Google Ventures Has $1 Billion To Invest And It Likes Big Data Startups

Google Ventures Karim FarisGoogle Ventures’ Karim Faris

Photo: Google Ventures

Google’s investment arm, Google Ventures, doesn’t divide its $1 billion into tech-specific funds.Even so, big data is one area it has begun to focus, says partner Karim Faris.

Faris is one of the backers of ClearStory Data, a big data startup that launched this week. But he told Business Insider that he and other partners will be launching more in the next few weeks.

Google is almost uniquely qualified to identify big data startups given that much of the new technology is based on techniques invented at Google, like MapReduce and Google File System (GFS).

“We’re lucky to have in our backyard dozens of people that know a lot about the problem in real life,” he says. “So we’ve got a good understanding of the issues and the opportunities. There’s going to be a lot coming out of us in the next few months iin this space,” he adds.

Although the term “big data” is almost becoming a meaningless buzzword, the technology problem it tries to solve isn’t a fad and isn’t going away — not for years, Faris says.

Enterprises are already sitting on tons of data. “What’s new is they never thought of getting insight from it. It was too much of a pain to ever extract anything of it,” he says.

In the past two years, that’s changed. Companies want to find the business gems sitting in their disk drives and are setting up budgets for big data projects.

“That creates opportunities for tools, and for cleansing services (because data feeds are typically very dirty) and on the front end for visualisation tools,” he describes. By dirty, he doesn’t mean foul language (though it might be). He’s referring to inaccurate data like bad phone numbers or misspelled names, etc.

The challenge, however, is trying to find tools that will appeal to a general business population, versus one for a specific niche or industry.

“There have been consulting organisations focused for years on analytics. Typically it’s an army of PhDs,” he describes. While he didn’t name names, IBM stands out as this kind of consulting company.

“No small or medium-sized company was going to pay millions of dollars to get these consulting companies to help them out. And that’s what’s exciting here. Being able to democratize access to these insights to everybody and not just the privileged few,” he says.

Today’s crop of big data startups could become tomorrow’s big public enterprise software companies, he believes.

“We don’t invest in small opportunities that are tuck-ins to an IBM or HP down the line. If that happens, great. When we look at a company, they have the potential to become big stand alone public companies. If the opportunity wasn’t that big, we probably wouldn’t invest,” he says. 

Google is aiming to spend its $1 billion fund over the next five years at a rate of $200 million a year. It is funding a wide variety of technologies, from tech to science.

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