Voltron Data grabs $110M to build startup based on Apache Arrow project

Voltron Data was launched last year by former employees from NVidia, Ursa Computing, BlazingSQL and the co-founder of Apache Arrow. The group came together to build a company on top of Arrow to help companies that don’t want to deal with the headaches of managing an open source project on their own.

Voltron Data co-founder and CEO Josh Patterson said that at its heart, the startup is a standards company that aims to spread the word on the power of data and analytics standardization via Apache Arrow.

“Our goal is to take the existing data analytics ecosystem and improve it based on standards. And we’ve seen this time and time again in other industries when standards emerge, they become accelerators, enabling more efficient things to happen to make the community as a whole better by building these common building blocks. And we’re about bringing modularity and composability to the data analytics ecosystem,” Patterson explained.

The standards part is where Apache Arrow comes into play. The project website FAQ describes it thusly: “Apache Arrow is a software development platform for building high performance applications that process and transport large data sets. It is designed to both improve the performance of analytical algorithms and the efficiency of moving data from one system (or programming language) to another.”

Patterson said that as data and analytics have evolved, developers have had to connect to a growing number of systems across a variety of languages. It’s a huge challenge, one that Arrow is trying to solve. “What if I wanted to connect this system and that system? I don’t want to rewrite all the glue code to make it happen. And that’s really what Arrow does very well. Arrow has become this de facto standard for connecting systems together,” he said.

The open source tool has proved amazingly popular, with the company reporting more than 42 million downloads per month. It has companies like Snowflake, Databricks, Google and Microsoft all adopting it. That’s incredible traction for any open source project, and it’s no wonder they decided to build a company on top of it.

Perhaps that also explains why venture capitalists are throwing money at the project. The company has garnered $110 million in seed and A money, a huge amount, even by today’s inflated investments.

Patterson said that his company took the money for a practical reason. The problem they are trying to solve is difficult and multi-faceted, and they need to invest to accelerate as quickly as possible.

“We don’t want [the open source growth] to hit this stagnation point where it’s [only well suited] for power users and experts, but it’s not conducive for this next wave of users and systems builders and library builders. We want to figure out where the pain points are, so we can build more tooling and libraries around that, and be even more readily available,” he said.

The company is working on its first commercial product. While Patterson was not quite ready to talk about it in detail yet, it will involve a managed version of Apache Arrow for that second group that may not want to deal with the raw open source.

With a distributed workforce, the company already has almost 100 employees and is actively hiring. For Patterson, who is Black, building a diverse and inclusive company is top of mind. “Inclusivity is really important to us, and we’re seeing that as we’ve had new employees across the spectrum of race, gender and sexual orientation coming to Voltron Data feeling like they can be heard, feeling empowered,” he said.

From a pure numbers perspective, he said they have 20% African American, 15% Hispanic, 15% Asian and roughly 20% women, adding that as the company grows, they are continually working to improve diversity across the board.

The funding breaks down to a $22 million seed round and an $88 million Series A. The A round was led by Walden Catalyst with participation from BlackRock, Anthos Capital, Battery Ventures, Coatue, GV, Lightspeed Venture Partners, Nepenthe Capital, Redline and The Factory. For the seed, Black Rock and Walden led with participation from Lightspeed, GV and The Factory.