Tableau Raises $10M in Second Venture Round, Wants To Be the “Adobe of Data”
Apparently it’s a good time to be in the business of data visualization. Wade wrote in July about Visual I|O, a Newton, MA-based business-analytics startup, and Hans Rosling’s splashy Trendalyzer software, which was acquired by Google last year. Not to be outdone, Seattle-based Tableau Software is announcing today it has closed a Series B round of venture financing worth $10 million. The sole investor in the deal is New Enterprise Associates, a leading venture firm based in Menlo Park, CA. Back in 2004, Tableau raised a $5 million first round, also from NEA.
I had a chance to talk with Christian Chabot, Tableau’s CEO and co-founder, and Elissa Fink, vice president of marketing, about the deal, the company, and its plans. For starters, Chabot says that what differentiates Tableau from other data-visualization companies is that, quite simply, it has a viable product that’s easy to download and use. “There’s a lot of excitement right now,” says Chabot. “Business is literally exploding in every area in terms of customer growth.”
Tableau was spun out of Stanford University in 2003, and was funded by the founders for the first year and a half. Its technology, which helps people graphically display and understand information in databases and spreadsheets, originally came out of a Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency-funded effort at Stanford. The project was led by Chris Stolte and graphics researcher Pat Hanrahan, best known for his work on Toy Story with Pixar. Stolte and Hanrahan teamed up with Chabot, who had done his undergrad and M.B.A. studies at Stanford, to found Tableau. (Stanford has an equity stake in the company.)
Chabot explains the significance of his visualization software: “Google has done a fantastic job to allow a human being to sit down with the Web and ask it questions. But the $64 million question is, who’s doing that for data? Databases are baffling…There’s this giant unsolved, planetary-scope problem—how do human beings sit down and have an easy interface to understand data, so they can answer questions?”
Say you want to know where “911” emergency calls were made in the Seattle area and what they were about, or the amounts of U.S. presidential campaign donations in Manhattan by ZIP code (see screenshot left, and next page). Tableau’s software lets you compile stats from different spreadsheets and databases and quickly graph various slices of the data. The same goes for organizing and displaying things like auto sales trends, population maps, per-capita energy use, and hurricane tracking.
Tableau’s key competitive advantage, according to Chabot, is that its software can be downloaded in two minutes and used without any special training. “The big problems are actually about the user interface,” he says. “It’s easy to install and get started, and easy to get a result from it…What takes unbelievable effort and engineering is to take a complicated problem and make it simple.”
So, coming out of Stanford, how did Tableau end up in Seattle? It was simply a lifestyle decision by its founders—Chabot and Stolte had been in the San Francisco Bay Area for years, and both wanted to live in Seattle. (I can relate to making a move like that.) So in 2004, Tableau moved from Mountain View, CA, to the Fremont neighborhood of Seattle. “It’s a great city,” says Chabot. “It’s clearly no Silicon Valley in terms of sheer volume of technology companies, but … Next Page »