Glean raises $7M to democratize data insights

You’d think data visualization and exploration is a bit of a solved problem thanks to the likes of Tableau, Sisense, Looker, Microsoft Power BI and their competitors. But for the most part, these tools were developed before every company had a data lake and warehouse — let alone a lakehouse. Of course, that means there is space of more startups in this field to provide a modern experience for building dashboards on top of all of this data. One of those is Glean, which is now coming out of stealth and announcing a $7 million seed funding round led by Matrix Partners’ Ilya Sukhar. A number of angel investors, including Elad Gil, Shana Fisher, Dylan Field, Scott Belsky, Cristina Cordova, Akshay Kothari, DJ Patil and Anthony Goldbloom, also participated in this round.

Glean co-founder Carlos Aguilar was an early systems engineer at Kiva Systems, where he got to work with large data sets from the company’s warehouse robots. It was there that he realized that a lot of teams wanted access to this data, but writing new SQL query for every request wasn’t scalable in the long run. “Even back then I developed this passion for not having to do that,” he told me. “I could build these data apps and then a whole subset of questions would just disappear. But more than that, people were super empowered and now they could do all sorts of things that they couldn’t do before. […] I loved this idea of like taking the complexity, simplifying it and building tools out of it.”

After Amazon acquired Kiva, Aguilar worked there for a few years and then joined Flatiron Health as the first data hire there and while the team was able to build tools to wrangle data there, too, the bottleneck now shifted to building data apps to help the rest of the company get insights from their data as quickly as possible. That meant lots of time building dashboards in legacy BI tools and helping others to use those.

The mission of Glean, Aguilar said, is not just democratizing data but democratizing insights. Being able to dig through data and not just looking at a dashboard is what most users want, he argued, and that is something that a lot of the legacy tools actually do quite well. “There’s a bunch of startups and upstarts, but nothing really gives gets you the powerful sort of interactivity that you get with a lot of these legacies tools still,” he said.

Glean wants to combine this interactivity without the barrier to entry of the likes of Tableau. You still need somebody in a company to know a little bit of SQL and somebody who can model the data, but once that’s done, Glean will automatically try to find the best defaults to visualize this data. The service currently supports Snowflake, BigQuery and PostgreSQL. As Aguilar noted, the company’s focus right now is on data warehouses, in part because this data is typically already cleaned up and ready to be queried.

Image Credits: Glean

Once those first steps are done, even non-technical users should be able to easily dig through the connected data and remix a given view for their own use cases, too. As of now, Glean supports all of the standard visualizations (think pivot tables, line charts, bar charts, etc.). And while it may try to democratize this data analysis workflow and many of its users will be non-technical, the company is also building a lot of tools for engineers, including git integrations, a CLI, a native build tools and more.

“We’ve seen a massive revolution in data infrastructure over the last few years. Organizations of all kinds now have access to more data than ever before. But there’s been little innovation in how data teams surface insights to their colleagues. They struggle to keep pace and deliver the business impact expected of them,” said Matrix Partners’ Sukhar. “Carlos and his team at Glean are rethinking the BI layer to solve this problem. The idea is to empower everyone in an organization to dive into data and make sense of it. The team has deep experience building data products at Flatiron Health and we’re excited to work with them on capturing this huge opportunity.”

Looking ahead, the team wants to build more collaboration features to bring an almost Google Docs-like experience to these dashboards — and that is, in part, what the team is going to use the new funding for. “The focus is really on trying to create an incredible experience with a very high level of fit and finish that just feels incredible to use,” said Aguilar. “It turns out, doing that in the data context and with a lot of different personas is a very hard problem. So investing in these core analytics workflows and making that an incredible experience is high on the list.” The team is also looking into building more automation systems and tools to automatically create models from various points in a company’s data pipeline.

Two former members of Google’s skunkworks division have launched a biomanufacturing company

Biomanufacturing technologies — taking modified versions of existing organisms and bending them to the will of humans — has moved from the world of science fiction to becoming a new reality.

