Sep
16
2020
--

Narrator raises $6.2M for a new approach to data modelling that replaces star schema

Snowflake went public this week, and in a mark of the wider ecosystem that is evolving around data warehousing, a startup that has built a completely new concept for modelling warehoused data is announcing funding. Narrator — which uses an 11-column ordering model rather than standard star schema to organise data for modelling and analysis — has picked up a Series A round of $6.2 million, money that it plans to use to help it launch and build up users for a self-serve version of its product.

The funding is being led by Initialized Capital along with continued investment from Flybridge Capital Partners and Y Combinator — where the startup was in a 2019 cohort — as well as new investors, including Paul Buchheit.

Narrator has been around for three years, but its first phase was based around providing modelling and analytics directly to companies as a consultancy, helping companies bring together disparate, structured data sources from marketing, CRM, support desks and internal databases to work as a unified whole. As consultants, using an earlier build of the tool that it’s now launching, the company’s CEO Ahmed Elsamadisi said he and others each juggled queries “for eight big companies single-handedly,” while deep-dive analyses were done by another single person.

Having validated that it works, the new self-serve version aims to give data scientists and analysts a simplified way of ordering data so that queries, described as actionable analyses in a story-like format — or “Narratives,” as the company calls them — can be made across that data quickly — hours rather than weeks — and consistently. (You can see a demo of how it works below provided by the company’s head of data, Brittany Davis.)

The new data-as-a-service is also priced in SaaS tiers, with a free tier for the first 5 million rows of data, and a sliding scale of pricing after that based on data rows, user numbers and Narratives in use.

Image Credits: Narrator

Elsamadisi, who co-founded the startup with Matt Star, Cedric Dussud and Michael Nason, said that data analysts have long lived with the problems with star schema modelling (and by extension the related format of snowflake schema), which can be summed up as “layers of dependencies, lack of source of truth, numbers not matching and endless maintenance,” he said.

“At its core, when you have lots of tables built from lots of complex SQL, you end up with a growing house of cards requiring the need to constantly hire more people to help make sure it doesn’t collapse.”

(We)Work Experience

It was while he was working as lead data scientist at WeWork — yes, he told me, maybe it wasn’t actually a tech company, but it had “tech at its core” — that he had a breakthrough moment of realising how to restructure data to get around these issues.

Before that, things were tough on the data front. WeWork had 700 tables that his team was managing using a star schema approach, covering 85 systems and 13,000 objects. Data would include information on acquiring buildings, to the flows of customers through those buildings, how things would change and customers might churn, with marketing and activity on social networks, and so on, growing in line with the company’s own rapidly scaling empire.  All of that meant a mess at the data end.

“Data analysts wouldn’t be able to do their jobs,” he said. “It turns out we could barely even answer basic questions about sales numbers. Nothing matched up, and everything took too long.”

The team had 45 people on it, but even so it ended up having to implement a hierarchy for answering questions, as there were so many and not enough time to dig through and answer them all. “And we had every data tool there was,” he added. “My team hated everything they did.”

The single-table column model that Narrator uses, he said, “had been theorised” in the past but hadn’t been figured out.

The spark, he said, was to think of data structured in the same way that we ask questions, where — as he described it — each piece of data can be bridged together and then also used to answer multiple questions.

“The main difference is we’re using a time-series table to replace all your data modelling,” Elsamadisi explained. “This is not a new idea, but it was always considered impossible. In short, we tackle the same problem as most data companies to make it easier to get the data you want but we are the only company that solves it by innovating on the lowest-level data modelling approach. Honestly, that is why our solution works so well. We rebuilt the foundation of data instead of trying to make a faulty foundation better.”

Narrator calls the composite table, which includes all of your data reformatted to fit in its 11-column structure, the Activity Stream.

Elsamadisi said using Narrator for the first time takes about 30 minutes, and about a month to learn to use it thoroughly. “But you’re not going back to SQL after that, it’s so much faster,” he added.

Narrator’s initial market has been providing services to other tech companies, and specifically startups, but the plan is to open it up to a much wider set of verticals. And in a move that might help with that, longer term, it also plans to open source some of its core components so that third parties can build data products on top of the framework more quickly.

