Apr
28
2021
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Near acquires the location data company formerly known as UberMedia

Data intelligence company Near is announcing the acquisition of another company in the data business — UM.

In some ways, this echoes Near’s acquisition of Teemo last fall. Just as that deal helped Singapore-headquartered Near expand into Europe (with Teemo founder and CEO Benoit Grouchko becoming Near’s chief privacy officer), CEO Anil Mathews said that this new acquisition will help Near build a presence in the United States, turning the company into “a truly global organization,” while also tailoring its product to offer “local flavors” in each country.

The addition of UM’s 60-person team brings Near’s total headcount to around 200, with UM CEO Gladys Kong becoming CEO of Near North America.

At the same time, Mathews suggested that this deal isn’t simply about geography, because the data offered by Near and UM are “very complementary,” allowing both teams to upsell current customers on new offerings. He described Near’s mission as “merging two diverse worlds, the online world and the offline world,” essentially creating a unified profile of consumers for marketers and other businesses. Apparently, UM is particularly strong on the offline side, thanks to its focus on location data.

Near CEO Anil Mathews and UM CEO Gladys Kong

Near CEO Anil Mathews and UM CEO Gladys Kong. Image Credits: Near

“UM has a very strong understanding of places, they’ve mastered their understanding of footfalls and dwell times,” Mathews added. “As a result, most of the use cases where UM is seeing growth — in tourism, retail, real estate — are in industries struggling due to the pandemic, where they’re using data to figure out, ‘How do we come out of the pandemic?’ ”

TechCrunch readers may be more familiar with UM under its old name, UberMedia, which created social apps like Echofon and UberSocial before pivoting its business to ad attribution and location data. Kong said that contrary to her fears, the company had “an amazing 2020” as businesses realized they needed UM’s data (its customers include RAND Corporation, Hawaii Tourism Authority, Columbia University and Yale University).

And the year was capped by connecting with Near and realizing that the two companies have “a lot of synergies.” In fact, Kong recalled that UM’s rebranding last month was partly at Mathews’ suggestion: “He said, ‘Why do you have media in your name when you don’t do media?’ And we realized that’s probably how the world saw us, so we decided to change [our name] to make it clear what we do.”

Founded in 2010, UM raised a total of $34.6 million in funding, according to Crunchbase. The financial terms of the acquisition were not disclosed.

 

Apr
16
2021
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Data scientists: Bring the narrative to the forefront

By 2025, 463 exabytes of data will be created each day, according to some estimates. (For perspective, one exabyte of storage could hold 50,000 years of DVD-quality video.) It’s now easier than ever to translate physical and digital actions into data, and businesses of all types have raced to amass as much data as possible in order to gain a competitive edge.

However, in our collective infatuation with data (and obtaining more of it), what’s often overlooked is the role that storytelling plays in extracting real value from data.

The reality is that data by itself is insufficient to really influence human behavior. Whether the goal is to improve a business’ bottom line or convince people to stay home amid a pandemic, it’s the narrative that compels action, rather than the numbers alone. As more data is collected and analyzed, communication and storytelling will become even more integral in the data science discipline because of their role in separating the signal from the noise.

Data alone doesn’t spur innovation — rather, it’s data-driven storytelling that helps uncover hidden trends, powers personalization, and streamlines processes.

Yet this can be an area where data scientists struggle. In Anaconda’s 2020 State of Data Science survey of more than 2,300 data scientists, nearly a quarter of respondents said that their data science or machine learning (ML) teams lacked communication skills. This may be one reason why roughly 40% of respondents said they were able to effectively demonstrate business impact “only sometimes” or “almost never.”

The best data practitioners must be as skilled in storytelling as they are in coding and deploying models — and yes, this extends beyond creating visualizations to accompany reports. Here are some recommendations for how data scientists can situate their results within larger contextual narratives.

Make the abstract more tangible

Ever-growing datasets help machine learning models better understand the scope of a problem space, but more data does not necessarily help with human comprehension. Even for the most left-brain of thinkers, it’s not in our nature to understand large abstract numbers or things like marginal improvements in accuracy. This is why it’s important to include points of reference in your storytelling that make data tangible.