Across the startup landscape companies are launching to make synthetic spider silk, or make leather substitutes, or meat substitutes, or novel chemicals and pharmaceuticals.

What all of these companies have in common is that they need to be able to rapidly experiment with different organisms and processes for cultivating them to make their visions work at a commercial scale — and that’s where Culture Biosciences comes in.

The company was founded by two Chapel Hill, N.C. natives and Duke alums Matthew Ball and Will Patrick. The two met in college at Duke and worked together in Google’s famous skunkworks division (then known as Google X).

Will Patrick, co-founder, Culture Biosciences

After leaving Google, Patrick, the company’s chief executive, wound up at MIT’s Media Lab where he was exposed to the work that companies like Gingko Bioworks was doing around biomanufacturing and became convinced that it would be transformational by human society.

“I was becoming incredibly inspired by all of that,” says Patrick. “What I was noticing was that the problem and the bottleneck in the industry was moving from industrial design to scale-up.”

The solution to that bottleneck rested in making the fermentation process more precise and more controlled, Patrick thought.

Think of biomanufacturing as a process similar to brewing beer. Organisms are sitting in a soup of goo, eating some things and excreting other things and all of that needs to be controlled. It’s one thing to be able to control the growth and extraction of goo in a test tube, quite another to do it at the scale of a hundred-gallon sized tanks.

“There are these really challenging aspects of operating bioreactors, sampling, and testing and getting data,” said Patrick . “We have been able to create this infrastructure that we can scale out.”

The company has built its own hardware — including customized robotics, sensors, and networks for its bioreactors, which, at 250 milliliters, are roughly the size of coke cans.

“That was the problem we were solving with Culture Biosciences,” says Patrick. “We do cloud fermentation.” 

The company, which just raised $5.5 million from investors including Refactor Capital, and Verily, the life sciences division of Google parent company, Alphabet, already has 50 bioreactors and is going to be scaling up to 100 really rapidly.

“What we’re helping [customers] with is making their R&D much more high throughput,” says Patrick.

Those customers include companies like Geltor, the manufacturer of a collagen replacement; Modern Meadow, the company that’s looking to make a leather replacement; and Pivot Bio, which makes supplements for agriculture to replace chemical fertilizers.

Verily and Refactor aren’t the only two investors to be impressed by Culture’s technology. Section 32, the investment shop founded by Google Ventures’ former chief executive Bill Maris, Y Combinator, BoxGroup, Shana Fisher from Third Kind Venture Capital, and Data Collective are also investors in the company.

Culture Biosciences actually shares office space with Verily, working from that company’s shared office space in South San Francisco, which was built to house startup companies in the life sciences space.

With Culture, the biomanufacturing industry and the investors who are supporting it seem to be learning one of the critical lessons from the last wave of big bets on biology — in biofuels.

That first wave in the 2000s there were lots of lessons that were learned.” says Patrick. “You have to think with the end in mind. What can those systems actually deliver from a technical perspective? Replicate those large scale environments as much as you can in your small scale lab… Not having to compete with oil really helps.”

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Detroit’s StockX raises $44M from GV and Battery to expand marketplace internationally

StockX started as a marketplace for reselling sneakers but has since grown to be much more, bringing its transparent and anonymous marketplace to more verticals. Today the company is announcing a $44 million Series B that will help fuel international and domestic growth while letting the company expand to even more product categories and perhaps opening StockX stores.

The idea driving StockX is simple: Provide a marketplace with fair pricing and ensure the merchandise is authentic. The result scales to nearly day-trading in consumer goods in the same vein as oil futures. In some cases, the seller never touches the product. Sneakers and other in-demand products are priced and sold at rates set by the market rather than the seller. If a particular sneaker is in demand, the price increases.

