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Post by Rob Collie

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If you believe in redemption
I’m calling to you from another dimension

-The Flobots

Turn the Corner, Press the Accelerator

This post will have a definite “personal” flavor to it, but also a strong professional flavor – of what you should expect from us over the coming year.  Personal and Professional are ALWAYS closely intertwined, and I’m less squeamish about blurring that line in 2015 than in 2009, when we started this journey.  Running my own business has taught me this, but really, it was always true.  I was just less aware of it when I worked at Microsoft.  Now matter how you slice it, it’s our lives.

A few days ago, I resolved a long-running personal matter.  It’s… done.  Just looking at those two words – “it’s done’’ – wow, I’m still letting the new reality settle in.  It’s going to take awhile perhaps.  But we’re going to move forward aggressively now.  A new lease on everything.  And we’re not going to waste it.

Lemony Snicket’s Series of UnFortunate Events

steering wheel

And I can’t help but ask myself
How much I let the fear
Take the wheel and steer

-Incubus

In 2008, while working on “Project Gemini” (later renamed Power Pivot) at Microsoft, I started disentangling myself from a bad marriage.  The woman I had married in 1999, at age 24, was a bad match for me, and I for her.  We couldn’t have been MORE mismatched, really, but we couldn’t tell that in 1999.  We had two AMAZING children in 2002 and 2004, but that didn’t “fix” our relationship, and for years I was far too fearful to do anything about it.  And when I finally did, in 2008, it was still a clumsy and terribly fearful process.  Fear made things more painful, for both of us, than it should have been, and I have many regrets from that era.

The professional “twist” in the story came in 2009, when my ex decided to move from Seattle to Cleveland, with my children.  Cleveland – not exactly the land of big software engineering firms, and my entire career was built on a specialty (program management) that doesn’t even EXIST at smaller firms.  Yikes.

Moving to Cleveland seemed like a career-extinguishing event, in my eyes at the time.  So I fought the move in court.  Paid an absolutely horrible attorney a monstrous sum of money – for the pleasure of losing.  And really, I should have expected to lose.  But how do you accept reality when reality seems to be saying “your life is OVER?”  A hard thing to do.

Anyway, I fought the move, and lost.  Ugh.  What an epic beatdown.  Psychically scarring.  And terrifying.  What the HELL was I going to do for a living in Cleveland?  I was about to find out.

Cleveland – Where WE Found Ourselves

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You rise
You fall
You’re down
Then you rise again
What don’t kill ya
Make ya more strong

-Metallica

I keep switching between “I” and “We.”  That is deliberate.  First of all, my girlfriend Jocelyn, who was also a Microsoft employee back in 2009, chose to move with me, so I wasn’t making this “sacrifice the MS career, move to Cleveland” move on my own.

We got married here in Cleveland, in 2010, and yes, this is a MUCH better pairing. We share an acknowledged life mission of conquering fear, becoming more courageous, and sharing that journey with others – the children, our friends, and yes, the professional community as well.  (We are simultaneously a work in progress and an open book, to mix metaphors).  Jocelyn has been a critical element of everything that’s happened with PowerPivotPro since 2009.

But now, there’s a LOT more “We” than just the two of us:

  1. We’ve grown to a part-time staff of 5-7 additional employees (a total of ten people now have @powerpivotpro.com email addresses).
  2. We’ve recently hired multiple “support” firms – legal, accounting, and technical – to handle a lot of day-to-day stuff for us
  3. We’ve also forged close alliances with folks like Power Planner and Bill Jelen
  4. We used to get 300 page views a day.  Now we get over 6,000.  So there’s also a lot of YOU in this WE.  And we are very glad to share the journey with you.

So yeah, there’s a very strong “WE” now.  It would be selfish of me to use the word “I” as if this was just me.  And it would sell everything short.  Our business, the New Way of doing BI, everything – it would be cheapening to imply it’s one person.  Way bigger than that, and we’re going to Keep.  Making.  It.  Bigger.