For example, throughout the pandemic, we’ve been bombarded with countless statistics around case counts, death rates, positivity rates, and more. While all of this data is important, tools like interactive maps and conversations around reproduction numbers are more effective than massive data dumps in terms of providing context, conveying risk, and, consequently, helping change behaviors as needed. In working with numbers, data practitioners have a responsibility to provide the necessary structure so that the data can be understood by the intended audience.

Mar
22
2021
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No-code business intelligence service y42 raises $2.9M seed round

Berlin-based y42 (formerly known as Datos Intelligence), a data warehouse-centric business intelligence service that promises to give businesses access to an enterprise-level data stack that’s as simple to use as a spreadsheet, today announced that it has raised a $2.9 million seed funding round led by La Famiglia VC. Additional investors include the co-founders of Foodspring, Personio and Petlab.

The service, which was founded in 2020, integrates with more than 100 data sources, covering all the standard B2B SaaS tools, from Airtable to Shopify and Zendesk, as well as database services like Google’s BigQuery. Users can then transform and visualize this data, orchestrate their data pipelines and trigger automated workflows based on this data (think sending Slack notifications when revenue drops or emailing customers based on your own custom criteria).

Like similar startups, y42 extends the idea data warehouse, which was traditionally used for analytics, and helps businesses operationalize this data. At the core of the service is a lot of open source and the company, for example, contributes to GitLabs’ Meltano platform for building data pipelines.

y42 founder and CEO Hung Dang

y42 founder and CEO Hung Dang. Image Credits: y42

“We’re taking the best of breed open-source software. What we really want to accomplish is to create a tool that is so easy to understand and that enables everyone to work with their data effectively,” Y42 founder and CEO Hung Dang told me. “We’re extremely UX obsessed and I would describe us as a no-code/low-code BI tool — but with the power of an enterprise-level data stack and the simplicity of Google Sheets.”

Before y42, Vietnam-born Dang co-founded a major events company that operated in more than 10 countries and made millions in revenue (but with very thin margins), all while finishing up his studies with a focus on business analytics. And that in turn led him to also found a second company that focused on B2B data analytics.

Image Credits: y42

Even while building his events company, he noted, he was always very product- and data-driven. “I was implementing data pipelines to collect customer feedback and merge it with operational data — and it was really a big pain at that time,” he said. “I was using tools like Tableau and Alteryx, and it was really hard to glue them together — and they were quite expensive. So out of that frustration, I decided to develop an internal tool that was actually quite usable and in 2016, I decided to turn it into an actual company. ”

He then sold this company to a major publicly listed German company. An NDA prevents him from talking about the details of this transaction, but maybe you can draw some conclusions from the fact that he spent time at Eventim before founding y42.

Given his background, it’s maybe no surprise that y42’s focus is on making life easier for data engineers and, at the same time, putting the power of these platforms in the hands of business analysts. Dang noted that y42 typically provides some consulting work when it onboards new clients, but that’s mostly to give them a head start. Given the no-code/low-code nature of the product, most analysts are able to get started pretty quickly — and for more complex queries, customers can opt to drop down from the graphical interface to y42’s low-code level and write queries in the service’s SQL dialect.

The service itself runs on Google Cloud and the 25-people team manages about 50,000 jobs per day for its clients. The company’s customers include the likes of LifeMD, Petlab and Everdrop.

Until raising this round, Dang self-funded the company and had also raised some money from angel investors. But La Famiglia felt like the right fit for y42, especially due to its focus on connecting startups with more traditional enterprise companies.

“When we first saw the product demo, it struck us how on top of analytical excellence, a lot of product development has gone into the y42 platform,” said Judith Dada, general partner at LaFamiglia VC. “More and more work with data today means that data silos within organizations multiply, resulting in chaos or incorrect data. y42 is a powerful single source of truth for data experts and non-data experts alike. As former data scientists and analysts, we wish that we had y42 capabilities back then.”

Dang tells me he could have raised more but decided that he didn’t want to dilute the team’s stake too much at this point. “It’s a small round, but this round forces us to set up the right structure. For the Series A, which we plan to be towards the end of this year, we’re talking about a dimension which is 10x,” he told me.

