35):
Most of our engagements are, if we start out doing kind of that kickoff you're talking about, we started like a project with people, that tends to not be the end. We don't typically have people just immediately vanish after that because that's usually the point at which, I mean, they've got something working already, very often after the first week or so of working with a client, they've usually got some really amazing things built already at that point. But at the same time, that's really just at the beginning of the appetite. Usually there are things that are not done even in that initial solution that even if they could figure it out for themselves, which sometimes they could, once they've seen what the possibilities are like, I'm sure you see this too. This dynamic I'm going to describe is one that you're familiar with.
Imke Feldmann (01:05:20):
Rob Collie (01:05:21):
It's not about our business. It's about the technology and sort of how it meets the people. Someone comes to us and they're almost by definition, if they're going to hire us, they're in on the idea of Power BI, they're in on the idea of the Power platform. But after the first week of working with us, they're three times as in, they're just so much more in than they even imagined they could be. Because now they could see like, "Okay, this is real. We made all of that progress in that amount of time. And the ROI on getting the magical stuff up and running sooner is better to press the gas pedal and get there faster, even if you could muddle your way through it." Saving the cost of us helping them isn't a good trade-off for them.
Imke Feldmann (01:06:08):
Yup, that's true.
Rob Collie (01:06:11):
And that was a hard thing for me to get my head around when I was a solo practitioner, when I was a freelancer. I was almost trying to not bill hours. I was like, "Now you can do this for yourself." I was telling clients that they needed to do things for themselves that they didn't want to do for themselves.
Thomas LaRock (01:06:29):
Rob Collie (01:06:29):
They're like, "No, we actually want you to." And so another luxury that I had as a freelancer that we've had to grow out of as a company, I'm really interested to hear what your thoughts are about this. So when I was a freelancer and I had more demand for my services than I had time, and I did live in that world for a while, I had the luxury of not putting myself fully on their side of the table, meaning they manage the project. If there was a need for something, I wasn't going to do anything unless I was directly asked for it, which is what you want from a consultant, you don't want a consultant going off and doing all kinds of crazy work.
Imke Feldmann (01:07:08):
Rob Collie (01:07:10):
But there's a stronger version of this [inaudible 01:07:11] is that I wouldn't even suggest anything beyond what they had asked me for. And it wasn't that I had all kinds of ideas and I was withholding them, I just wasn't doing that. I viewed myself as a service that they came to with their demands and I would fulfill their demands and then they would leave and they would come back when they needed me, that's how I sort of defined my role. And what we've learned over time is that that's actually a disservice to the client to not help them sort of expand their picture of what's possible. We've even had clients who started out working with me in the Rob a LA carte model where I was just like a one-way interface, you came to me and then I do work, right?
Rob Collie (01:07:53):
And as a company, we've had clients that started off in that mode with me and then transitioned to other people. And again like that cultural practice kind of got inherited to the company in the early stages of our existence. And we've had clients, early clients, who've been with us for years, come back to us later and say, "Hey, it would have been better for us if you'd been a little bit more proactive in terms of suggesting how we could improve our operation in general." And we've heard that signal and we've transitioned, we've absolutely transformed, but we are no longer the Rob style. This is the lesson that we learned years ago and we've gone through the learning curve and the process of getting better about being better advisors.
Imke Feldmann (01:08:33):
What do you mean by that? What do your clients need in terms of suggestions or improvements? Their basic finance processes?
Rob Collie (01:08:41):
I'll answer that with an example. And it will be a halfway factual example that came from our history, but also I'll sort of halfway fictionalize it to make it easier to understand.
Imke Feldmann (01:08:53):
Rob Collie (01:08:53):
This is a very truthy example. So let's say we were building dashboards reports for a particular company for a long time. And we knew that the way these dashboards, these reports were being used, was to inform people on particular decisions that they need to make, of course, right? But we know, because we've been part of their culture and their team for so long, we know what that looks like. We know that the person who's using this report, that role, then turns around and goes to this other system, this other line of business system and make certain adjustments, okay. This client came back to us and said, "Hey, it would have been great if two years earlier than when it came up, you had suggested that we start doing some sort of Power Apps integration here, or Power Automate, Flow, whatever, right, to make the action taking portion of that process less clumsy." Now we never asked you P3 if there was anything you could do there, okay?
