Eric Hung, the founder and CEO at Advanced Analytics and Research Lab (AAARL), provides an insight into some useful techniques of advertisement, advice to the budding entrepreneurs, and his journey of building AAARL, a top-notch establishment.
Business Upside [BU]: How did you get your idea or concept for the business?
Eric Huang [EH]: When I was still in university, just finishing up my Masters of Analytics at Ivey Business School, I was thinking about what I wanted to do once I graduated. I had been in analytics consulting before and had offers to several consulting firms for full-time, but I wanted to do something that involved some sort of social impact because that was what I was truly passionate about. I’ve always been involved with helping the community, I volunteer at least once a week and have been volunteering for most of my adult life. I make time to connect with those in the non-profit or government sector and better understand the work that’s being done in that field.
Examining the market, I realized that there weren’t any boutique companies that focused on these areas specifically. So I thought, why don’t I just start my own? The idea actually came to me, interestingly enough, through a dream. I was sleeping and it was 12:30 in the morning and I sat up in my bed because I had this idea. I called my friend up and he was nice enough to take the call so early in the morning. I talked to him for half an hour about this idea and soon I thought, hey this might be viable. So, I spent the whole night creating a preliminary business plan and some quick financial models to see if the business was feasible and turns out it was! Just one week later, I started the business and it’s been a crazy ride ever since!
Business Upside [BU]: What was your mission at the outset?
Eric Huang [EH]: My mission when starting the company is still the mission I have now. I want to make data accessible to everyone. Many people when they think of data, they get intimidated. They think it’s expensive, complicated, and something that only large, rich organizations have the luxury to use. What my team and I do at AAARL is we provide top-of-the-line, easily accessible, and affordable analytics to all organizations from the largest car manufacturer in Canada to a small family-owned cupcake shop. Specifically, I always try to reach out to non-profits or governmental organizations. I found a lack of accessible and affordable analytics in these sectors and my mission is to leverage their data and analytical capabilities so that they can become more efficient, productive, and generate better performance.
Business Upside [BU]: How do you advertise your business?
Eric Huang [EH]: We have various channels for advertising our business. Firstly, we sponsor conferences such as the Big Data and AI Toronto as well as attend global tech conferences such as Web Summit. During these events, we network with like-minded individuals, exchange ideas, and stay in contact if any collaboration opportunities open up. Before COVID, I used to attend events almost every night after work to meet with entrepreneurs, business leaders, artists, and all sorts of different people in Toronto. When I first arrived in Toronto I knew probably 10 people, but now I can stand anywhere in the financial district of Toronto and within 5 minutes I’ll say hi to someone I know.
Another channel of advertising I do is tied with our mandate to make analytics accessible to everyone. Every year, I would host around 10 analytics workshops teaching anywhere from Masters students to business professionals the basics of analytics, R, Python, and data visualization. Before COIVID, I used to do these workshops in person, but now, I’ve been conducting them online and they’ve been wildly successful! I also started a new online education platform (https://aaarl.thinkific.com/collections) where you can sign up and view my workshop recordings and learn from 13 free analytics courses.
Business Upside [BU]: To what do you attribute your success?
Eric Huang [EH]: My desire for entrepreneurship started fairly young. Growing up, my mom ran her own shoe store and I had relatives who were entrepreneurs, so I always had a bit of an entrepreneurial spirit growing up. Along with that, came this ambition and desire to make a difference in the world, and as an entrepreneur, it’s extremely important that you have that drive to want to solve these big problems.
As an entrepreneur, I had to learn how to problem-solve. I had to learn how to wear many hats, particularly in our industry since analytics is very multifaceted. Beyond analytics, I also had to learn how to do marketing and sales, complete legal documents, and problem-solve the rest. I’m glad to have had the education I did to give me the critical-thinking skills to solve unfamiliar problems.
