This startup just raised $65 million to smash the 'cult' of big, slow software

Birst CEO Brad PetersBrad PetersBirst CEO Brad Peters

Businesses have been brainwashed by big, old software companies to believe that analysing their data has to be slow, clunky, and unreliable, says startup Birst.

“Once the cult has been generated, it’s hard to pull people out,” says Birst cofounder and Chief Product Officer Brad Peters.

The company just raised another $US65 million to help in its quest against this kind of brainwashing.

Birst competes in a field known as business intelligence: Software that helps businesses take all their data and analyse it. These products have long been offered by tech titans like Microsoft, Oracle, and SAP. But with these legacy products, the techies in the IT department are responsible for making reports based on that data and disseminating them. With turnaround times of weeks or months, it can be a slow and unpleasant process.

“This is not working well,” says Birst CEO Jay Larson.

Even so, it’s a $US15 billion market, according to some analysts.

In the last few years, cloud computing — where applications are run in enormous data centres elsewhere, so companies don’t have to maintain the hardware and software — has revitalized the industry, with plenty of startups vying to take a bite out of the market by making business intelligence affordable and understandable to any worker, everywhere in the business, on their computers and on their phones.

This is where Birst competes.

Peters sees that getting those users out of the “cult” is easier than it used to be. Where the old guard used to have 50 per cent of the business intelligence market, he says, that’s slipping fast, and customers are starting to understand what Birst is selling.

So for that reason, Larson plans on putting that money to work on the product, on sales and marketing, and on international expansion. Birst is just trying to put itself out there.

The new round was led by Wellington Management Company, and brings the company’s total funding to $US156 million so far. Birst hasn’t commented on its valuation, except back in 2012 when it confirmed it was more than $US50 million after raising a Series D round led by Sequoia Capital. Getting as far as a Series F gives Birst a lot of expectations it will have to hustle to fulfil, especially amid the latest round of Silicon Valley angst over valuations and “dead unicorns.”

But Larson isn’t worried. While companies like Box try to create new and unknown markets, it’s a fact that BI is a high-demand, high-value market, he says — Birst just does it better than anybody else, and investors want in on the ground floor.

“Investors buy a long-term stake in market real estate,” Larson says.

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