Imke Feldmann (01:09:55):
Rob Collie (01:09:56):
"But eventually we discovered on our own that that was a possibility and we formed the goal to do it." This is an example from like 2016, right? So this conversation happened like five years ago, but it's still like three years into the history of the company, right? And they said, "Look, if you had your eyes a little bit wider open, and I'd been okay with this suggestion," in other words, in some ways we are so, especially back then, we were so obsessed with this idea of being the good guys, right? But we're still like this. We don't do any work for a client that's not good for the client. We don't suggest projects that will build revenue just to build revenue. I think most consulting firms very much still do. So this still makes people like us and yourself different, right?
Rob Collie (01:10:42):
We were so obsessed with that principle that we wouldn't even suggest things to the client that we're amazing for them. And so we have learned our lesson there. We're not pushy, it's not like a used car sales dealership or whatever, but we're much more conscious of the entire ecosystem that's going on at the clients, the bigger picture. And just because a client hasn't formed an idea and asked us if we could do it, that's not the signal, right? We should have our eyes open and be at least open people's eyes to possibilities that would make things genuinely better for them, whether they choose to do it or not, whether they choose to use us to help them do it or not, doesn't matter, we've become better advisors over the years.
Imke Feldmann (01:11:28):
I understand what you mean. That's one reason why I prefer to work with finance directors or people in that area because I can ask them these questions and can speak openly with them, and they sit on the budget and they can then decide if they want to move in that direction or not. And certainly Flow is a product that's helped me a lot in these additional aspects in the past. So these Power Automate things are really a great addition in them for many finance tasks.
Rob Collie (01:12:00):
I think that's a really crucial difference. When you're working with finance directors, you have legitimately walked in their shoes. And so there's an authenticity there when you say, "Hey, I would seriously consider paying some attention to this other portion of your workflow that we could improve." Whereas I had been a software engineer when I was solo, right? I had never been anything. Software engineers weren't hiring me, right?
Imke Feldmann (01:12:30):
Sometimes that's just enough to ask the question, " Just have you considered this or that? Or there are other options as well." And then, I mean, can be a difficult field, but diplomacy is needed and it helps if you know the client for some time just to develop a feeling if they are open to suggestions for improvement, let's say like that. But that makes sense.
Rob Collie (01:12:56):
It's probably easy to imagine being a little bit less proactive with suggesting or expanding the possibilities with a client who doesn't come from an industry you're familiar with, right? So my... You don't need any advice you're doing great. But so my advice to you, if there was such a thing that was necessary, it would be that even outside of your industries of comfort, the lesson that we've learned is that you should be still using basically all of your faculties, just like you would be. It turns out that the nature of problems, the patterns that exist, they span industries. And a versatile brain such as yours really is just as valuable making suggestions outside of your industry of origin as within it. And that was a lesson that we, as an organization, have had to learn.
Rob Collie (01:13:46):
And our consultants have a lot more relevant industry experience than I ever did. Because again, I still don't think we've been hired to help a software engineering organization manage their software product methodology. Maybe we have, I wouldn't know, but still we work with lots of industries that maybe the first time we've ever worked for that industry. And we discover that boy, there's all kinds of things we've done for other industries that ended up being relevant anyway. And it's the nature of the thinker, is I think quite a bit more important even than specific industry experience. I think the industry experience is actually more valuable in just sort of selling. People, I think really overestimate the value of industry experience when helping a particular industry with their data and they underestimate the quality of the thinker that's helping them. And we have just amazing thinkers on our team, and Imke, you clearly are as well. But anyway, you got a good thing going, you don't need to... I'm not saying that you need to change everything you're doing, of course not, you're killing it.
Imke Feldmann (01:14:49):
Let's speak in two or three years, if that's still the thing I want to do. But for the moment, I couldn't be more happy with how the business runs.
Rob Collie (01:14:58):
You're just an amazing story, an amazing person. And I'm glad that we got to do this, we got to spend this time together. It's been a long time coming.
Imke Feldmann (01:15:06):
No it's great to finally talk with you. I mean, we've crossed paths a couple of times before, but never had the chance to chat a bit. So it was a really enjoyable experience.
Rob Collie (01:15:19):
One of the OG Power Pivot crew.
Imke Feldmann (01:15:21):
These were the days.
Rob Collie (01:15:23):
I'm just delighted at your arc.
Imke Feldmann (01:15:26):
Thanks. Thanks Tom as well, nice to meet you.
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