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Dan Burcaw on Entrepreneurship, Using AI to Stop Customer Churn, and Deploying Code onto Nuclear Submarines
Episode 629th January 2021 • Data Driven • Data Driven
00:00:00 01:00:26

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In this episode, Frank and Andy speak with Dan Burcaw on Entrepreneurship, Using AI to Stop Customer Churn, and Deploying Code onto Nuclear Submarines.

Show Notes


The following transcript is AI generated.

00:00:00 BAILeY

Hello and welcome to data driven.

00:00:02 BAILeY

The podcast where we explore the emerging fields of data science, machine learning, and artificial intelligence.

00:00:09 BAILeY

In this episode, Frank and Andy speak with Dan Burke or Dan is a serial entrepreneur who has founded four companies each on the forefront of a major technology wave, open source software, the smartphone.

00:00:23 BAILeY

Cloud computing and now machine learning.

00:00:26 BAILeY

Currently he leads Nam Eml, a company focused on helping app developers start and grow mobile subscription businesses.

00:00:34 BAILeY

If you follow Frank and or Andy on social media, you certainly have heard them bang on about their secret project.

00:00:41 BAILeY

I will drop a one word hint here foreshadowing.

00:00:45 BAILeY

Now on with the show.

00:00:48 Frank

Hello and welcome back to data driven.

00:00:50 Frank

The podcast where we explore the emerging fields of data science machine learning, an artificial intelligence, and if you like to think of data as the new oil, then you could consider us Car Talk.

00:01:02 Frank

Because we focus on where the rubber hits the road.

00:01:05 Frank

So with that as my guest on this pandemic road trip, that hasn't happened.



00:01:13 Frank

By my copilot here is Andy Leonard.

00:01:16 Frank

How you doing Andy?

00:01:17 Andy

Hey, I'm doing pretty good Frank how are you?

00:01:20 Frank

I'm doing well, I'm doing well.

00:01:21 Frank

I had a kind of an architecture session this morning, so that went really well.

00:01:27 Frank

It was.

00:01:28 Frank

It was an interesting conversation and I love doing those.

00:01:31 Frank

Those are always fun.

00:01:32 Frank

How about?

00:01:32 Andy


00:01:33 Andy

Yeah, so I'm proofing the next book.

00:01:36 Andy

Proofing is the absolute last chance to remove all of the typos I've left in.

00:01:42 Andy

As I've gone through the last three full edit sessions and there's still some there.

00:01:47 Andy

Frank, I'm convinced that the next book is going to have, you know, have a fair share of those.

00:01:52 Andy

What I'm really concerned about.

00:01:54 Andy

Is making sure that the demos work an yeah that's you know it's it's tedious and it's the LastPass so you know it's like is this over yet? Yeah, I'm sick and tired of reading this guy's writing and it's me so.

00:02:10 Andy

Yeah no.

00:02:10 Andy

But yeah.

00:02:12 Frank

That was the hardest part.

00:02:13 Frank

People asking.

00:02:14 Frank

Like when I wrote a book on Silverlight an aside from it being about Silverlight, the hardest thing wasn't so much writing, it was having to go back and re edit my own stuff and like.

00:02:24 Frank

You know, and I would look at it and be like man like I'm a terrible or.

00:02:28 Andy

That's I have said over and over again to my computer monitor who wrote this crap.

00:02:33 Andy

By a friend if you live.

00:02:33 Andy

But Fortunately for this is a second edition, so an it's one of those second editions where I kept the first 10 or 11 chapters.

00:02:43 Andy

I I changed from my writing language.

00:02:46 Andy

I wrote it like three years ago.

00:02:48 Andy

And I really this grew out of a series of blog posts that I wrote back in 2012. It was all in VB back then, Visual Basic. And so I wrote it that way in 2017 and for the 2nd edition I went back and updated all of that. That's really the only thing I changed was I went to C sharp.

00:03:06 Andy

An I kind of needed to because the rest of the book was going to be in C sharp anyway.

00:03:12 Andy

And so yeah, that's that's kind of how it went.

00:03:15 Andy

And for anybody listen, it thinks wow, Andy is smart.

00:03:18 Andy

He's written a book about C sharp.

00:03:20 Andy

He must know C sharp really, really well.

00:03:22 Andy

I say throughout the book I am not a C sharp developer.

00:03:26 Andy

I feel like I'm working my way up to being a noob, but but.

