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Riding The Next-Generation Wave Of Business Intelligence

By David Hartwig, managing director, Sapphire Ventures, and Rajeev Dham, vice president, Sapphire Ventures

Today, Looker announced its $30 million Series B financing, and Sapphire Ventures is proud to be part of the investor syndicate alongside Meritech Capital, Redpoint Ventures, First Round Ventures and PivotNorth.

Why’d we invest? One of the first things we consider with any new investment is team. It’s critical. And in this case, Frank Bien, CEO of Looker, is someone with whom we’ve had success before. We’ve tracked Frank since the Greenplum days where he led business development, and Sapphire Ventures was a very happy investor. His move to join Looker was a natural evolution up the analytics stack. Given our interest in both Frank and analytics’ businesses, we were paying close attention. And when we looked closely at the technical underpinnings of the company we got even more fired up.

Frank joined an amazing team at Looker. Founder and CTO Lloyd Tabb is a real-life Internet pioneer, having written the first application server for the web as well as more than one programming language. At Looker, Lloyd put his skills to good use coming up with essentially a web-server approach to big-data analytics and building a data-modeling language LookML, which in many ways obviates classic ETL. Interestingly, Lloyd can still be found supporting customers of his now good-sized company over chat, because he genuinely wants to understand their needs and makes it his personal priority. Looker’s co-founding vice president of engineering, Ben Porterfield, has built one of the most effective teams we’ve ever seen, and the rest of the executive team is top notch.

But team isn’t enough without opportunity. At Sapphire Ventures we have developed a fairly strong grasp on data and analytics opportunities. Over the years we’ve invested not only in Greenplum, but companies like MySQL, Alteryx, Jaspersoft, Narrative Science and Socrata. When we first met Looker, it was at a time when we knew there was a big opportunity around dynamic data exploration but we hadn’t yet found a solution that could solve the puzzle. After getting to know Looker’s approach – which is in-database, working in the cloud or on-premise, and replaces heavy ETL changes with lightweight model changes – the pieces fit together. The result is an ability to answer business questions almost as quickly as you have them, regardless of the size of the data set upon which you’re basing your answers. Because it’s done from a single repository it avoids the problem of having multiple sources of the truth. We think the value proposition is unique and the opportunity absolutely huge.

Of course, before we let our excitement get away with us, we made sure to check our thinking with folks who are smarter than we are. In this case our customer diligence reminded us of the early days of investing in the marketing stack, when we were checking out companies like ExactTarget, Eloqua, Marketo and others. Just like then, nearly every company (both large and small) that we thought would have a particularly smart perspective on Looker and its platform was either already using the product, or intrigued by the value proposition and eager to have a discussion.

The wave of next-generation business intelligence is going off, and we’re confident big disruption is right behind it. Sapphire Ventures looks forward to riding the wave with Santa Cruz-based Looker and helping them lead the charge in this exciting space.