Chartio Gives Tools to a New Generation of Database Jockeys

9/6/12Follow @wroush

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Google Analytics and to databases hosted on Heroku, Rackspace, Amazon’s Relational Database Service, and other cloud services.

Fowler, a Minnesota native and former IBMer who went through Y Combinator twice (his first, failed startup was called Socialbrowse) says the big-data business has been dominated so far by companies that want to get rich filling up corporate data centers with servers and storage devices, then charge again for the databases, data warehousing, and business intelligence software needed to make it all work. “We’re saying that what people have missed out on is making a great interface that is easy for people to use.”

Dreamhost has been using Chartio’s Web-based data visualization service since it was in early beta testing. “It wasn’t really our business” to spend lots of time making graphs, Jones says. “I came across Chart.io, and it was exactly what I was thinking would be useful as a generic service.”

Dreamhost uses Chartio to track things like revenue per user, the progress of its monthly billing process, the supply of IP addresses it can hand out to new customers, and the alacrity with which tech-support staff resolve complaints. “There was one case where we found a huge spike in customers leaving,” Jones says. “We actually saw it on a graph before anyone had heard about it in tech support, and it turned out that there was a bug that was disabling customers. We looked into it before it got worse and before all these people started writing in. When you have the visuals and you are watching the data, you see these things.”

Chartio's office in the ClockTower building in San Francisco

Chartio’s basic selling point is that creating a new chart is so easy. Once you’ve connected Chartio to your company’s database, it understands which values are stored in which tables, and lets you specify which dimensions should appear on a chart’s axes by dragging and dropping from a list. Once a graph has been rendered, users can control what range of data shows up using simple filtering tools.

There’s plenty of depth for the veteran database administrator, but creating or modifying a chart or graph is so easy that beginners can learn what types of visualizations are actually useful through experimentation. “We want people to make mistakes and play around with it,” Fowler says. “That’s the way you discover things and have insights.”

It’s impossible to break anything, since Chartio isn’t copying or hosting its customer’s databases (that’s the old-school approach). For each visualization, it establishes a secure “tunnel” between a database and its own servers, pulling in live data as needed to complete specific queries. The hard work at the seven-employee company revolves around creating the visual chart-building tools, along with the code that translates their parameters into SQL queries that make sense to specific databases and hosting services.

A typical Chartio customer settles on a selection of important charts and graphs and assembles them into live dashboards for each functional team, Fowler says. “A company typically has about 17 dashboards,” he says. “One for their ops team, one for tech support, one for marketing, one for sales, and so on. So the people responsible [for each function] have the data they need and can create the questions they need to ask.”

Chartio offers tiered pricing based on the number of dashboards in use, the number of employees accessing them, and the number of databases connected to them; the service costs $85 per month on the low end and $485 per month on the high end. The startup’s private beta period ended in March, and since then its user base has been growing at 30 percent each month, Fowler says. (He wouldn’t share the raw numbers.) “I would like to grow faster, but it’s a pretty good rate,” he says.

Chartio has raised about $4.4 million in venture backing, most of it in the form of a Series A round last year led by Avalon Ventures and Bullpen Capital. Fowler says he doesn’t feel that the startup is in competition with the big business intelligence providers, but rather with engineers who might otherwise build specific queries and charts themselves, not realizing that there’s an affordable alternative that saves time and facilitates collaboration.

“Our philosophy is that if someone isn’t using Chartio, the reason is that they haven’t heard of Chartio,” Fowler says. “We feel like we’ve reached product-market fit. The huge shift now is getting the word out.”

Wade Roush is a contributing editor at Xconomy. Follow @wroush

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