Where Einstein Meets Edison

The DATA Challenge and Opportunity: Interview with Entrepreneur Diego May of Junar.com

The DATA Challenge and Opportunity: Interview with Entrepreneur Diego May of Junar.com

Apr 4, 2011

Are there facts and data on the web? Are they easy to find? And when found, are they easy to use? The Junar team believes that ´content and knowledge´ have already been discovered and it is now the time for data.

Diego May is the co-founder and CEO of Junar.com, a company in the growing Data Publishing industry.  He has 15 years experience in tech, from telecom to software, filling roles from sales and biz dev, to director and CEO. Diego has also spent time on the VC and investor side evaluating start-ups on a daily basis.

Tell us about Junar and how the idea came to life?

Javier Pajaro, my co-founder and long time childhood friend was working for a company where he had to put together reports and update them constantly with the latest data from different web sites. After many times of going through web searches, finding the right tables and using copy-paste to update his model, he thought: “There has to be a better way of doing this”.

Javier, an avid programmer, started coding and after a few months Junar was born. After seeing what Javier had built it was clear that he had created something that could help people make sense of the vast amount of data on the web. We started discussing the idea of bringing this product to market and after a few months I partnered with Javier to start the company.

We officially launched last February at San Francisco’s Launch Conference, and today Junar is a fully working platform that helps users discover, use, track and share data, initially data from the web and later from other sources.


How has the team grown and where are you located?

Junar was conceived in Argentina, where we are originally from. However in the early stages of our endeavor, we won a grant from Start-Up Chile, a government initiative to foster entrepreneurship in Chile.  So we moved our Dev. Team to Chile where it is currently located. We also have a data creation team based out of Costa Rica (where I have lived for a few years) and I am soon moving to Palo Alto to open the US office. We are also piloting with some MIT students and we have a presence in Cambridge.


How is it to lead such a “Global” Start-Up?

It has been a roller coaster and our growth has surprised all.  It’s incredible to think that in the following months we will have presence in four locations!

Since the beginning we knew there was a great opportunity here, but also a very interesting challenge when thinking about mapping data and making it easy to use. We know that we need top talent to make this happen. For that reason we have decided to create independent units where it makes the most sense to have them.

We have in Chile the product development center where we have been able to attract top talent from South America. In Costa Rica we have the content team as in this country the general level of English is adequate for such an endeavor.

Two things are crucial to make this distributed organization work. First: communication. We have learnt (the hard way) that being in different locations has challenges, for brainstorming and also because we can’t just shout out to the guy in the desk next to ours when we have a question.  We use collaboration technologies to enable fluid communications, constantly having virtual team meetings and using chats and e-mail.  We have found that using simple graphics and diagrams to point out spec changes and other details has been very effective. This makes it easier to bring the message across to your colleagues in the other hemisphere. 

Second, I would say that motivation and team building can be tough, but we everyday do as much as we can to keep building a great culture in the company. Having smart, independent and self-starting individuals in the team really makes it easier. Fun and trust are built even in the tone of the short e-mails and the jokes in the virtual meetings. On top of this, I try to keep on top of everything, constantly talking with everyone and flying every now and then to our different locations to ensure things are on track. In the end we are a team of data geeks that love what we are doing!


There is a lot of talk around data in the tech scene these days; what is your perspective on the data industry and what role does Junar play in it?

I believe data publishing is one of the next revolutions on the web. The amount of data on the internet is growing exponentially, and the technologies to do something with all that data have matured to a level that make the challenge more viable these days.

On top of all that, users are already accustomed to finding information and knowledge online, and have a lot of tools and apps that allow them to find, share, publish and micro publish content. But there is still a gap in data and we have a very interesting approach.

With Junar we allow the community to make sense out of the data on the web. Users use data and as they do so they curate it for others to consume. We do all this with a business model that makes sense.