This Woman Has The Midas Touch And Now She's Solving A Big Problem With Big Data

Sharmila Shahani-Mulligan co-founder Clear Story Data

Photo: Clear Story Data

ClearStory Data is a big data startup launched this week that has lot going for it: its founders, its VC backers, and its cool technology.ClearStory uses technology from Google to help companies make sense of the massive amount of data they already have stored in many different systems.

This lets companies get new insights from data that was previously ignored — like Starbucks combining sales and weather data to figure out whether lattes are selling in warm weather.

The company’s co-founder and CEO Sharmila Shahani-Mulligan always seems to be at the start of something big.

Shahani launched her career with a startup called Kiva Software, bought by Netscape for $180 million in 1997. She stayed with Marc Andreessen through his next company, Opsware, finally landing at HP after it bought Opsware for $1.6 billion.

Next, she joined Aster Systems, which Teradata bought for $263 million last year. Along the way she dabbled in a bunch of other startups, as an advisor or investor.

After all that, she wanted to slow down and hang out with her family and three kids.

But she and the ClearStory co-founders, John Cieslewicz and Vaibhav Nivargi, had this nagging idea.

The three had worked together at Aster and often heard customers complain about the big problem with big data: how could they tap into the massive amounts of data companies already had?

“I saw that there were interesting things going on with Hadoop. A lot of people were downloading it but they couldn’t use it. It was too complicated to set up,” she recalls. 

What people really want is to run queries against data “in lots of different places … Hadoop, Aster, legacy systems and the Web,” she says.

ClearStory Data was born. Using MapReduce technology created by Google, it can run queries from data wherever it sits, then outputs answers in a pretty, visual report.

Karim Faris from early backer Google Ventures explains the appeal.

“Enterprises have already been collecting tons of data. They never thought of getting insight from it because it’s too much of a pain to extract anything from it,” he said.

“I was shocked to find out that the data is not just ignored but often discarded. It hides a treasure trove of insights. The classic example is Starbucks and combining sales data with weather data. Is my latte selling well in warm weather?”

A tool like ClearStory Data can turn that data from trash to insights. Faris wouldn’t say how big a business opportunity he thinks ClearStory is, but he did say Google Ventures only invests in companies that have the potential to be big, standalone public companies.

ClearStory Data’s other backers include Andreessen Horowitz, Khosla Ventures, and a number of individual investors.

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