Ducksboard: The unique story of how one startup went from closure to buy-out with a single email

Data visualisation company Duckboard's was on the verge of closure until a casual email changed the company's destiny entirely.

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Image from Ducksboard.com

There's many a true word spoken in jest, so the saying goes. Aitor Guevara, cofounder of Spanish startup Ducksboard, knows that better than most.

Guevara helped found Ducksboard in 2011, to provide users with a single dashboard to monitor and visualize data from multiple sources in real time. A few months ago, when the company was facing closure, Guevara suggested to his partners, half-jokingly, that they "should send an email to New Relic to propose a deep integration".

The San Franscisco-based analytics company helps its users make sense of billions of data points about millions of applications in near real time, and was one of the data sources displayed in Ducksboard's dashboard.

Both Ducksboard and New relic were in the same market niche and shared the same business culture. What's more, New Relic was working on a new enterprise product.

Simply put, besides monitoring software and telling users why their app is running too slow, the company was offering to monitor business metrics (billing, conversion, and so on) too.

While it seemed a pretty good time to send the email, nobody in the Ducksboard team was expecting a positive answer from a company with 200,000 users to a little Spanish startup with three partners.

But they got that positive answer nonetheless, and on 6 October, Barcelona-based Ducksboard became a New Relic company. Terms of the acquisition were not disclosed.

Getting to know each other

The negotiations leading up to the acquisition took more than six months. Ducksboard's Guevara, a Barcelona native, described it as "a challenging and interesting process".

The two companies are still adjusting to one another, he says, coping with the time difference between San Francisco and the Catalan city, and learning how to solve the everyday problems that go alongside adapting Ducksboard's product to New Relic's platform. But, Guevara says, he feels satisfied because "the company is where it wanted to be".

Three years ago, together with Diego Mariño, also from Barcelona, and Jan Urbanski, from Poland, Guevara scribbled an idea down on two A4 sheets for an attractive dashboard that integrated data from Google Analytics, Facebook, Mailchimp, GibHub, Salesforce, New Relic, and more than 60 other sources in order to enable companies to make better business decisions.

"The best way to make a product is having a problem that needs to be solved," Guevara said -- and Mariño had found just that problem.

Before Ducksboard, Mariño founded cloud infrastructure management company Abiquo. He grew it from two to 40 employees, opened offices in London and San Francisco, and raised more than $15m in funding. One day, he realised he didn't have time to keep up with all the information needed to make business decisions and had to inevitably wait for weekly meetings. He told Guevara it would be useful to have a single, attractive dashboard with all the data they needed -- and so Ducksboard was born.

It was a risky bet for a company starting up in Spain, where there was no market for such an application. An even more audacious move was not being conservative about the technology: the entire Ducksboard backend is written in Python using the Twisted networking engine, which makes easy-to-implement custom network applications. The front-end is a Python web application and the latest web technologies provided by HTML5, like WebSockets, are used to offer real-time updates and a modern user experience.

The end result offers businesses a way to view all their data in one place. The company is named after American ice hockey team the Anaheim Ducks, a reference to Aitor and Diego's childhood, when they called themselves 'Los patos'.

Once the product plan was in place, the Ducksboard founders received venture funding from Spanish investors: Kibo Ventures, Plug-and-play Valencia, and Walter Kovylanski of Danka Capital.

But the first years were challenging for the company and the team was discouraged by its initial results. "We thought we had to close," said Guevara. It was not just a financial thing. "We were discouraged because we had set goals that seemed impossible to achieve at that time," he added. "We ended up thinking it was not worthy."

Then some investors decided to help them to look at their numbers with a little more optimism. "Walter [of Danka Capital] was very involved and Kibo [Ventures] brought the economic support."

"You know startups have ups and downs. You know at the beginning it's exciting and thrilling and then you go to market and back to reality, but you have to assume that this new situation isn't so bad and work hard to be profitable," says the Barcelonian engineer.

Ducksboard is now used by over 700 businesses and, since the company's founding, their customers have created over 50,000 dashboards.

Plans for the future

Before the New Relic acquistion, the Spanish startup was approached by other companies. They were also in the data analysis field and looking for good technical profiles to grow. However, Ducksboard had to turn down the offers. "We just did not get along. We did not have the same idea of the company," says Guevara. "We don't want to be a typical Spanish company which works with interns to cut down on expenses."

By contrast, New Relic is to be the perfect partner for the Barcelonian startup as the software analytics company -- founded in 2008 by Lew Cirne and growing thanks to customers including Comcast, Intuit, Nike, Github, and Zynga -- puts emphasis on the same cultural values.

On the company blog, Cirne says that "the Ducksboard acquisition supports New Relic's focus on providing a real-time software analytics data cloud for the enterprise". He also points out that the eight-person Ducksboard team will remain in Barcelona, and that the firm's founders will join New Relic's product management and product engineering organizations.

In a press release issued last month, he added that the Ducksboard platform is "robust, intuitive, and beautifully designed" and that the Spanish company's work is "a great match" with New Relic's "vision of providing businesses the data insights they need quickly and easily so they can make the important decisions to run their companies".

"With Ducksboard now part of the New Relic family, we are eager to work together to innovate around data visualization, but are also very excited about the expanded types of business data that Ducksboard can bring into our comprehensive Software Analytics suite", he concluded.

A few days ago, at the Web Summit event held in Dublin, Cirne stressed that New Relic's first ever acquisition positions it to become "one of a handful of companies that will have a global impact for decades".

"Life is too short for bad software," he summed up.

Now Guevara proudly announces that they are already working on a new product to help enterprises better understand the stories their data is trying to tell them. While neither Guevara nor New Relic will give details on the product, it's expected to be released soon. Meanwhile, 'los patos' continue to play to win.

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