Tech Leader Spotlight: Josh Churlik
I recently had the opportunity to sit down with someone who helped fuel the start of the Denver tech scene, and continues to do so to this day, Founder of Denver Founders and CEO & Founder of Well Data Labs: Josh Churlik.
Josh and I met at Well Data Labs — the sixth company he's founded— to talk about the progression of our Mile High City, his past entrepreneurial experiences, his current company, and more.
What are you currently doing in Denver?
I'm currently working on Well Data Labs, which is an oil and gas tech company focused on improving the way exploration and production companies (or, E&Ps) collect, aggregate, and analyze hydraulic fracturing data. Our tools help E&Ps integrate this data in a modern way to internal business intelligence systems and data science projects so they can better understand how treatments are going.
In the simplest terms, we bring modern technology to the oil-field by structuring big data in a way that it can be easily consumed, analyzed, and reported.
Where did you see the need for a company like Well Data Labs?
I've got about 12 years experience in the oil and gas industry, and 16 years building software, and I was on some projects and saw an opportunity: data related to the completion, as we call it, was in PDFs and Excel spreadsheets. The data wasn't structured in a format that could be easily analyzed.
What was the hardest lesson you learned from founding your company?
Getting the details right, finding the right co-founder, getting people hired, not overthinking the business...I've learned plenty of hard lessons, but mostly from the past 5 or 6 companies I founded rather than from my experience with Well Data Labs.
Try lots of things, try them quickly, and don't get hung up on them. That's my advice to young entrepreneurs. Oh, and make sure you have the appropriate founder agreements in place before you do start the heavy lifting on a new idea.
What's your involvement in the Denver Tech Community?
I found that in 2007 or so, there wasn't a strong tech community. So, myself and some others founded Denver Founders Network, which was focused on catalyzing the tech community in Denver. At the time, our meetup, and a number of others, were the first places that the tech-startup scene started networking.
Then, a couple years into that, as the meetup community became stronger, some of us came together to help start Denver Startup Week, which is obviously a smashing success today thanks to all of the hard work from the community.
And what are the biggest changes you've seen since the start of Denver's tech "boom"?
The size. I can walk down 16th Street Mall and see other founders everyday. Anything from large VC backed companies to small bootstrap companies. We just have this amazing density of tech talent in Denver that wasn't here 9 years ago.
What is your favorite thing about the Denver Tech Community?
Collaboration. Our community's competitive advantage is collaboration, which is something I really hope we can keep. It's easy to reach out to another founder, have a coffee, compare notes, find advisors and mentors. We collaborate more than compete, while other markets can be competitive leaning.
What's one thing you would improve about the Denver tech community?
I feel like we hit this major critical mass of all coming together, but now we're actually starting to go apart and silo again. In the past 10 years, we were all gathering at Galvanize for meetups and events and networking, and some of that isn't happening as much anymore. We have so many different co-working spaces now, and none of them have big venues, that it feels like we're actually seeing a little more separation in the community than we did 3 years ago.
It's great that we have these spaces, but how do we still maintain Denver's collective fabric between all these different co-working spaces?
Outside of your everyday work, what do you like working on for fun?
I love advising young entrepreneurs. I always make time for aspiring founders or founders because that's how I learned. Other than that, I spend time with my daughter and mountain bike as much as possible.
I can see Well Data Labs has an open office space, do you like working in that setting?
It's a good and a bad thing. So I've worked at places in my career where everybody had their own 10 X 10 office and I've worked in the open office format. The open office is definitely more collaborative, more fast-paced, and you're more likely to ask for help from a peer. But, the other side of that is that it's very noisy and distracting, so you have to create cultural norms around that.
For example, we buy noise canceling headphones for employees that want them, and let everyone know that it's okay to use them—it's okay to just put your head down and work. You don't have to be collaborating all the time, you don't even have to be in the office if you don't want to! We work from home on Fridays, and give flexibility to work from home if anyone wants. I like everyone to be in the office because I think it's the fastest way to collaborate, but it's not a requirement. If you want to work from home on a Wednesday because you need quiet time, no one cares as long as you're being productive.
What's the coolest technology you're currently working with?
I think what we're doing at Well Data Labs is pretty neat. We're taking a legacy industry that struggles a lot of legacy data formats and their working really hard to move into predictive analytics and artificial intelligence and we're providing the platform and capabilities that will allow them to do that. That's the coolest thing, that in the coming years we'll affect incredible change on the way the industry analyzes and looks at completions data.
What are some trends in the startup world that you're particularly excited about?
So, just the startup world in general! I love seeing the growth and excitement. But I like the trend around startups and profitability. For a lot of my career, it was "you perpetually run at a loss," and I've always taken the other side of that, where you try to reach profitability and sustainability. It's nice to see that Silicon Valley and some of these other big hubs are adopting that view now, so that's very exciting.