Mar
02
2021
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Microsoft Azure expands its NoSQL portfolio with Managed Instances for Apache Cassandra

At its Ignite conference today, Microsoft announced the launch of Azure Managed Instance for Apache Cassandra, its latest NoSQL database offering and a competitor to Cassandra-centric companies like Datastax. Microsoft describes the new service as a ‘semi-managed offering that will help companies bring more of their Cassandra-based workloads into its cloud.

“Customers can easily take on-prem Cassandra workloads and add limitless cloud scale while maintaining full compatibility with the latest version of Apache Cassandra,” Microsoft explains in its press materials. “Their deployments gain improved performance and availability, while benefiting from Azure’s security and compliance capabilities.”

Like its counterpart, Azure SQL Manages Instance, the idea here is to give users access to a scalable, cloud-based database service. To use Cassandra in Azure before, businesses had to either move to Cosmos DB, its highly scalable database service which supports the Cassandra, MongoDB, SQL and Gremlin APIs, or manage their own fleet of virtual machines or on-premises infrastructure.

Cassandra was originally developed at Facebook and then open-sourced in 2008. A year later, it joined the Apache Foundation and today it’s used widely across the industry, with companies like Apple and Netflix betting on it for some of their core services, for example. AWS launched a managed Cassandra-compatible service at its re:Invent conference in 2019 (it’s called Amazon Keyspaces today), Microsoft launched the Cassandra API for Cosmos DB in September 2018. With today’s announcement, though, the company can now offer a full range of Cassandra-based servicer for enterprises that want to move these workloads to its cloud.


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Feb
25
2021
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DataJoy raises $6M seed to help SaaS companies track key business metrics

Every business needs to track fundamental financial information, but the data typically lives in a variety of silos, making it a constant challenge to understand a company’s overall financial health. DataJoy, an early-stage startup, wants to solve that issue. The company announced a $6 million seed round today led by Foundation Capital with help from Quarry VC, Partech Partners, IGSB, Bow Capital and SVB.

Like many startup founders, CEO Jon Lee has experienced the frustration firsthand of trying to gather this financial data, and he decided to start a company to deal with it once and for all. “The reason why I started this company was that I was really frustrated at Copper, my last company, because it was really hard just to find the answers to simple business questions in my data,” he told me.

These include basic questions like how the business is doing this quarter, if there are any surprises that could throw the company off track and where are the best places to invest in the business to accelerate more quickly.

The company has decided to concentrate its efforts for starters on SaaS companies and their requirements. “We basically focus on taking the work out of revenue intelligence, and just give you the insights that successful companies in the SaaS vertical depend on to be the largest and fastest growing in the market,” Lee explained.

The idea is to build a product with a way to connect to key business systems, pull the data and answer a very specific set of business questions, while using machine learning to provide more proactive advice.

While the company is still in the process of building the product and is pre-revenue, it has begun developing the pieces to ultimately help companies answer these questions. Eventually it will have a set of connectors to various key systems like Salesforce for CRM, HubSpot and Marketo for marketing, NetSuite for ERP, Gainsight for customer experience and Amplitude for product intelligence.

Lee says the set of connectors will be as specific as the questions themselves and based on their research with potential customers and what they are using to track this information. Ashu Garg, general partner at lead investor Foundation Capital, says that he was attracted to the founding team’s experience, but also to the fact they were solving a problem he sees all the time sitting on the boards of various SaaS startups.

“I spend my life in the board meetings. It’s what I do, and every CEO, every board is looking for straight answers for what should be obvious questions, but they require this intersection of data,” Garg said. He says to an extent, it’s only possible now due to the evolution of technology to pull this all together in a way that simplifies this process.

The company currently has 11 employees, with plans to double that by the middle of this year. As a longtime entrepreneur, Lee says that he has found that building a diverse workforce is essential to building a successful company. “People have found diversity usually [results in a company that is] more productive, more creative and works faster,” Lee said. He said that that’s why it’s important to focus on diversity from the earliest days of the company, while being proactive to make that happen. For example, ensuring you have a diverse set of candidates to choose from when you are reviewing resumes.

For now, the company is 100% remote. In fact, Lee and his co-founder, Chief Product Officer Ken Wong, who previously ran AI and machine learning at Tableau, have yet to meet in person, but they are hoping that changes soon. The company will eventually have a presence in Vancouver and San Mateo whenever offices start to open.

