HST MEMP PhD '18 alum Lina Colucci shares her journey founding a company following the advice of IDEO founder David Kelley to "work with your friends"
Lina Avancini Colucci
I moved to the USA in 2000 because my dad got a job at IDEO, the legendary product design consultancy that developed the first Apple mouse. IDEO’s founder David Kelley started the company because he wanted to work with his friends. I remember hearing this as a 10-year-old and thinking it was the strangest reason I’d ever heard. Now, 20 years later, I founded a consulting company because I just want to work with my friends. I guess David Kelley was on to something all along.
I finished my PhD (at HST) a couple of years ago feeling like a failure.
I had spent the majority of my twenties developing algorithms for a novel type of health sensor but graduated with nothing to show for my work (it would be another year before the work was finally accepted as the cover story of a top journal).
I thought that my PhD was going to catapult me to a rewarding career as an inventor and entrepreneur. Instead, I graduated with a funny floppy hat, a couple of failed entrepreneurial pursuits (more on those another time), no papers, and no idea of what to do next.
I wondered how I got my career choices so wrong in my PhD and decided it was time to go back to the basics. I thought back to when I designed a novel ballet shoe with the team at IDEO and reminisced at what a camaraderie-filled environment it had been in their office. I knew that regardless of what I did after my PhD, I just wanted to work with great people. I had already spent too much of my twenties working with people who I didn’t like and dreading going into work each day as a result.
Edge Analytics was born out of a simple desire to work with my friends and do things together that make a positive difference in the world. We started out consulting with a few great clients (more on that later) and have grown in scale. We now partner with companies, who range from large international corporations to innovative startups, to ship products around the world. We are a company that specializes in data science, machine learning (ML), and algorithm development both on the edge and in the cloud. I still pinch myself that what I get to do on a daily basis is actually real life.
3 Reasons Why Consulting Has Been Fulfilling
I could have never predicted that I would end up in consulting. To be honest, I still don’t feel like “consulting” or “contract engineering” is the right word for what I do. If anything, Edge Analytics is more of a “Product Design” firm, like IDEO or Frog, except that our products are algorithms and machine learning models. Terminology aside, here are three reasons why I love what I do:
We Ship Products
The models of consulting that I had seen in the past involved consultants swooping in, offering advice and recommendations, and then leaving again. I knew that I did not want that.
I love building things. I like being able to point to something and say, “I made that.” I like to see my ideas through all stages of implementation, to accumulate scar tissue from mistakes (to borrow a phrase from Steve Jobs), and to experience the professional growth that comes from true ownership.
That is exactly what we do at Edge Analytics. We don’t just do staff augmentation. We don’t just come in for two months and then leave again. We partner with companies to ship products. At the end of the day, we are responsible for production-level algorithms used by real customers.
We are on the Professional Growth Fast-Track
At Edge Analytics, we get exposed to a wide variety of problems in a short amount of time. We work on areas ranging from computer vision to natural language processing, from time-series to probabilistic modeling. We work on problems requiring TPU clusters and others requiring low-power microcontrollers and tiny FPGAs. We all build resumes that are dotted with iconic products that we help ship.
Our work is intense. We consistently deliver on extremely high expectations, which is only made possible by my incredible teammates and our effective teamwork. Working at Edge Analytics is ultimately a way to invest in ourselves and grow more than we thought possible.
We Choose What We Work On
We have been lucky to have more inbound work than capacity to take it on. That means we get to choose which clients to work with. We have three criteria when picking new partners:
- The clients must be great people and great at what they do.
- It must be an interesting technical problem. We all like learning and being challenged.
- It must make the world a better place.
I recognize that this company with this incredible team is very special. I recognize how lucky I am. And all I can hope for is that Edge Analytics continues being a place where we do some of the best work of our lives; solve hard, interesting problems that make the world a better place; and, in the process, build great friendships that we’ll carry for decades to come.
It took a while, but I finally realized that the Founder of IDEO was right all along.
Thank you to Brinnae Bent, Daniel Hensley, Sidney Primas, and Andrew Weitz at Edge Analytics for reading drafts of this post. Thank you to Jose Colucci for digging up the high-school photos.
David Kelley, the founder of IDEO, started the company so he could work with his friends.