An Aside:  Cleveland ROCKS!  And it LUCKS!

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Turned Out to Be the PERFECT Place to Do What We Needed to Do

People often are surprised that we’re based in Cleveland.  I like to joke that Cleveland is the Silicon Valley of the Midwest.  That joke KILLS every time.  No, Cleveland is not a high tech town.  Much MORE high tech today than it was six years ago, but still, Google/Apple/Microsoft aren’t opening new campuses here or anything.

But it’s been perfect.  Gritty, honest, friendly, and a more blue-collar, “no bullshit” vibe – the perfect backdrop for the kind of work we do.  Yes, technology is important.  But it’s not THE thing.  PEOPLE are the important thing!  Tech serves US, not vice versa.  And it’s easy to forget that when you live in a high-tech center like Seattle or San Fran.  (For perspective, Twitter STILL has net-negative earnings, and yet, investors keep pouring hundreds of millions of dollars into startups whose goal is to REPLACE Twitter.  You know, to become the leader in losing money.  Reality is distorted there.  The rest of us live in a different world, where the bottom line actually matters).

But also, WOW, how LUCKY we have been! That I worked on Power Pivot as my last job at Microsoft…  and then that Power Pivot turned out to be a true breakthrough product…  and that I’d had just the right experience to notice how different it was from the old methods.  The odds of all of that are basically ZERO.  And yet they all happened.

When I started the blog in 2009, with The Great Football Project, I will be honest with you:  I expected Power Pivot to FAIL.  I thought it would disappoint, that it would fall short of its goal of empowering Excel users like me to build industrial-strength models on par with traditional BI tools.  Because really, ALL new software fails, in my experience, to deliver even a fraction of what it set out to do.  But what else could I write about?  And Power Pivot seemed like a decent place to start, in terms of a potential new career.  I didn’t have any better idea.  That’s it.  The sole reason.

So when I realized a few months later that Power Pivot was actually MUCH BETTER than we’d even dared to hope at Microsoft, oh boy.  And as I started to realize WHY it was better, and that the “why” was because of the people element of the equation, the gears really started turning.

So, let’s be completely honest here:  while we HAVE made a lot of our own good fortune, and while we HAVE discovered a New Way, and while we ARE very proud of that…  we were quite literally ALSO in the right place at the right time.  So yes, Universe, we acknowledge the quality of the hand you dealt us.  I’m neither particularly religious or superstitious, but it’s all so unlikely that it does make even me wonder sometimes.

The New Chapter:  Heading to Indy!

Refresh 2

Second verse,
NOT same as the first

-Me

imageToday I am writing this post from Indianapolis, where we are looking at real estate. We will be relocating PowerPivotPro HQ from Cleveland to Indy this summer.

Much like 2009, this move is again precipitated by my ex wanting to move for her career.

But this time we are choosing it.  We probably could have stayed in Cleveland and kept the kids there.  This time around we had the moral high ground – sacrificing your career and re-inventing yourself in a new city for the good of the children tends to be a pretty big deal in the eyes of the court.  But rather than fighting to the end, this time we came to a deal.  No one is losing, this time around.  And that feels much better.

Plus, it’s quite validating in many ways, to be able to make such a move.

From a biz standpoint, this new Agile BI / New Way / Whatever-You-Want-to-Call-It is almost by definition independent of geography.  A business model where the client is ultimately empowered to solve their own problems, rather than dependent on the consultant, does not require long periods of on-site time.  (The onsite work we do typically lasts two days – even the REALLY involved projects last only a week).  And we help a LOT of companies via remote screenshare and offline work.  Even our team itself is geographically distributed.  We are very much a new kind of operation.  Geographically independent and resilient.  Our company is in many ways “just” an idea, and a group of individuals who have all seen the promise and the payoff of that same idea.

