Tableau Doubles Revenue by Making Data More Visual, More Fun
Tableau Software has made it clear over the past year that it is one of the rising stars of the local software community. Spun out from Stanford University in 2003, the company has spent the last seven years carving out a global market of businesspeople and consumers itching for a new product to help them sift through mounds of data efficiently, and even having a little fun.
The company has sought its answer through taking something that causes most people a headache—staring at an unorganized document full of data and attempting to make sense of it—and transforming that muddle into graphics and visualizations that are easy to create, and manipulate, to get the most out of the information as possible.
“Working with data is like the web search before Google—it’s a pain! It’s cumbersome, it’s difficult to use, and it’s hard to just answer questions that you have,” says CEO Christian Chabot. With Tableau, he adds, anyone who can use a computer can have a “nice free form canvas for exploring and visualizing the data,” transforming lengthy spreadsheets into moldable graphic representations.
“Wherever there is a pile of data, we think it’s too hard for people to ask it questions. We just make that really easy. And it’s a product that pretty much anyone can use,” he says.
Although titles like “business intelligence software,” and “data visualization” don’t immediately stand out as the sexiest products on the market, Chabot begs to differ. In the last year, the company has more than doubled its sales, and is raking up some high-profile clients, including Apple, UNESCO, Logitech, Vanguard Health Systems, Zynga—even the Dallas Cowboys.
Tableau is privately held and doesn’t have to disclose its financial reports, but it has said it generated a 106 percent increase in its sales in the first half of 2010, compared with the same period a year earlier. The company said it grossed $20 million in revenue in 2009.
“Tableau is experiencing just tremendous sales and customer growth,” Chabot says. “Of the last 22 quarters, 21 of them have had consecutive sales and customer growth. So the business is just building, and building, and building, and building.”
After years of development, Tableau, priming for expansion, moved from what Chabot affectionately referred to as its “startup office,” to a more spacious Fremont spot looking out on the Ship Canal and Aurora Bridge, and right next to software giant Adobe, last summer. But the company’s reach is clearly moving beyond its expanded Fremont offices. In January, the company boasted record sales with a modest 100 employees. Today Tableau has 136 employees, and Chabot estimates they will be hiring another 100 in the next year.
“Essentially we’re just seeing incredible success with our products we invented and they’re really taking off in the marketplace, and accordingly, we’re hiring up a storm. And we’re very anxious to tell people in Seattle that news because we’re always looking for great people.”
It is difficult for Chabot to hide his excitement about the future of Tableau. When asked the question many of you may be wondering—how has this seemingly niched technology managed to become so popular?—Chabot explains that need for data visualization capability is really much more widespread than you might think.
“From the NSA looking at billions of rows of data, to a newspaper journalist trying to write a good story, to non-profits trying to communicate their donations to the community—people struggle with how do I take this data and go serve it up to people in a way that doesn’t take forever, and is actually kind of fun, and gives my audience some beautiful, interactive, informative windows into that useful data?” he explains. “You could do that now by hiring a bunch of software developers. But who’s got that? With unlimited time and budget you could go hire a Flash developer to go build some app for you, but it’s going to take you four weeks and cost you $25,000. Tableau just lets anyone go create useful, interactive data experiences.”
When Chabot first got involved in the technology that Chris Stolte and Pat Hanrahan were exploring at Stanford, he says he saw global opportunity to not only make data easier to navigate, play with, and picture, but to change the nature of the data industry itself and make something that has been traditionally reserved for “data geeks” accessible to everyone. He saw the opportunity to do for data what Adobe did for documents—to become the “Adobe of data.”
“One of the things that has made Adobe one of the biggest software companies in the world, is that everyone needs their product—everyone can consume Adobe products. All the world’s giant corporations, giant banks, giant governments, absolutely buy Adobe products—but guess what? So does that small business right there! Everyone does, because what they did is they had a mission that helped people create and share and understand documents. Well who doesn’t need to do that? Well likewise, Tableau helps people see and understand data. I mean, who doesn’t need to do that in terms of an organization?” Chabot says. “I thought the whole world needed this—any company, any non-profit, any university, and person could benefit from the technology.”
Unlike its biggest competitors, a cluster of companies called Business Intelligence Platforms, which Chabot says is woefully outdated, Tableau is thinking forward about how to make data visualization fun—for everyone, not just statistical analysts, researchers, and the otherwise numerically inclined.
“Business Intelligence Platforms—they have names like Cognos, Business Objects, Microstrategy. And they are these heavy, complicated corporate systems that are very expensive and slow. Now at their time they were actually really valuable,” Chabot says. The problem is that the companies were all founded in the early ’90s so their technology has become ”decrepit, and slow, and expensive,” he says. Tableau, he says, is like the “shining new entrant” in the industry. “We identify more with companies like Apple, and Adobe, and Google. We just look at this whole industry and we say why isn’t this faster, more beautiful, more fun, and more affordable? Why not?”
Currently Tableau offers three products—Tableau Desktop, Tableau Server, and Tableau Public—that allow consumers, businesses, corporations, and your average data geeks (you can usually spot them by their “talk data to me” t-shirts, Chabot jokes) to easily upload data from either a spreadsheet or database, and instantly begin to explore the information visually.
Today the company boasts over 5,000 clients—from “the traditional Fortune 500 companies like Google, and Microsoft, and Cisco, and Intel, and Wells Fargo,” to a number of news organizations like The Wall Street Journal, CBS Sports, and The Seattle Times.
Tableau is now opening up offices all around the world to build on its momentum. At the end of August, Tableau will host its third annual customer conference, which will bring 600 to 700 Tableau users from all over the world to the downtown Seattle Sheraton. Next year the conference will be too large for any hotel in Seattle to accommodate, and according to Chabot, the company may even put on a second event for its clients in Europe. This fall, the company plans to release Tableau 6.0 across its existing product lines, which Chabot says “will be revved” with new features and functionalities.
As for funding, Chabot says that is not the company’s top priority right now. Though Tableau has a longstanding and strong relationship with New Enterprise Associates—the sole investor in its $5 million Series A and $10 million Series B—according to Chabot, the company hasn’t spent any of its financing money thus far.
“All of the VC money that we’ve ever raised is actually still in the bank. We haven’t used a dollar of it,” Chabot says. “We love our VC firm—they’ve provided a lot of value. But honestly Tableau is about growing our customer base and inventing more great things in our R&D department, and building a large worldwide software franchise. And over the years we may or may not need additional capital, but right now fundraising just isn’t a goal of any kind at Tableau.”