StockX is among the fastest growing startups in Detroit and Michigan and currently employs 300 in Detroit and 50 in Tempe, Arizona. Founded in 2016 by CEO Josh Luber, COO Greg Schwartz and Dan Gilbert, founder and chairman of Quick Loans, the company has scaled to see more than $2 million in daily transactions and 800,000 users have sold or purchased items on StockX. Today, at an event in Detroit, Luber told the audience that the company is approaching a billion dollar run-rate.

The company has never been capital contrasted and CEO and co-founder Josh Luber told TechCrunch that the company never thought they would have to turn to institutional financing. That’s the comfort of having a billionaire like Gilbert as a co-founder; Luber said Gilbert was always happy to fund StockX.

“We didn’t need money,” Luber told TechCrunch the day before this announcement, adding. “It was really about having external people that that we thought added truly different values than we had around the table.”

Right now the company’s main marketplace centers around sneakers but StockX is built around a platform that works for most ecommerce. It’s a $5 billion market worldwide. Last year the company also launched marketplaces for streetwear, handbags and watches — all verticals with a strong demand in the secondary market.

Scaling the service requires more bodies. Since everything sold on StockX is authenticated — in person — it takes more hands to authenticate more items. With that comes more customer service employees and as the company grows, StockX will need more engineers.

The company is already growing fast but Luber seems ready to double down. In March StockX had 130 people. Today, it’s at 415. He thinks. He confesses it could be a slightly more.

“We have about 50 engineers today and I would quadruple that tomorrow if I could,” he said. “We have about 50 customer service people today. I think it would be safe to double that tomorrow just because the business is growing so fast and we obviously hope it continues to grow as we scale.”

If StockX is going to scale, it needs more employees to ensure the company’s core ethos does not soften. The new round of funding will go far in bringing in the people Luber is seeking including additional members of the C-suite. StockX is running without a CTO, CMO, or CFO — pretty much the entire leadership suite, Luber admits.

It seems this is part of the reasoning behind the funding. The company was not seeking funding but, as Luber tells it, as the company gained attention, investors increasing reached out requesting meetings. Of the meetings they took, there were two firms that meshed with Luber’s vision of growing a marketplace.

The new round of funding comes from GV and Battery Ventures including several high-profile investors including DJ Steve Aoki; model and entrepreneur, Karlie Kloss; streetwear designer Don C; Salesforce founder chairman and co-CEO, Marc Benioff; Bob Mylod, founder and managing partner of Annox Capital; Shana Fisher, managing partner at Third Kind Venture Capital; and Jonathon Triest, managing partner of Ludlow Ventures — only Mylod and Triest are based in the Detroit area.

StockX says it intends to use the funding to expand internationally. Right now StockX only advertises in the US and only supports purchases in U.S. dollars. Going forward it intends to open up local versions of StockX to better support key markets with support for local currency, language and marketing. The company could also open location operations to make shipping and receiving easier and faster.

“In some of these countries, we have, a pretty decent customer base where people are tendered on a VPN,” Luber said. “There are pictures of people that walk around China with a StockX tag hanging off their shoe.”

Fifteen percent of StockX sales currently come from international buyers.

Of the four product categories StockX current sells, sneakers and streetwear make up the bulk of the sales. Before expanding to different verticals, Luber tells me there’s a lot of room for growth in each of the current categories but expanding means more employees.

For instance, each streetwear brand is essentially a sub-vertical, he says, adding that if the company launches a new brand StockX has to assemble a staff around it with brand expertise to build the catalog and product authentication process.

StockX is not ready to announce what other type of products it might sell. Street art seems like one they’re exploring.

Despite the growth, Luber remains committed to Detroit. He said the company will always be headquartered in Detroit and was proud to point to the fact that StockX was the second largest tenant in Dan Gilbert’s marquee Detroit building, One Campus Martius. The company also operates a 30,000 square foot facility in Detroit’s Corktown neighborhood.

StockX could come to other cities though, Luber says. The company is talking about what a StockX “in-real-life” experience would look like: It could be retail, a brand experience, accepting products to be sold or additional operation centers. The company is exploring all the obvious candidates including LA, NYC, San Francisco and Portland.