00:03:29 Frank

Don't you work classes?

00:03:31 Andy

I do wear glasses.

00:03:33 Andy

Yes, yeah.

00:03:33 Frank

So you can see sharp.

00:03:36 Andy

I did.

00:03:36 Andy

They took me awhile.

00:03:37 Andy

Do you have your sound effects running from I?

00:03:39 Frank

Do were back in Zend Caster.

00:03:41 Frank

So for folks listening like I don't remember this being on the live stream.

00:03:45 Frank

If it's not, we're doing this the old fashioned way right then, and don't worry, Andy and I've been live streaming a lot, which you probably noticed, but today we have a very special guest, don't we, Andy?

00:03:48 Frank


00:03:56 Andy

Yeah yeah, Dan Burke all is awesome.

00:04:00 Andy

He's a co-founder and CEO and I hope I say this right, is it?

00:04:04 Andy

Is it nami? Nami ML Dan.

00:04:07 Dan Burcaw

Yeah nami. Like tsunami.

00:04:09 Andy

Ah OK, I got it right the first time NAMI AML and it's a really smart service for monetizing digital products with subscriptions.

00:04:09 Frank


00:04:19 Andy

And just he's had a whole ton of experience working in, you know, in marketing for the Oracle Marketing Cloud, working with the mobile product for that.

00:04:31 Andy

So pretty smart Guy joined joined Oracle back during the acquisition of Push IO and.

00:04:39 Andy

Push IO was a leading mobile messaging provider as well.

00:04:44 Andy

And he served there as a Co founder and CEO.

00:04:47 Andy

There's a bunch more in here about Nan, an it all kind of boils down to super smart, successful guy.

00:04:54 Andy

We've had a little bit of banner before we click the record button an I can attest to.

00:04:59 Andy

That is really enjoyable conversation.

00:05:01 Andy

I look forward to this show.

00:05:02 Andy

Thanks for being here, Dan.

00:05:05 Speaker 1

Really happy to be here.

00:05:05 Speaker 1

Really happy to be here.

00:05:06 Speaker 1

Thanks for having me.

00:05:07 Frank

Awesome, so you're a serial entrepreneur and you founded a bunch of companies.

00:05:13 Frank

Um, but my favorite part of the bio I read on you was that.

00:05:18 Frank

You wrote software that ended up on a nuclear submarine.

00:05:23 Speaker 1

Yeah, that's right.

00:05:26 Speaker 1

It's it's hard.

00:05:26 Frank

That that totally away I was like what?

00:05:29 Speaker 1

It it's it's hard to even tell that story sometimes because it's so unbelievable.

00:05:35 Speaker 1

I 17 years old at the time.

00:05:38 Speaker 1

The company that I cofounded was building a flavor of Linux.

00:05:46 Speaker 1

A flavor of Linux that was designed to run on Apple Macintosh hardware.

00:05:52 Speaker 1

And at the time.

00:05:52 Frank


00:05:54 Speaker 1

Then the the reason for that was that Apple was using the power PC chip power PC chip in that moment of time. You know, we're kind of talking in the late 90s. Early 2000s had fantastic price per performance per Watt, which is a metric that a lot of folks in the kind of high performance computing world look at when they're trying to figure out.

00:06:11 Andy


00:06:18 Speaker 1

How to build these kind of supercomputer clusters?

00:06:21 Speaker 1

And so it just happened at that moment in time, the Mac would had had the best price performance per Watt because of the chips that they.

00:06:29 Speaker 1

We're using and so we we ended up doing a deal with Lockheed Martin and the US Navy to build a cluster of Macs running Linux.

00:06:45 Speaker 1

That were deployed across the US Navy nuclear sub fleet for the purpose of doing sonar image processing, yeah.

00:06:53 Andy


00:06:55 Speaker 1

The the the software that I wrote was related to.

00:07:00 Speaker 1

You know how folks on the boat would have to manage these units if there was issues, how would you know?

00:07:07 Speaker 1

Kind of the maintainability repair ability was a big issue when you're actually out at sea and trying to have this stuff run in kind of a mission critical fashion so.

00:07:17 Speaker 1

We ended up.

00:07:17 Speaker 1

I mean it was this was such a crazy project because the hardware was modified hardware.

00:07:22 Speaker 1

It wasn't off the shelf Apple hardware, it was Apple Hardware and then we did a bunch of things to it and then it was Linux and then it was some custom software that made the whole thing operate an.

