Looker Data Sciences, a business intelligence startup founded by an early lead engineer from Netscape and LiveOps, is today emerging from stealth mode and announcing $2 million in funding from First Round Capital and PivotNorth to build out its business based on a new, easier-to-use approach to SQL called LookML — what it describes as a “sequel to SQL.”
Already with 20 companies on its platform, Santa Cruz-based Looker is part of that trend we’ve been seeing for a while now of a new class of enterprise startups looking to disrupt the status quo with a new approach that brings business services down to a more common ground.
In this case, that ground has to do with business intelligence software and big data, using information that businesses are already gathering, to help make better decisions on how to run the business in the future.
In the words of Lloyd Tabb, the ex-Netscape/LiveOpps engineer who built Looker, business intelligence has been a cumbersome and clumsy system up to now. Most systems are based on SQL and require users effectively to have engineering and programming expertise to formulate queries to interrogate the data.
Looker, through its own proprietary Looker BI Platform and LookML language, makes deep analytics accessible to anyone in a business, including engineers but also account managers and more, by turning what used to be programming queries into those based on natural language. This also widens out access to business intelligence beyond large corporates and into smaller organizations, who may not have had the resources in the past to employ data analysts to manage and run huge databases. Indeed, Tabb says that some of Looker’s early users have been smaller startups in Silicon Valley with less than 40 employees. They include mobile ad startup kiip, Simply Hired and thredUp.
Tabb notes that when a company signs up to Looker, the company currently helps build out an initial model that fits your own business, using the LookML language. This then becomes the basis for how future queries can be built out by the company itself.
He says that the idea for Looker first came to him through his many experiences working with small startups that were built on making businesses decisions based on data, which became more challenging as the organizations grew. “I’ve been thinking for years about the problem of how do you deal with data,” he said in an interview with TechCrunch. “I realized that getting data into the hands of business folks is one of the biggest success factors for a company.”
Here’s one example of the kind of query that Looker helps to simplify. Take a business that buys from five or six suppliers of a particular product. To be able to look at how well each of those suppliers are doing in terms of sales, each query of the database would need to be written each time by a programmer in order for the data to be reported, he says. Looker lets a person — any person — create a query to cover the whole group of suppliers, with a query “that takes 10 seconds to write,” Tabb explains. This also means that people closer to a particular business issue, for example, a buyer who deals with those suppliers, should be able to formulate and get answers to questions much more quickly. The idea here is that many businesses are amassing data in SQL, but the key is to figuring out how to unlock it in an easy way.
In its early implementations, Tabb says that about half of its customers are using Looker on a regular basis, with some using it up to 20 hours per day, “a lot of people asking questions,” he says.