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Q&A with Marek Byszewski, Querona’s Co-Founder & CTO

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A little over a decade ago, when the startup scene was still nascent in Poland, Marek Byszewski and Robert Gradowski co-founded YouNeedIT in Warsaw with the idea of providing IT services to corporate clients. The business took off, but a few short years later, Marek & Robert saw a trend: the real problem for most clients was not with finding IT services (which abound in Poland), but with effectively integrating, managing, and querying ever-growing volumes of corporate data.

Marek & Robert took to the task, and in 2013 Querona was born.

Today Querona is a groundbreaking virtualization platform that can integrate data from 128+ types of sources using Big Data analytics. The 50-person team has written over 626,300 lines of code, and the platform now runs 1 million automated tests daily. We caught up with Marek to learn what’s on the horizon, what he thinks of bootstrapping, and how much coffee he really drinks per day.

Before we dive into Querona, can you tell us a little bit about your background and how you became a CTO?

I’ve been software developer since college, and specialize in .NET and analytics of big data platforms. I spent almost 8 years at Allianz Insurance and ended up as an IT Security Officer. I left Allianz to go work at a software house and, after a year or so, became the CTO. But in reality, I was more of a COO and managing almost everything: client acquisition, organizing technology, teams, and delivering products. The only things I didn’t do were accounting, regulatory stuff, and issuing invoices. After we made a big ERP [Enterprise Resource Planning] system, I left to start YouNeedIT.co with Robert.

No regrets, right?

We have a 50 person team now and we’re pretty happy!

Okay, so what’s a real life example of how Querona works?

So imagine two companies have merged and you have to integrate their two data warehouses. A lot of effort has already gone into each of them in terms of data analytics. To integrate them classically, you’d have to copy both to a newly-created third data warehouse or integrate one database into the other. That’s actually really hard to do. Usually you don’t have a good grasp of what you need up front — you just know that you need data.

With Querona, the third data warehouse is virtual, meaning that we do the work of integrating the old data warehouses for you. So, for example, if you issue a query, we virtually get a little bit of data from this warehouse, a little from that warehouse, and send it ready to you as third virtual database. On your end, what you see is a single integrated database, but underneath you have two or more physical warehouses at your service any time.

Marek Byszewski (R) with Satya Nadella & the Deputy Prime Minister of Poland at the Var Sovia = new Tech(); conference in 2017

Who’s your ideal client?

The ideal client is already feeling the pain of working with their data classically. They already use some solution and can tell that it’s not agile enough. They’re feeling the financial losses and have a sense that they’re also losing time. This is where we come in. Data virtualization is a very lightweight approach so we’re the perfect solution.

What does your pitch sound like?

A good analogy is a hurdle race. If you want to integrate databases the traditional way, you have to jump over all the hurdles in a row to go around the track. With our agile product, you can choose to avoid hurdles. I can go to the client and say, “Here’s your data, here’s your report, what do you think?” If they need something else, no problem. We can always change whatever they want really fast. Meanwhile, with traditional methods, it would be very hard or even impossible to work successfully on already integrated data.

Do you see any other companies, like SAP, moving towards the same functionality?

They have it, and we have competition. Our biggest competitor is Denodo, but there’s also SAS, Oracle, and recently Microsoft. These competitors fall into two groups. The first group is called ‘Pure Play,’ like Denodo, where their product focuses only on data virtualization. They don’t have a data-based platform. The second group, like SAS, have these kinds of tools that are targeting a single data-based engine. SAS is built so you can consume it on the SAS platform. They don’t want the data to be consumed elsewhere.

This is how we’re different. We don’t care — with us, you can do anything. We’ll put your data wherever you want so you can use the tools you like and be happy. The data can be put on 15 supported engines or a mixture of those, so you can get all the benefits from the platforms you use.

This is how we’re different. We don’t care — with us, you can do anything. We’ll put your data wherever you want so you can use the tools you like and be happy.

— Marek Byszewski

How long after Querona launched did it take you to get your first client?

We actually got our first client before we launched.

Amazing, and you also bootstrapped your company. How has investing your own money been different for the growth of your company during different stages?

First of all, we were free. We didn’t have to report to anyone. We were very patient, and we built the product without external influences. Even though we did a lot of market research, it was entirely our decision how we developed the product.

Another very important aspect was all the time we saved because we didn’t have to convince investors and reach out for funding. We were and continue to be a profitable software house, and that’s what matters.

Are you considering any VC funding in the future?

Yes, if we could work with a VC that could help us with the direction we want to go then we would happily consider the opportunity. Our approach is very opportunistic, but we’re not in a hurry.

Querona was one of four Polish companies invited to attend Var Sovia = new Tech();, during which Microsoft announced their first accelerator program in Poland

In your opinion, what are the challenges of entering Western markets, such as the US?

Well, there are quite a lot. First and foremost, you need to have boots on the ground. It’s hard to be a non-US entity and do business in the US. Also, it’s really expensive, so this is where external money from VCs could help with expansion. The cost of having an effective team in the States is a blocker for us at the moment, and that’s why we’re open for partners to help us do that.

The second thing is the time you have to spend to grow there. Probably the best solution would be to move to the US for two years with a strong plan and hurry because time is of the essence.

What are your thoughts on the future of the CEE startup ecosystem, particularly in data-related products?

I would say it’s a very bright future. There are a lot of new interesting startups and like 20% are at least partly funded from investors in the US. Of course, it is hard to get the funding if you don’t have the right network, but I’m sure we’ll have many successful startups from the region soon.

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Lightning round

1. Cups of coffee daily: 5 to 6!
2. Preferred coding language: C Sharp
3. Favorite video game: Halo 5: Guardians
4. Last book you read: A cookbook on Polish cuisine
5. Best advice you didn’t follow: “Always trust your gut”

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