From a personal standpoint, it means taking back the steering wheel, once and for all. It means getting to spend even MORE time with the children, as part of the deal.  It means having the power to choose.  And all of that bleeds over into the professional realm, because the only boundaries between personal and pro…  are artificial.  The company is made of human beings, and the human beings in the nerve center are feeling better than ever.  Indy is going to be another great city for us – another stop on our tour of the world.  Tremendous personal weights have been lifted – some were carried for a year, some for six years, and others for a lifetime.  We’re looking forward to what we can do without that weight.

Thanks for being with us on this journey.  We won’t let you down.  Together, we are going to remake an entire industry.

Rob Collie

One of the founding engineers behind Power Pivot during his 14-year career at Microsoft, and creator of the world’s first cloud Power Pivot service, Rob is one of the foremost authorities on self-service business intelligence and next-generation spreadsheet technology.

This Post Has 54 Comments
  1. Good for you Rob.
    I admire you immensely and I have learned a lot about Power Pivot and Power BI from your blog (and THE book and THE 2nd book). Even though my new career is more accounting and less BI, I will keep PPP at the top of my everyday-must-do-to-enjoy-life-list.
    Just don’t buy an Aztec!

    Best,
    Seth

    1. Thanks Seth! We’ll keep doing everything in our power to earn that spot at the top of your reading list 🙂

    1. Thanks Tom! Ironically I am writing this from the passenger seat of a car on the way back from Indy, so I am NOT holding the wheel. But Jocelyn is 🙂

    1. Thank YOU Anna. I always hesitate, when I write something personal like this. Hard to know whether it will be well received. Glad that it is, very much.

    1. Hrm. Maybe I will need a new joke. In my heart, Cleveland will always be the Silicon Valley of the Midwest.

  2. Thanks for the post Rob. The way you blur the line between personal and professional is what keeps me coming back to this blog. You put a friendly face to BI for me and took it from the realm of, “that’s only for super smart people” to the realm of, “hey, I can do that!”

    1. Thanks Tim. For the record, you are awfully smart 🙂

      But the spirit of what you’re saying is absolutely accurate. Did you see Ratatouille? Remember the chef who believed “Anyone Can Cook?” That’s a strong parallel.

      1. I haven’t seen the movie, but I checked the YouTube clip and it seems like a good analogy. And you get to apply that philosophy without being just a figment of someone’s imagination!

        I like the “teach a man to cook” analogy better than “teach a man to fish” because cooking is so much closer to consumption. Sorry if that’s sexist, but “teach a person to fish/cook” just doesn’t have the same ring to it.

        How you handled your personal stuff with class, I’m sure that will pay dividends in your business. As I expect your business will pay dividends back into your personal life.

  3. Bravo for your dedication to helping others.

    Power Query / Power Pivot remind me of the groundbreaking functionality of Hyperion Essbase 20 years ago. History seems to be repeating itself, to our benefit.

    1. Thanks D! Wow, 20 years ago for Essbase? I would not have guessed that, but yep, it does make sense when I think about it.

      1. I started Essbase when my son was born. He’s now in college and will be 21 in August. How time flies.

  4. Rob, here’s to new chapters. As a lifelong Indy resident, welcome to the neighborhood. Send me what side of town you land in and I’ll buy you lunch. -Boilermaker

  5. I was thrilled to have Rob and Jocelyn in my relative backyard for 6 years. He taught me why I should not hate =GETPIVOTDATA, among many other things. For those of us left in Cleveland, the big prize is which Exceller is going to win the bidding war to purchase the amazing house that Rob is leaving behind. What an amazing Excel souvenir – Rob will have to get a huge Sharpie to autograph the house for the winner. That backyard has hosted Excel royalty from around the world.

  6. On behalf of Indy – Welcome!! and consider me a second on the lunch/dinner/patio beverage invite. I can’t wait to see what is coming next 🙂

    1. Thanks Kelly! Either I will take you up on that or we’ll do some sort of social meetup. Or maybe both 🙂

  7. That particular spot is really hard on my credit cards. Welcome to Indy! As an Indy transplant from Detroit 15 years ago, Indy was a bit of culture shock, but after a short stint in Chicago 8 years ago, I chose to come back. It goes grow on you and has its perks. I will ditto Brian H’s offer for a lunch.