Feb
17
2021
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TigerGraph raises $105M Series C for its enterprise graph database

TigerGraph, a well-funded enterprise startup that provides a graph database and analytics platform, today announced that it has raised a $105 million Series C funding round. The round was led by Tiger Global and brings the company’s total funding to over $170 million.

“TigerGraph is leading the paradigm shift in connecting and analyzing data via scalable and native graph technology with pre-connected entities versus the traditional way of joining large tables with rows and columns,” said TigerGraph founder and CEO, Yu Xu. “This funding will allow us to expand our offering and bring it to many more markets, enabling more customers to realize the benefits of graph analytics and AI.”

Current TigerGraph customers include the likes of Amgen, Citrix, Intuit, Jaguar Land Rover and UnitedHealth Group. Using a SQL-like query language (GSQL), these customers can use the company’s services to store and quickly query their graph databases. At the core of its offerings is the TigerGraphDB database and analytics platform, but the company also offers a hosted service, TigerGraph Cloud, with pay-as-you-go pricing, hosted either on AWS or Azure. With GraphStudio, the company also offers a graphical UI for creating data models and visually analyzing them.

The promise for the company’s database services is that they can scale to tens of terabytes of data with billions of edges. Its customers use the technology for a wide variety of use cases, including fraud detection, customer 360, IoT, AI and machine learning.

Like so many other companies in this space, TigerGraph is facing some tailwind thanks to the fact that many enterprises have accelerated their digital transformation projects during the pandemic.

“Over the last 12 months with the COVID-19 pandemic, companies have embraced digital transformation at a faster pace driving an urgent need to find new insights about their customers, products, services, and suppliers,” the company explains in today’s announcement. “Graph technology connects these domains from the relational databases, offering the opportunity to shrink development cycles for data preparation, improve data quality, identify new insights such as similarity patterns to deliver the next best action recommendation.”

Jan
27
2021
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Datastax acquires Kesque as it gets into data streaming

Datastax, the company best known for commercializing the open-source Apache Cassandra database, is moving beyond databases. As the company announced today, it has acquired Kesque, a cloud messaging service.

The Kesque team built its service on top of the Apache Pulsar messaging and streaming project. Datastax has now taken that team’s knowledge in this area and, combined with its own expertise, is launching its own Pulsar-based streaming platform by the name of Datastax Luna Streaming, which is now generally available.

This move comes right as Datastax is also now, for the first time, announcing that it is cash-flow positive and profitable, as the company’s chief product officer, Ed Anuff, told me. “We are at over $150 million in [annual recurring revenue]. We are cash-flow positive and we are profitable,” he told me. This marks the first time the company is publically announcing this data. In addition, the company also today revealed that about 20 percent of its annual contract value is now for DataStax Astra, its managed multi-cloud Cassandra service and that the number of self-service Asta subscribers has more than doubled from Q3 to Q4.

The launch of Luna Streaming now gives the 10-year-old company a new area to expand into — and one that has some obvious adjacencies with its existing product portfolio.

“We looked at how a lot of developers are building on top of Cassandra,” Anuff, who joined Datastax after leaving Google Cloud last year, said. “What they’re doing is, they’re addressing what people call ‘data-in-motion’ use cases. They have huge amounts of data that are coming in, huge amounts of data that are going out — and they’re typically looking at doing something with streaming in conjunction with that. As we’ve gone in and asked, “What’s next for Datastax?,’ streaming is going to be a big part of that.”

Given Datastax’s open-source roots, it’s no surprise the team decided to build its service on another open-source project and acquire an open-source company to help it do so. Anuff noted that while there has been a lot of hype around streaming and Apache Kafka, a cloud-native solution like Pulsar seemed like the better solution for the company. Pulsar was originally developed at Yahoo! (which, full disclosure, belongs to the same Verizon Media Group family as TechCrunch) and even before acquiring Kesque, Datastax already used Pulsar to build its Astra platform. Other Pulsar users include Yahoo, Tencent, Nutanix and Splunk.