As for competitors, he says that it’s essentially the tools that he and other data scientists have always used, although “we’re going against a ‘best practice’ approach (star schema), not a company.” Airflow, DBT, Looker’s LookML, Chartio’s Visual SQL, Tableau Prep are all ways to create and enable the use of a traditional star schema, he added. “We’re similar to these companies — trying to make it as easy and efficient as possible to generate the tables you need for BI, reporting and analysis — but those companies are limited by the traditional star schema approach.”

So far the proof has been in the data. Narrator says that companies average around 20 transformations (the unit used to answer questions) compared to hundreds in a star schema, and that those transformations average 22 lines compared to 1,000+ lines in traditional modelling. For those that learn how to use it, the average time for generating a report or running some analysis is four minutes, compared to weeks in traditional data modelling. 

“Narrator has the potential to set a new standard in data,” said Jen Wolf, ?Initialized Capital COO and partner and new Narrator board member?, in a statement. “We were amazed to see the quality and speed with which Narrator delivered analyses using their product. We’re confident once the world experiences Narrator this will be how data analysis is taught moving forward.”

Jun
14
2014
--

Becky Doughty – audiobook narrator (and author)

Hello. You’ve probably been living under a rock if you haven’t heard me talk at length about the new audiobook version of Ocean of Dust. I can’t help it, it’s such fun to listen to.

My narrator was the wonderfully talented Becky Doughty. Though an author in her own right, she recently started BraveHeart Audiobooks, a production company. Check out the numerous and varied titles she has produced this year alone. Between her busy schedule, she agreed to answer some of my questions about the audiobook biz:

1. Why did you decide to get into the audiobook production business?

My passion is books. I’m author, and therefore, an avid reader. And when I say “avid” I don’t just mean that I like to read books. I’m one of those people who will not see a movie made from a book until I’ve read the book…NOT so I can slam the movie, but so I can create my own book-movie first, unfiltered by Hollywood. (I do, in fact, love movies made from books, regardless of how much they diverge from the original!) In other words, books have always “come to life” in my own head, so transitioning into audiobooks seemed like something rather providential to me.

More logistically speaking, however, this was a way that I could diversify, yet still stay in my industry of choice – books, books, and books – and Amazon’s ACX opened the last of the doors necessary for me to get the ball rolling.

becky-doughty-in-sound-booth-1

2. Where and how did you learn your narration skills?

Remember that whole “avid reader” thing? I read out loud to anyone who would listen. Always have. My kids learned early on that I was not normal when it came to bedtime stories – I all but acted them out, often working everyone into a frenzy rather than putting them to sleep – but the books came to life for them. Now as adults, they, too, read out loud in the same way, and I couldn’t be more proud. And I digress….

My husband and I both come from musical backgrounds, so we’re accustomed to hours spent in front of microphones, of tuning the ears for the sweet spot, and all that goes into tweaking a voice for listening pleasure.

3. What do you think it takes to be a talented, versatile narrator?

Oh goodness. My first knee-jerk response is that a narrator MUST connect with the story and the characters. But that’s rather vague, so let me try to expound.

As an audiobook LISTENER, I will tell you some of my pet peeves: mouth noises, hollow room recordings, heavy breathing, mic proximity, and especially a narrator who doesn’t understand the nuances of story. Those are obvious, right? But the thing is, eliminating that stuff is HARD. I strive toward not having these elements every time I’m behind the mic, but I’ll be the first to acknowledge that after reading a section 3 times, listening to it 3 more times, and still having trouble nailing it, it’s tough to keep it sounding fresh.

But to answer your question more directly, these are the things I’m working on to make ME a better and more versatile narrator:

  • KNOWING my voice – as in, what time of day it’s at its best quality, how long I can hold that quality, and when to put the mic down and rest.
  • Being demonstrative and emotional when I’m all by myself. Figure out the characters’ emotions and really cram them into my voice. All the listener gets is my voice, but I want them to picture a 14 year old girl on a wild adventure, or a 50 year old man trying to make sense of his life, or a 30 year old mother who’s just discovered her child is missing.
  • Ability to “do” different voices and accents. Nothing makes a story come to life in audio than when every character has something unique about his or her voice. I feel it’s imperative for a good narrator to become ALL the characters, and still keep the narration voice neutral.
  • Diction. Diction is not about getting closer to the microphone so you can hear me better. It’s about saying the words clearly so you can understand even my whispers. Without mouth noise.
  • Consistency. This is probably my biggest challenge. Consistency requires long hours of reading, then being able to match voice and tone qualities a day, two days, a week later. It means maintaining distinct personalities of upwards of 20 characters at a time for hours and hours and hours of recording, editing, and mastering. Rhythm and flow – the narrator is as much a character as any other. Consistency also means sleeping right, eating right, drinking right, and avoiding anything that might affect my voice quality.

