In 2008, the serial entrepreneur Roman Stanek had a bright idea. Suppose you could build a data-analytics platform in the cloud that would allow ordinary users in a subscribing company—not just data specialists--to deploy business intelligence at a massive scale?
Rather than relying on BI departments and big expensive data warehouses, Stanek envisioned an approach that would let companies manage, analyze, and visualize sales, marketing, services, and social data from a seemingly endless number of data sources within a cloud environment. GoodData has an extensive line of connectors, enabling it to ingest data from over 150 sources.
The result of that vision is GoodData, now a reliable member of the Silicon Valley Unicorn Club, which describes itself as "a massively scalable, secure, and high-performance Insights Platform-as-a-Service." The company has more than a million users at 80,000 businesses and says it is the only platform that provides the creation, delivery, and automated management of analytics at massive scale.
As Stanek explained to me in a phone interview, the beginning was a little more uncertain:
If you remember the 2007-2008 period, it was not a great time to be a startup. The economy was in trouble, the banking and real estate markets were tanking, and venture firms had tightened up on the supply of available capital. Also, cloud computing and the software-as-a-service model were still relatively uncharted approaches.
Traditional analytics depended upon big, expensive data warehouses. The large enterprise providers dominated the business intelligence software market, and BI was usually an IT department where you could request insights into a particular area. A few weeks or months later, you'd get your results.
In retrospect, we were a little early because the environment we were building a solution for didn't fully exist yet. In 2008 and 2009, we didn't have a customer; we just worked on building the software. By 2010, we had a ready product, and we had to find customers.
The GoodData data-to-the-people concept resonated quickly with companies that were already gathering enormous amounts of data, through applications like Salesforce, for example, but lacked an easy and reliable way to analyze it for business insights. GoodData was in the right place with the right solution, and the company has been booming ever since. More than half of the Fortune 500 are now using GoodData to achieve insights into all aspects of their companies.
GoodData is designed to deliver dashboards, self-service data exploration, and insights at the point of work—in products, business applications, and workflows. Stanek says the platform typically helps customers solve critical business problems and recognize the real business value within 8 to 12 weeks of the first use case.
One of our crucial early decisions was to enable customers to embed GoodData analytics in its solutions. Nowadays, it is common for software vendors to add analytics and reporting capabilities to their applications. Still, we were an early adopter, and that has been a critical differentiator for us.
The key to building a data-driven organization, he says, is changing the culture, which involves, among other things, identifying the business processes and workflows that are ripe for improvement and building a consensus around those that can be enhanced by the analytics project.
Making it easy for your users to make business decisions using analytics can produce enormous dividends for companies. Still, it requires continuous effort in time and resources to make it pay off. Deciding to use the software is the naturally fitting piece of the puzzle. Companies who make an initial investment and think their job is complete are sure to be disappointed. Creating the kind of organization that's genuinely empowered by analytics requires a lot of dedication, planning, commitment, due diligence, and continuous tinkering. That has to be led. It's not something that you delegate.
GoodData has been around for nearly 12 years—which is an eternity for a startup—and has raised more than $115 million over 11 rounds of funding. But Stanek doesn't seem in a particular rush to go public. The company is growing and doing well. I asked him how the world of data had changed since GoodData was formed in 2008.
Pretty much everything has changed. I don't think people were even calling it Big Data when we started. Now, everyone realizes that data is the fuel that drives the digital economy. Organizations of all sizes need data and the business insights they can glean from it to compete and win.
There is some soul-searching going on in governments around the world about how much data is too much data and whether companies are protecting and handling personal user data adequately. Europe's GDPR and the new California Consumer Privacy Act aims at ensuring that individuals' privacy is protected.
The idea of building a business intelligence platform in the cloud and democratizing data to allow organizations and their managers to generate their insights instead of waiting for results from queries run by IT was pretty radical in 2008, but now it's relatively common. We were fortunate enough to get there early.
GoodData has done a lot of things right in its twelve-year history in the big data analytics market. Still, the primary key to its success may well be its early recognition that achieving real ROI from BI required delivering insights about critical processes—in context and actionable—at the point of work. Embedding analytics, where the business user needs them most, is a winning strategy. But tlike many in the BI space, hetting enough market visibility remains a challenge.