00:07:35 Speaker 1

So it's it was.

00:07:37 Speaker 1

It was a nutty project, an I'm.

00:07:40 Speaker 1

Looking back on it now, I'm surprised that it had ever shipped quite frankly.

00:07:46 Frank

Spoken like a true engineer, right?

00:07:48 Frank

You're always you always look at your flaws and like Oh my God, that's actually running.

00:07:56 Frank

So so you you where did you go after that?

00:08:00 Frank

'cause it says you know you're a serial entrepreneur and so how did you get into?

00:08:05 Frank

I don't want to steal.

00:08:06 Frank

Kind of our pre canned questions Thunder but.

00:08:11 Frank

Tell me how did you get into A&ML? Or were you doing ML on those on those retrofitted Max?

00:08:18 Speaker 1

No, we weren't.

00:08:19 Speaker 1

We weren't, but but you know, I think that part of the hype that world of high performance computing where a lot of our customers were, you know, national labs or defense oriented things.

00:08:30 Speaker 1

I mean, part of the appeal of what we were offering in that period of time was that they were running algorithms an doing some of this stuff.

00:08:39 Speaker 1

You know, obviously ahead ahead ahead of their time and they need it.

00:08:43 Speaker 1

There wasn't the cloud computing yet, so they were literally just trying to assemble the biggest.

00:08:49 Speaker 1

Supercomputers using off the shelf hardware that they possibly could so we weren't writing the algorithms.

00:08:55 Speaker 1

We were more enabling these algorithms to be run, but I would say the Fast forward is that in terms of my career, is that working on that led to?

00:09:09 Speaker 1

Being involved in sort of the mobile ecosystem from the launch of the App Store and the iPhone back in 2000, seven 2008 and in a way it was very very similar to what we did with the submarines. Because you were dealing with constrained hard.

00:09:25 Speaker 1

Where you always had to care about performance and battery life and battery life, less so on the Subs.

00:09:31 Speaker 1

But some of the same sort of constraints where you're trying to get the best performance you can out of these things and operating in that mobile landscape and building apps for some of the largest consumer brands.

00:09:46 Speaker 1

And then you guys mentioned in the in the intro about push IO.

00:09:49 Speaker 1

This mobile messaging company that we.

00:09:51 Speaker 1

Built, we ended up at Oracle building this mobile marketing engine is part of the Oracle Marketing Cloud an and one of the things that we saw there is that now.

00:10:03 Speaker 1

Fast forward to kind of more modern times and there's such a prevalent use out there of.

00:10:11 Speaker 1

Technology like email, you know email marketing systems and push notifications in the world of mobile in order to tackle kind of a fundamental problem that exists with some of these products, which is the user.

00:10:28 Speaker 1

Download your app, let's say, and they use it and then and then they churn, and then they abandon an and you as a publisher of a product like this, is one of the battles that you're trying to fight is how do I get them back into the experience and so are sort of observation is we were.

00:10:44 Andy


00:10:48 Speaker 1

You know, done our tenure there and we're looking to do something next.

00:10:52 Speaker 1

And new was a couple of things.

00:10:55 Speaker 1

The first thing we saw was that with the iPhone 10, I think it was.

00:11:01 Speaker 1

Apple released.

00:11:02 Speaker 1

Face ID.

00:11:03 Speaker 1

And that was using algorithms running on the device, so the benefit was you could unlock the phone very, very fast, but also it had some privacy characteristics where Apple doesn't need your face and the kind of the point cloud representation of your face to be up on their servers somewhere.

00:11:21 Speaker 1

That was really intriguing to us.

00:11:23 Speaker 1

The other thing was that we saw that the app economy, so to speak, was in transition from kind of the early days of where it was paid downloads.

00:11:33 Speaker 1

Transitioning to kind of in app purchases, which the game ecosystem has really been been focused on to trying to create more durable, sustainable revenue models through subscription.

00:11:35 Speaker 1

Which is right?

00:11:46 Speaker 1

And so how we sort of arrived at focusing a lot on data at NAMI.

00:11:53 Speaker 1

Is that it?

00:11:54 Speaker 1

It seemed to us like there was.

00:11:56 Speaker 1

If we we would, we really were excited about an idea that if we could.

00:12:02 Speaker 1

Help the guy.

00:12:04 Speaker 1


00:12:04 Speaker 1

App publishers a mechanism to send way fewer push notifications.