    I hope you have some Indy classes as soon as you get settled.

    1. We managed to steer clear of the shopping this time. We just stayed at the hotel there. But wow that mall has everything, even a Tesla dealership.

      We will definitely be doing some Indy classes. Maybe also some sort of social meetup once we’re settled in, that would be fun and it seems like there’s a bunch of “us” in the Indy area 🙂

  8. Best of luck to you Rob. Live in Bloomington, IN. Indy is an up-and-coming city. Have only been using Power Pivot/PQ for 8 months but love it and really enjoy this blog. Visit it almost every day.

  9. This is the very stuff that has kept me coming back daily for however long it has been.

    The science, the art, and the life stuff.

    I have some pretty cool cousins there who also happen to be my half brother and sister as well.

    Little bit of a genetic riddle there.

    Best wishes to the whole family on this next page in your adventure.

    1. Similarly Gordon that’s why I’ve always enjoyed your emails, comments, and the in-person chats we’ve had. Not to mention the ransom notes for notebooks 🙂

  10. Rob,

    It is refreshing to see a family work so hard to stay together in difficult times. Best of luck with the move and we are right here with you!

    Thanks,
    Brent

  11. While Cleveland is definitely losing a little something with your departure, I, we (I’m just going to speak for all Clevelander’s, because why not..)wish you luck and good fortune in the future. While I couldnt see myself ever leaving Cleveland, family reasons would be only way. So thanks for your stop over in Cleveland and the live class.

    Take Care!

    1. Hi Nick! It’s been an amazing ride here in Cleveland.

      2009: “OMG, we have to move to Cleveland. This sucks.”
      2010: “Hmm, ok, Cleveland doesn’t suck nearly as bad as we expected.”
      2012: “Cleveland is actually pretty freaking cool. So much friendlier and honest than Seattle.”
      2014: “Hell no, we don’t want to leave Cleveland. Staying put.”
      2015: “OK fine, we’ll go, but we love this place and we found ourselves here.”

  12. Best of luck, Rob. Looking forward to what’s to come!

    P.S. you crushed it at PASS. I left your session with greater excitement and more ideas than I knew what to do with and for that–Thank you!

    Yesi

    1. Hi Yesenia! So you liked the 2-hour “Margins” talk? It was SO hard to tell if people were following it, appreciating it, or contemplating lunch. A silent and thoughtful room looks about the same to me as a silent and checked-out room. I hope the speaker evals mirror your experience but I will wait and see.

      1. Definitely enjoyed the “Margins” talk. I can only speak for myself, of course, in saying that my silence was appreciation and trying to soak up as many knowledge nuggets as possible…. and maybe a little looming hunger the last 30 minutes, but mostly appreciation.

  13. It seems to me that you found the right formula to break free of the cell you were stuck in. Family is important. Only absolute reference matters.

    I wish for you, your children and your wife Jocelyn all the best in the years to come. It takes a big personality and courage to write a post like this one.

    1. Hoooooo! Some serious puns there, “Ox.”

      I will say this: in the end, it’s all about… relationships.

  14. Great story Rob. It is a truly awesome world where talented individuals such as yourself and your “we” can keep family in mind and have such a profound effect on folks and businesses around the globe.

  15. I just wanted to thank you for sharing your story, best wishes to you and your wife. Looking forward to attend your class in couple of days.

  16. Wow. So glad to hear that you are approaching this move with such positivity and energy. Congratulations on this new start. And I am also excited for the fact that I getting visit one more state next time I meet you.

  17. A bit behind in reading posts. Thank you so much for sharing from your heart. Sometimes we are so focused on business and work we put family second. I live in the heart of SV and it does get upside sometimes.
    I loved your training at PASS BAC and look forward to Avi’s webinar and training.

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