One more thing…a good narrator should actually enjoy spending hours and hours alone…with a bunch of imaginary friends.

4. How do you decide which projects you want to work on?

I made the mistake early on of taking on projects before I’d read the full manuscript. NEVER AGAIN. That being said, here are some things I look for:

  • I’m a “clean reads” narrator. This does not mean I won’t read about sex or narrate a curse word now and then, nor does it mean that all the books I narrate must be from a Christian worldview. However, I am a Christian, and I feel very strongly that I can’t put my voice to a book that clearly contradicts my beliefs. Interestingly, I’ve turned down “Christian” books that contradicted my beliefs, and I’m pretty liberal, when all is said and done.
  • I must actually enjoy the story and believe in the characters enough to be able to “become” them and live out their stories with them. This is another reason I must read a full manuscript before contracting to produce it.
  • My schedule. This is something else I learned the hard way. I try not to book myself out more than 4 months (approximately 6-8 books) at a time. I need the breathing room, and it’s not really fair to make an author wait when I know there are many wonderful narrators out there from whom to choose!

5. Please share the technical details of your studio. Do you have a photo? What software and audio equipment do you use?

My Studio is really a converted a closet in my home office, complete with built-in desk for my screen, keyboard, and mouse, my good quality drafting chair (this allows for sitting and standing without having to adjust my microphone stand and other equipment), carpeted walls, and a low-noise fan because the room is not air-conditioned (this prevents disruption when the air kicks on or off). I usually read off my Kindle, and keep a notepad handy for taking notes as I record.

My equipment.

  • Microphone – I use a Rode NT1-A multi-directional microphone, a pop-screen, and a shock mount on a boom stand so the mic hangs down from above me. This keeps my desk clear and seems to capture my voice well.
  • Interface – I use an AVID 3rd generation Mini interface (rather than a USB mic) for better sound quality and performance.
  • Software – Right now I’m using the free (and fantastic!) Audacity software for recording, editing, mastering and formatting my audio files, and I love it. Very simple, straight-forward, flexible. Can’t say enough about it and I highly recommend it. But I’m slowly working into using Pro-Tools – another fantastic recording software that simply offers more versatility for future projects for us.
  • Computer – I have a dedicated inexpensive HP tower and it’s situated on a desk outside the booth so my mic doesn’t pick up the fan hum.
  • Headphones – I use a pair of Samson SR850 headphones that I love – they don’t crimp my ears and they’re very sound-sensitive. They do flatten my hair – I’m watching for headphone-pattern-baldness.

6. How do you keep consistent voices, volume and energy throughout an entire book?

Hmmmm. I think this goes back to the notion that I have to like the book (or at least the author!) enough to invest in the story. Once I’m invested, I WANT to make the characters and their stories come to life, you know? This really is one of my biggest challenges – keeping things consistent. Sometimes, where there are lots of characters, I’ll even record a sample track of each character speaking so I can refer back to it if need be. And I strongly believe that a narrator must understand the flow of story in order to read well. I’ve heard some very “robotic” narration that was done with perfect diction and skill, but no feeling.

7. Take us through the typical steps of narrating a chapter: Do you rehearse? Do you do multiple takes? Do you have to do a lot of editing? How long does it take?

I always read the whole manuscript before I start. I have a form I’ve created that I send out to authors to fill out about pronunciation, character personalities, accents, etc., and try to adhere to that more than anything. I don’t rehearse, not really, but I do warm up every day, so usually the first section I read each day has already been read at least once through, giving me time to sink into the story.