My success is also largely due to my friends, family, and colleagues, who were all super supportive when I first started AAARL. I was also part of an entrepreneurial fellowship and I saw a lot of other young individuals starting their own companies, which really helped inspire and push me through the tough times.
Watch to take priceless entrepreneurial advice from the founder and CEO of AAARL
Business Upside [BU]: What do you look for in an employee?
Eric Huang [EH]: First, I think about what skills I currently need for the company. Second, I look for cultural and organizational fit. I want people who are interested in pursuing AAARL’s line of work but also demonstrate integrity and responsibility. Another important criterion is having a strong sense of curiosity. We’re a small organization, so there is a bit of organized chaos, but curiosity will allow them to open themselves up to new opportunities, push the world forward, and have fun doing it!
Because we are a small team, there is a bit of organized chaos, so one of the main underlying themes and values that we have as an organization is being curious and open, and have a strong desire to push the world forward. In addition, integrity is very important to me, especially since we work with a lot of sensitive client information, also another important aspect is admitting when you’re wrong and the mistakes you made and also handling problems as they arise.
Business Upside [BU]: What is unique about your company?
Eric Huang [EH]: In the data analytics world, organizations focus only on either building products and solutions or providing consultancy services. There are very few organizations that do both and so we strive, as a hybrid services and solutions company, to bring in the best of both worlds. This unique model allows us to build solutions for our clients while providing services in terms of customization, recommendations, and business analyses.
The second thing that’s unique about us is that we leverage a multi-disciplinary approach. On our data science team, we have physicists, economists, statisticians, psychologists, data engineers, business analysts, and computer scientists. By pulling in expertise from many different functions, we deliver value to clients that aren’t replicable anywhere else.
Business Upside [BU]: Does your company help the community where it is located?
Eric Huang [EH]: Yes, we do. A good portion of our clients is non-profit organizations: food banks, hospitals, educational platforms and more. We noticed that many non-profits were struggling with leveraging analytics and sought to transform these organizations by bringing them the analytics capabilities they need and at a reasonable price. We believe in making analytics accessible to all and therefore we aim to provide the same, if not better analytics services and solutions as other organizations, but at a fraction of the price.
We’re also huge proponents of education. We created our own analytics learning platform which currently contains 13 analytics and data science courses all for free. We also sponsor workshops and education events such as Hackathons because we really believe honing Canadians’ technological and innovative-thinking skills.
Personally, I love volunteering. Every week, I volunteer at a woman’s and children’s abuse shelter on their education programs, and I also volunteer at soup kitchens. I’m also a donor for the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM) and am a huge supporter of the cultural scene in Toronto.
Business Upside [BU]: If you had one piece of advice to someone just starting out, what would it be?
Eric Huang [EH]: Stay curious to new people, opportunities, and experiences.
Business Upside [BU]: How do you measure success?
Eric Huang [EH]: There are two answers here: a business answer and a personal answer. My business answer is obviously, as an analytics company, we’re focused on tracking our performance, goals, and KPI’s overtime. My personal answer has to do with whether I’m adding value to things I’m passionate about. I have a very detailed breakdown by the minute of how I’m spending my time and I use it to make sure I’m allocating enough time to the things that matter. Sometimes at the end of the day, I’m exhausted, but it’s a good exhausted. I’m ready to pass out on my bed feeling very satisfied knowing that I gave my all to something meaningful and really felt like I was living life to the fullest.
Business Upside [BU]: What is your management style?
Eric Huang [EH]: I am more of a hands-off type leader. I really believe that if you hire smart, intelligent people and you give them a problem without many constraints, they can figure it out on their own and in the best possible way. But that might be a function of the fact that we’re still a fairly small company, so overall, we don’t have a lot of rules or strict processes in place. We’re everchanging. I’m still able to be quite involved in everything our company does right now, but there will be a turning point when we will need to scale up and more process and management rules will need to be in place to make things more efficient. But that balance between efficiency and creativity is something that I will have to figure out over time.