“What we saw was that when you go and look at doing streaming in a scale-out way, that Kafka isn’t the only approach. We looked at it, and we liked the Pulsar architecture, we like what’s going on, we like the community — and remember, we’re a company that grew up in the Apache open-source community — we said, ‘okay, we think that it’s got all the right underpinnings, let’s go and get involved in that,” Anuff said. And in the process of doing so, the team came across Kesque founder Chris Bartholomew and eventually decided to acquire his company.

The new Luna Streaming offering will be what Datastax calls a “subscription to success with Apache Pulsar.’ It will include a free, production-ready distribution of Pulsar and an optional, SLA-backed subscription tier with enterprise support.

Unsurprisingly, Datastax also plans to remain active in the Pulsar community. The team is already making code contributions, but Anuff also stressed that Datastax is helping out with scalability testing. “This is one of the things that we learned in our participation in the Apache Cassandra project,” Anuff said. “A lot of what these projects need is folks coming in doing testing, helping with deployments, supporting users. Our goal is to be a great participant in the community.”

Dec
03
2020
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Microsoft launches Azure Purview, its new data governance service

As businesses gather, store and analyze an ever-increasing amount of data, tools for helping them discover, catalog, track and manage how that data is shared are also becoming increasingly important. With Azure Purview, Microsoft is launching a new data governance service into public preview today that brings together all of these capabilities in a new data catalog with discovery and data governance features.

As Rohan Kumar, Microsoft’s corporate VP for Azure Data, told me, this has become a major pain point for enterprises. While they may be very excited about getting started with data-heavy technologies like predictive analytics, those companies’ data and privacy-focused executives are very concerned to make sure that the way the data is used is compliant or that the company has received the right permissions to use its customers’ data, for example.

In addition, companies also want to make sure that they can trust their data and know who has access to it and who made changes to it.

“[Purview] is a unified data governance platform which automates the discovery of data, cataloging of data, mapping of data, lineage tracking — with the intention of giving our customers a very good understanding of the breadth of the data estate that exists to begin with, and also to ensure that all these regulations that are there for compliance, like GDPR, CCPA, etc, are managed across an entire data estate in ways which enable you to make sure that they don’t violate any regulation,” Kumar explained.

At the core of Purview is its catalog that can pull in data from the usual suspects, like Azure’s various data and storage services, but also third-party data stores, including Amazon’s S3 storage service and on-premises SQL Server. Over time, the company will add support for more data sources.

Kumar described this process as a “multi-semester investment,” so the capabilities the company is rolling out today are only a small part of what’s on the overall road map already. With this first release today, the focus is on mapping a company’s data estate.

Image Credits: Microsoft

“Next [on the road map] is more of the governance policies,” Kumar said. “Imagine if you want to set things like ‘if there’s any PII data across any of my data stores, only this group of users has access to it.’ Today, setting up something like that is extremely complex and most likely you’ll get it wrong. That’ll be as simple as setting a policy inside of Purview.”

In addition to launching Purview, the Azure team also today launched into general availability Azure Synapse, Microsoft’s next-generation data warehousing and analytics service. The idea behind Synapse is to give enterprises — and their engineers and data scientists — a single platform that brings together data integration, warehousing and big data analytics.

“With Synapse, we have this one product that gives a completely no-code experience for data engineers, as an example, to build out these [data] pipelines and collaborate very seamlessly with the data scientists who are building out machine learning models, or the business analysts who build out reports for things like Power BI.”

Among Microsoft’s marquee customers for the service, which Kumar described as one of the fastest-growing Azure services right now, are FedEx, Walgreens, Myntra and P&G.

“The insights we gain from continuous analysis help us optimize our network,” said Sriram Krishnasamy, senior vice president, strategic programs at FedEx Services. “So as FedEx moves critical high-value shipments across the globe, we can often predict whether that delivery will be disrupted by weather or traffic and remediate that disruption by routing the delivery from another location.”

Image Credits: Microsoft

Nov
16
2020
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Gretel announces $12M Series A to make it easier to anonymize data

As companies work with data, one of the big obstacles they face is making sure they are not exposing personally identifiable information (PII) or other sensitive data. It usually requires a painstaking manual effort to strip out that data. Gretel, an early stage startup, wants to change that by making it faster and easier to anonymize data sets. Today the company announced a $12 million Series A led by Greylock. The company has now raised $15.5 million.

