CEO Christian Chabot on Tableau Software’s New Consumer App for Making Data Social
“I make the bold claim that this will be of interest to anyone who posts content online,” says Christian Chabot, the co-founder and chief executive of Seattle-based Tableau Software.
We were talking recently about his company’s big move into consumer software, which was just announced today. “The target is really bloggers, journalists, writers, critics, researchers, students—anyone who wants to put information online,” Chabot said.
Tableau is focused on data visualization and business intelligence. The company sells its software to businesses and organizations that need powerful tools to dissect large amounts of data and pull out trends and patterns more efficiently. That’s everyone from Microsoft, Yahoo, and Google, to three-letter government agencies, to Barnes-Jewish Hospital and the Dallas Cowboys.
And now the tools are being offered to consumers for free, at TableauPublic.com. The move fits with Tableau’s goal of becoming the “Adobe of data.” It also seems like a smart move to get the company’s tools in the hands of a much broader audience. “It’s for the public good, for the public Web, and for public information. If there’s anything mildly private, you’d want to use Tableau’s business product,” Chabot says. “We think it will flow back to us with exposure. It will expose people to our technology.”
Chabot puts data in perspective with the history of digital media on the Internet. “We’re finally going to make data on the Web as fun and useful as an online video,” he says. “The history of the Web is it started as a bunch of text, marked up, and then images finally became a first-class citizen, and Flickr exploded. Images are a properly respected object on the Web canvas. Now, thanks to Adobe Flash and YouTube and the Flip camera, video is a first-class citizen. We at Tableau, we’d say there’s only one more type of content that humans produce, and that’s data.”
Granted, the idea of playing with data seems more abstract and doesn’t have as broad immediate appeal as pictures and video. But Chabot says, “It needs its Flickr, it needs its Flip camera. Take any dataset. You can do two things—you can tell stories really well, and you can answer people’s questions.”
And that’s the key here—Tableau is trying to make data social and easy. “The real breakthrough here isn’t that you couldn’t have gotten to this destination,” Chabot says. “It’s not that we invented interactive visualization. It’s the ability to do it fast without any programming, and do it free and bring it to the whole world.” (That’s as opposed to hiring a team of Flash developers that might take $50,000 and 30 days to produce a high-end interactive visualization for CNN, say.)
Tableau is one of the fastest growing software companies in the country. It currently has 105 employees and is actively hiring in areas like software development, quality assurance, operations, and sales. Chabot says the company has had record sales the past two quarters, after a bit of a slowdown in early 2009. Tableau has roughly 6,000 business-level customer organizations. “We’re adding thousands every six months,” Chabot says.