Rack up one more win for companies looking to overturn legacy enterprise IT with cloud-based services. Birst, a San Francisco-based startup using the software-as-a-service model to sell business intelligence solutions, has raised another $38 million. The funding is going all towards building out the company: CEO and co-founder Brad Peters tells TechCrunch the plan is to get more aggressive in Europe and Asia, widen its product offerings and staff up in sales and marketing. This Series E round was led by existing investor Sequoia Capital, included participation from other previous investors, and introduced a new backer to the company, Northgate Capital.
(Sequoia also led the company’s last round of $26 million, which also brought in Hummer Winblad and DAG Ventures as investors. The company’s raised $84 million to date.)
Business intelligence — the genre of enterprise services that takes data already in your system and helps analyse it to provide detail on trends and other insights — is very much a legacy system, going on three decades of existence. But like other older enterprise services, the traditional approach to BI has been to offer it as costly on-premise software. Birst is among those that have tapped into cloud innovations — and improving perceptions of cloud services as safe and reliable — to change how BI is purchased and used by businesses. (A for those who like wordplay: ‘Birst’ sounds like a pun on clouds, disruption and the ‘BI’ abbreviation.)
The crux of Birst’s approach is integrating different functions that in the past would have been purchased from different vendors to work together, needing to employ different people for the running of each.
“Rather than buying a bunch of pieces from large, legacy vendors and having to have specialized talent for each of them, Birst brings patent-pending automation to the BI development process, encapsulating BI processes in software, not people,” Peters tells me. “That allows Birst to tackle enterprise-caliber problems, but with significantly fewer resources and much less effort. Traditionally, only ‘discovery’ style products like Qliktech and Tableau could be operated by single individuals, but doing so resulted in a significant compromise of capability and functionality.” Conversely, having visualization-only capabilities also lacks:
“While visualization companies offer a great way to visualize data from simple data sets, they offer little to address the difficult task of making the data ready for a user in order to make sense of it,” Peters says. “Being able to just visualize data is like having a BLT without the bacon—you’re missing a key ingredient for BI and you won’t be satisfied.”
This (along with Birst’s success with enterprises; more on that below) is what attracted Sequoia to this round:
“Companies are drowning in data, and Birst is the lifeline that allows them to surface the information that really matters,” Doug Leone, partner at Sequoia Capital, noted in a statement.
Peters says he views Qliktech and Tableau as his biggest competitors, along with on-premise players like MicroStrategy, SAP Business Objects, IBM Cognos, and Oracle OBIEE. (The patent-pending element is an interesting one in this regard, considering that Oacle and IBM are some of the biggest patent holders in tech.)
On the other hand, he doesn’t see much competition right now from newer players like Looker, which is also looking to disrupt BI but taking a different approach: developing its own language (LookerML) to make data mining more accessible to non-tech people.
While behemoths continue to win major deals, startups like Birst are increasingly picking up major enterprise accounts interested in the more integrated, cloud-based approach, with new customers including American Express, Build.com, Cisco, CSC, InterContinental Hotels Group, Nippon Life, Samsung, Schneider Electric and Sunny Delight (yes, even producers of sugary drinks use BI).
Amazon, NetSuite, and Marketo are strategic partners of Birst’s, but Peters says that startups like his have a window of opportunity in general against bigger players in the industry. “If you look at the vendor landscape today, the largest vendors have stopped innovating, are selling only back into their installed base and are starting to lose market share,” he says. “At this point in the consolidation cycle, given the market size, the number of vendors in the space, and the strategic value of analytics, there is definitely room for more independent vendors.”