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Could you explain your enterprise technology company to a 13-year-old?

We’re all a bit sick of the “big data” trend, and founders making abstract claims about “answering unknown knowns.” And don’t even get me started on “SaaS,” “Dbass,” and “PaaS” (frankly, they are all a pain in the ass).


  • Eddie Stephenson, 16, from Oliver Springs, Tenn.
  • Alexa Stephenson, 15, also from Oliver Springs, Tenn.
  • Tommy Whiteley, 13, from Fairfield, Conn.
  • Ella Gillmor, 13, from San Francisco

So VentureBeat has hatched a crazy plan to banish buzzwords and marketing speak, at least for an afternoon.


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At our San Francisco office, VentureBeat invited four CEO’s from various cloud and “big data” companies to talk tech in an on-camera interview.

The catch? The execs would face a grilling from … a group of kids flown in from around the country. We didn’t just want Bay Area natives on the panel, as many of them grew up surrounded by tech. So we contacted an ed-tech startup called Rocket21, which helps young students explore their interests and passions, and they assembled a group.

The kids proved to be straight-talkin’ interview machines (I’d better watch my back; I could be out of a job one of these days) with a keen understanding of consumer technology and mobile apps.

We were gobsmacked when Ella Gillmor, 13, asked Huddle founder Andy McLoughlin about his data center (pictured above, center, with Gillmor and Alexa Stephenson) and if the cloud collaboration tool was “similar to Apple iCloud.” Her dad, Steve Gillmor, works in a senior role at, so she’s clearly versed in tech. Likewise, 13-year-old Tommy Whiteley asked some tough questions about the Software-as-a-Service business model (“Do you make money by selling to people or companies?”)


  • Chris Saad, CSO of Echo
  • Brad Peters, CEO of Birst
  • Andy McLoughlin cofounder of Huddle,
  • Anthony Goldbloom, CEO of Kaggle

It became apparent during the interviews that these tech natives had little patience for jargon. Gillmor prompted Chris Saad, the cofounder of Echo, to explain the meaning of a widget (which Saad aptly described as a “piece of a website that gets put into other websites”).

Alexa Stephenson, a high schooler from Tennessee, asked the founders whether big data is like the movie Fight Club because no one could give her a straight answer, which prompted nervous giggles from the room.

“Um, I don’t know where to start,” Kaggle CEO Anthony Goldbloom responded. “I knew it. It’s the first rule,” Stephenson said.

It’s not easy to explain business intelligence and analytics in such simple terms. Here were some of our founders and CEO’s explanations:

  1. On business intelligence and analytics: Birst CEO Brad Peters made a useful analogy to driving a car. “The dashboard measures how fast you’re moving … [otherwise] it would be hard to drive a car,” he said. “Analytics is the dashboard for a lot of people and business to understand things that are more complex than what’s right in front of you.”
  2. On big data: Goldbloom gave it a stab: “Big data is mostly about taking numbers and using those numbers to make predictions about the future. The bigger the data set you have, the more accurate the predictions about the future will be.”
  3. On the cloud: “The dirty secret in this industry is that nobody even really knows what the cloud is,” said McLoughlin. “What it means is it’s put up in the Internet and it’s gone to our servers and it’s held somewhere centrally. All it means is it’s a place up there in the sky that is available from all of your devices no matter where you are.”

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For further jargon-free (we promise!) discussion, register for DataBeat 2013, the conference about putting data to work.

Kids from VentureBeat on Vimeo.

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