  • Record: When I record (mono input, never stereo!), I read through as much as I can in one sitting, dividing tracks by chapters (this is how they load for retail, so it makes sense to do this when I record), without editing. I read straight through each chapter, so when I complete that first take, it’s complete with all my mistakes. I save it as is, and move on to the next chapter. I can usually record for 4-6 hours straight (with water and coffee and a break here and there) and then I begin my editing.
  • Edit: I go back to the first chapter I’ve recorded that day, and while following along with the manuscript, I snip and splice, remove breaths, mouth noises, repeated lines, coughs and sniffs, etc. Often times, I have to re-record a line or word, so this all takes place in my booth.
  • Master: Then I send it through my mastering steps – normalize, compress, equalize, normalize, hard limit – then listen to it again, following along with the manuscript, this time checking for any missed noises at the mastered level. I try to interact with the author often during the recording to make sure we’re on the same page – they listen as I post new chapters.
  • Format: I convert all my wav files into mp3s, (Mono, 44100 Hz,192 kpbs bit rate mode), then load each chapter into a shared Dropbox with the author, or directly up on ACX.com for the author to check.

8. What should authors do to make it easier for you as a narrator? Do you have any Do’s and Don’ts?

So many of these things I learned by trial and error. I now send out a letter just prior to the start of recording. In it I include my tentative schedule for the project, my expectations from the author, and any questions about the afore-mentioned form they filled out. One thing I always include in my email is this:

I ask that you listen as both a reader AND an author. I know you hear the story in your head already, and my take on it may be slightly different than yours. Rather than looking at my version as being wrong, consider that my narration is that of a reader, and even if it is different, it may be the way readers are perceiving your story, and may be just as effective.

That being said, if you feel that a character is just not right, please don’t hesitate to tell me so we can get that straightened out from the beginning. This is YOUR book, YOUR story, YOUR world, and I’m honored to bring it to audio life, so let’s communicate, communicate, communicate, and do so early on!

An important key to timely editing is the author feedback. I always ask an author to listen with the manuscript and a pen (computer, tablet, etc.). As they come across edits, I ask for three things: Chapter, track time, and what I said vs. what needs to be fixed.

Example:
Chapter 3
You read, “He drove over his neighbors.” Script says “He drove over TO his neighbors.

9. Do you have advice for anyone considering becoming an audiobook narrator?

If you love to read out loud, AND you have a voice that people enjoy listening to, and you have the space to set up a sound booth (or a sound booth available to rent), then go for it! However, DO NOT sell yourself short by using amateur equipment in an amateur setting that creates low sound quality. You may get a few contracts, but believe me, listeners are starting to sit up and listen…and review the narrators with a whole new set of criteria. This is a suddenly-booming aspect of this industry, and everyone is jumping into the fray. Take the time to do it right so you can rise to the top with QUALITY.

10. What was the hardest thing about narrating Ocean of Dust? What did you have the most fun with?

Oh, this is an EASY question!
Hardest thing – LOTS of male characters. Staying consistent with lots of male character voices was tough, I readily admit!

Most fun – This is not a genre I typically read, so I was really excited to branch out and BE something a little otherworldly. Lissa was a great character to inhabit, and I figured if SHE could take on all those men and come out standing tall, so could I! I really had a great time living vicariously through Lissa…although the hair scene really got to me (no spoilers here!)

Thanks for having me here, Graeme, and for the honor of lending my voice to your story.

Thank you, Becky for the fantastic insight into your world. Great answers! It was fun.

Here’s an interview Becky did with me on her site.


About Becky

Becky-Doughty-209x300

I am married to my champion of 25-plus years, Kevin. We have three children, two of whom are grown and starting families of their own. We all live within a few miles of each other in Southern California. We share our lives with too many animals, a large vegetable garden, and a strange underground concrete room we’re determined was built for dark and sinister purposes….

I am represented by Ruth Samsel of The William K Jensen Literary Agency.

I am also a narrator and audiobook producer through BraveHearts Audiobooks, a recording company my husband and I own and operate. You can also find samples of my work on my ACX.com Producer Profile HERE.

Email: becky(at)beckydoughty(dot)com, or use the handy-dandy Contact Becky form.
FaceBookBeckyDoughtyAuthor
Twitter: @BeckySDoughty
Google Plus: +BeckyDoughty

Powered by WordPress | Theme: Aeros 2.0 by TheBuckmaker.com