Gretel co-founder and CEO Alex Watson says that his company was founded to make it simpler to anonymize data and unlock data sets that were previously out of reach because of privacy concerns.

“As a developer, you want to test an idea or build a new feature, and it can take weeks to get access to the data you need. Then essentially it boils down to getting approvals to get started, then snapshotting a database, and manually removing what looks like personal data and hoping that you got everything,”

Watson, who previously worked as a GM at AWS, believed that there needed to be a faster and more reliable way to anonymize the data, and that’s why he started Gretel. The first product is an open source, synthetic machine learning library for developers that strips out personally identifiable information.

“Developers use our open source library, which trains machine learning models on their sensitive data, then as that training is happening we are enforcing something called differential privacy, which basically ensures that the model doesn’t memorize details about secrets for individual people inside of the data,” he said. The result is a new artificial data set that is anonymized and safe to share across a business.

The company was founded last year, and they have actually used this year to develop the open source product and build an open source community around it. “So our approach and our go-to-market here is we’ve open sourced our underlying libraries, and we will also build a SaaS service that makes it really easy to generate synthetic data and anonymized data at scale,” he said.

As the founders build the company, they are looking at how to build a diverse and inclusive organization, something that they discuss at their regular founders’ meetings, especially as they look to take these investment dollars and begin to hire additional senior people.

“We make a conscious effort to have diverse candidates apply, and to really make sure we reach out to them and have a conversation, and that’s paid off, or is in the process of paying off I would say, with the candidates in our pipeline right now. So we’re excited. It’s tremendously important that we avoid group think that happens so often,” he said.

The company doesn’t have paying customers, but the plan is to build off the relationships it has with design partners and begin taking in revenue next year. Sridhar Ramaswamy, the partner at Greylock, who is leading the investment, says that his firm is placing a bet on a pre-revenue company because he sees great potential for a service like this.

“We think Gretel will democratize safe and controlled access to data for the whole world the way Github democratized source code access and control,” Ramaswamy said.

Nov
11
2020
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Mozart Data lands $4M seed to provide out-of-the-box data stack

Mozart Data founders Peter Fishman and Dan Silberman have been friends for over 20 years, working at various startups, and even launching a hot sauce company together along the way. As technologists, they saw companies building a data stack over and over. They decided to provide one for them and Mozart Data was born.

The company graduated from the Y Combinator Summer 2020 cohort in August and announced a $4 million seed round today led by Craft Ventures and Array Ventures with participation from Coelius Capital, Jigsaw VC, Signia VC, Taurus VC and various angel investors.

In spite of the detour into hot sauce, the two founders were mostly involved in data over the years and they formed strong opinions about what a data stack should look like. “We wanted to bring the same stack that we’ve been building at all these different startups, and make it available more broadly,” Fishman told TechCrunch.

They see a modern data stack as one that has different databases, SaaS tools and data sources. They pull it together, process it and make it ready for whatever business intelligence tool you use. “We do all of the parts before the BI tool. So we extract and load the data. We manage a data warehouse for you under the hood in Snowflake, and we provide a layer for you to do transformations,” he said.

The service is aimed mostly at technical people who know some SQL like data analysts, data scientists and sales and marketing operations. They founded the company earlier this year with their own money, and joined Y Combinator in June. Today, they have about a dozen customers and six employees. They expect to add 10-12 more in the next year.

Fishman says they have mostly hired from their networks, but have begun looking outward as they make their next hires with a goal of building a diverse company. In fact, they have made offers to several diverse candidates, who didn’t ultimately take the job, but he believes if you start looking at the top of the funnel, you will get good results. “I think if you spend a lot of energy in terms of top of funnel recruiting, you end up getting a good, diverse set at the bottom,” he said.

The company has been able to start from scratch in the midst of a pandemic and add employees and customers because the founders had a good network to pitch the product to, but they understand that moving forward they will have to move outside of that. They plan to use their experience as users to drive their message.

“I think talking about some of the whys and the rationale is our strategy for adding value to customers […], it’s about basically how would we set up a data stack if we were at this type of startup,” he said.

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