ThoughtSpot, the independent BI player known for its focus on search-driven analytics, announced today the recruitment of seven new executives, including the company's first Chief Financial Officer. The early 2020 announcement follows a very full 2019 for the company, which says it raised a $248M Series E financing round (hitting a valuation of nearly $2B) and achieved a $100M run-rate. It also used 2019 to expand its global operations, by establishing presence in EMEA (Europe, Middle East and Africa) and APAC (Asia Pacific).
The exec team players include CFO, Mohit Daswani, previously Head of Finance & Strategy at Square; SVP of Design & Experience, Bob Baxley, who previously held similar design roles at Apple, Pinterest and Yahoo!; SVP of Engineering, Sumeet Aurora, coming off two decades at Cisco; and VP of Partners & Alliances, Americas, Dianne Decena, who led partner teams at Zylo.
Along with ThoughtSpot's co-founder and Executive Chairman, Ajeet Singh, ZDNet spoke with the other three new execs: Victor Chang, VP of Corporate Development, who launched and led the Corporate Development team Tableau Software; Seann Gardiner, SVP of Business Development and GM of Embrace, who was previously EVP of Business Development & Industry GTM at DataRobot; and Seong Park, now SVP of Customer Success & Services, and hailing from MongoDB.
Questions for 2020
I had time to ask Singh, Chang, Gardiner and Park several questions. The latter three join ThoughtSpot at a proverbially interesting time in the BI/Analytics space. With Salesforce's recently closed acquisition of Tableau, Google's agreement to acquire Looker, and Microsoft's organically-developed Power BI offering we're in the age of Big BI from cloud/SaaS providers. Where does that leave independents like ThoughtSpot?
Gardiner approached the question by proclaiming that a third generation of the analytics stack starting to emerge. The first one was the era of Enterprise BI, and the second one defined by the advent of self-service BI ushered in by Tableau, Qlik and others. In the ostensible third generation, Gardiner says, data is fully democratized and a lot of it resides or will reside in cloud-based data repositories, like Snowflake, AWS Redshift, Azure Synapse Analytics and Google BigQuery. And since ThoughtSpot's Embrace, which provides a direct connection to Snowflake, is now under Gardiner, it sounds like his focus is where it needs to be.
Chang added that there will always be waves of consolidation and waves of innovation in analytics and that the innovation comes from independent providers. Chang says that was the case when Tableau was challenging the Enterprise Bi behemoths and it's the case now at ThoughtSpot. Co-founder Singh proudly added that BI 2.0 players enabled Excel users to do analytics, but that ThoughtSpot enables analytics for all users.
In search of...
The current state of the BI market and how it should pivot is one thing, but what about ThoughtSpot itself? While it's known for its search-oriented analytics interface, is that where it will continue to focus? Will search continue to be ThoughtSpot's prime differentiator or will there be a ThoughtSpot pivot too?
Rather than a round robin of responses, Singh took it on himself to answer this question, saying on the one hand that search is the "core" of the ThoughtSpot product but that, going forward, it and features like AI-driven augmented analytics feature SpotIQ, act as "feeders" for the other strategic features. Singh cited ThoughtSpot's Monitor feature, enabled by SpotIQ and currently in Beta, as an example. Monitor keeps an eye on relevant insights and reports changes in a push fashion, for the part of business that a user wants to monitor, and creates a feed of analytic insights.
Managing data management
Another strategic question was gnawing at me, one that hovered around the subject of data management, including data prep/integration, data quality, data catalog and even data virtualization capabilities. I wanted to know if the on-boarding of such features was on the horizon for ThoughtSpot. Given that Qlik, another remaining independent BI player, has assembled a portfolio of products that includes data management, and taking into account both the recent acquisition of data prep pioneer Paxata by DataRobot and Dell Boomi's intention to acquire data prep/catalog vendor Unifi Software, the question seemed fair. Add in this month's "go live" of CCPA (California's Consumer Protection Act), and the addition of data management capabilities seems more important than ever.
Singh stipulated that ThoughtSpot wants to provide the analytics "last mile" for its customers, and whatever it needed to do to make that happen, it would. Chang, from his vantage point of corporate development, explained that ThoughtSpot would leverage "external innovation" to do this, but that includes partnerships as well as M&A.
Without contradicting his colleagues, Gardiner, fresh off his tenure at the aforementioned DataRobot, and the acquisitive Alteryx before that, added a note of caution. He rightly pointed out that buying too many companies, too quickly, creates the risk of accumulating too much technical debt in the product stack. He built on that by stating that integrating companies is much harder than buying them and that on-boarding the right team(s), rather than just the right technology, should be a primary driver of any acquisition.
Future and beyond
ThoughtSpot's Singh said he feels "the company is "2% done," implying that there's lots more to come. With its almost quarter billion dollars in Series E funding last year and formidable array of talent being announced today, ThoughtSpot definitely has resources. But it's going to come down to orchestration, execution and strategy for the company to "do" the remaining 98% and do it well.
The analytics space is at a crossroads. The public cloud juggernauts have their own data warehouse, analytics and BI solutions on offer. The glut of independent companies resulting from an (over-?) abundance of VC capital makes for a very fragmented analytics stack and adds significant difficulty for the companies with merit to succeed. The industry has a not-great track record in actually helping their customers attain true success with analytics, rather than just wowing them with features and pressuring them with digital transformation ghost stories.
Any independent analytics company that wants continued success and traction needs to help fix this state of affairs. Hopefully, with such ample resources at its disposal, ThoughtSpot can do that, and set an example for its peers and competitors.