InsightSquared Scores $4.5M, Looks to Bring Business Intelligence to the Masses

5/14/12Follow @gthuang

Finally, a tech company that’s not all about big data. In fact, this one is about lots of little bits of “idiosyncratic, messy data,” says its founder. And it puts those bits together to help small businesses make better decisions and, ultimately, more money.

InsightSquared, based in Cambridge, MA, has been fairly quiet in the press, but today it’s announcing a $4.5 million Series A financing round led by Atlas Venture (those VCs have been busy lately). Bessemer Venture Partners, NextView Ventures, and Salesforce.com also participated in the round. The startup previously raised a $1 million seed round in late 2010.

In tech-business jargon, InsightSquared sits at the intersection of SaaS, SMBs, CRM, analytics, business intelligence, and data visualization. That means the company makes software designed to give small and medium-size businesses access to tools that help them do things like analyze sales data, summarize deal progress, identify top-performing employees, and get various snapshots of how their business is doing—and do it all cheaply and quickly.

That might sound a bit nebulous, but giants like IBM and SAP make a fortune on selling expensive business intelligence software and services to big companies. Smaller companies often can’t afford the investment in time or money, so they end up doing nothing, or just using Excel spreadsheets—which is where InsightSquared is looking to make its mark.

The company’s technology lets customers pull data from multiple sources, including Google Analytics and Salesforce.com, and boil it down to a few key questions to address, whether it’s for sales leads or accounts receivable. (It also tries to correct errors in the data—a key issue for all businesses.) The software presents the data in an interactive dashboard; you can drill down to the transaction level or take broader slices. The interface uses cutting-edge visualization tricks, such as displaying which sales opportunities have positive or stalled momentum, or have taken more or less effort, based on the size or color of symbols on a chart. Another intriguing feature is a Twitter-like feed of every salesperson’s activity and its impact on the business.

“Our goal is to disrupt the business intelligence market,” says Fred Shilmover, the company’s founder and CEO.

That’s a bold statement, but InsightSquared already has 120-plus paying customers, mostly in the staffing and recruiting industry. (Locally, HireMinds is a customer, and Bullhorn is a partner.) “This is a classic Clay Christensen disruption model, where we go after a market that’s uninteresting to the incumbents,” says Shilmover.

Shilmover has previous experience as a venture guy at Bessemer, a corporate development exec at Salesforce.com, and a business consultant. He brought on co-founders Sam Clemens (formerly of HubSpot and BzzAgent) and Bryan Stevenson (formerly of 80concepts, Groovr.com, and Akamai) in the early days of InsightSquared’s formation. The startup now has about 25 employees and is planning to staff up to around 50 by the end of the year.

When asked about the competitive landscape, Shilmover says his startup sits above companies that provide a “shallow layer of analytics” and a nice dashboard but require technical knowledge to use (he cites Chart.io as an example, though that company might disagree). And it sits below more complex, ad-hoc, customized software and services such as those provided by GoodData, Birst, and QlikTech, he says. Still, it’s clear that bringing business intelligence to the masses is a very crowded field.

So is this company being built to get acquired by someone like Salesforce.com in a couple years? After all, Jeff Fagnan, the startup’s lead investor at Atlas Venture, says Salesforce.com is “not good at the actionable part of analytics”—and that’s a key differentiator for InsightSquared. “We want to do something that’s world-changing,” Shilmover says. “We think there’s a lot of upside in a standalone company.”

In the end, Shilmover brings the discussion back to his core mission. “There’s such an opportunity to make small businesses more competitive,” he says. “That’s the goal.”

Gregory T. Huang is Xconomy's Deputy Editor, National IT Editor, and the Editor of Xconomy Boston. You can e-mail him at gthuang@xconomy.com or call him at 617-252-7323. Follow @gthuang

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