00:12:10 Speaker 1

An email messages because they had a technology stack that could allow them to detect in the experience, right directly on the device that somebody was showing signs of churn, or that somebody was showing some.

00:12:25 Speaker 1

Early intent that they might be a a candidate to be a subscriber, and so just that idea that maybe there's a way that we could be part of cutting down the messaging load by making the actual experiences smarter and more intelligent about what users are doing was where we.

00:12:42 Speaker 1


00:12:43 Frank

That's interesting.

00:12:43 Frank

That's it.

00:12:44 Frank

What sorts of signals?

00:12:47 Frank

That you can collect given specially with Apple's kind of enhanced privacy policies that they've been been doing.

00:12:55 Frank

An what?

00:12:56 Frank

What sorts of signals kind of indicate churn?

00:13:00 Speaker 1

So you know it is.

00:13:01 Speaker 1

It's a great question.

00:13:02 Speaker 1

When we started out we were thing.

00:13:04 Speaker 1

Gain, we're going to collect all this crazy stuff.

00:13:07 Speaker 1

I mean, we were even thinking at one point in the early prototyping that you know, maybe maybe, what carrier the user is on is some signal.

00:13:16 Speaker 1

Maybe the device form factor, whether it's the really expensive version of the phone or the lower you know there's all these things that we were thinking about, but.

00:13:24 Speaker 1

When when?

00:13:27 Speaker 1

And we're not my cofounder and I are not experts in this field, so one of the things that we did was we recruited our CTO who has a PhD in applied math and had been building data science animal models, kind of in production at, you know, in the real world.

00:13:46 Speaker 1

Applications of places like the Los Angeles Times and Tribune Publishing and one of the first things he told us when he came in was guys like, wait, you're trying to?

00:13:55 Speaker 1

You don't need all these days.

00:13:56 Speaker 1

Points a lot of what you're trying to collect just isn't isn't going to move the needle, and So what.

00:13:57 Speaker 1


00:14:03 Speaker 1

It really gets to both on the so we look at, you know from subscriptions we're looking at.

00:14:07 Speaker 1

Kind of two things.

00:14:08 Speaker 1

One is what are signals that show that somebody might be have a propensity to purchase.

00:14:17 Speaker 1

And then, secondarily, that early turn detection, or kind of likelihood to churn.

00:14:23 Speaker 1

And it turns out it's it's pretty simple on some level, because it's really about the behavioral signals around engagement.

00:14:34 Frank

Interesting soon.

00:14:34 Speaker 1

So are they using the app or are they using the app a lot?

00:14:38 Speaker 1

Or they did they used to use it a lot and now they're not using it as much so those are kind of the key?

00:14:44 Andy

Signals, so you're not popping up little boxes and saying, do you want to keep using the app?

00:14:51 Andy

Check yes or no.

00:14:54 Speaker 1

No, I mean it's it's.

00:14:55 Speaker 1

It's funny, you know.

00:14:57 Speaker 1

I have a friend that has that has a company that that powers some of that around the ratings right?

00:15:05 Speaker 1

Do you want?

00:15:05 Andy

Yeah, yeah.

00:15:05 Speaker 1

To make this.

00:15:06 Speaker 1

Yep, and you know they have a really fascinating take on it, which is that.

00:15:11 Speaker 1

Because whenever I see one of those, I hit no, I don't.

00:15:14 Speaker 1

I you know, I just like want to dismiss it an.

00:15:17 Andy

Yeah, yeah.

00:15:18 Speaker 1

Yeah, he's got a strong viewpoint that by by asking a user a binary question it provides them better data for what they're trying to do around kind of customer sentiment an so I just thought I was fascinated by that because whenever I see one of those ratings popped up so I just wanted to like.

00:15:34 Andy


00:15:41 Speaker 1

I want to say no, even if I like the experience on some level, I have a visceral reaction that's just like I leave me.

00:15:47 Frank


00:15:48 Frank

Right, right?

00:15:48 Andy

Well, I wonder if that's

00:15:48 Frank

Well, it's always when you're sorry, ID.

00:15:50 Andy

That's OK, go ahead.

00:15:52 Frank

It's always when you're trying to do something or the kids are screaming like do you want to write this?

00:15:52 Frank

It's always when you're.

00:15:56 Frank

Like no, I want to use this stupid app like even if I like it.

00:15:58 Frank

But what I find myself doing and I've as I'll say not now like like remind me