light dash, an open source business intelligence (BI) platform that aims to challenge established incumbents like Looker, today officially launches its flagship commercial product to the public, backed by $8.4 million in funding. The seed round was led by Accel, with the participation of Moonfire, Y Combinator (YC), Snyk founder Guy Podjarny and Gitlab CMO Ashley Kramer.
In its original guise, Lightdash was known as Hubble when it graduated from YC’s S20 batch, with a focus on helping companies run tests on their data warehouse to identify data quality issues. These data quality metrics, it turned out, were most useful within BI tools, which co-founder and CEO Hamzah Chaudhary says there are no BI tools on the market that are supported. And so they turned the product to Lightdash and started working full-time on the new project in May 2021 to solve a major pain point for data analysts..
“Modern data analysts are becoming more and more like software developers, but they are stuck with business user interfaces that lock down and slow down business logic,” chaudhary explained to londonbusinessblog.com. “Lightdash gives analysts productivity tools, enabling them to implement enterprise-level BI with significantly less effort.”
Lightdash is built specifically for dbt, a command-line-based data transformation tool that allows analysts to transform raw data in their warehouse using SQL and their usual text editor. Dbt is the “t” in “extract, load, transform (ELT), and Lightdash in turn transforms any dbt project into a “full stack BI platform”.
It’s worth noting that Lightdash is both a front-end and a back-end. So for regular business users who may not be familiar with SQL (e.g. marketing or finance), Lightdash serves as the visual layer for dbt, while in the back end, data analysts and other more technical users can build custom workflows and understand all the business logic. for metrics and KPIs, essentially “abstract the complexity” away from how they’re all calculated.
“Lightdash is focused on giving data analysts tools to enable true self-service BI for the rest of their business,” said Chaudary.
Basics of BI
Business intelligence, for the uninitiated, is the process of mining, integrating, and organizing disparate data sets to inform decision-making. Big data insights are the name of the game, helping analysts draw meaningful conclusions, identify and visualize patterns, and predict future outcomes (e.g., sales forecasts).
The BI market is big business, pegged as a $23 billion industry in 2020 and projected to exceed $33 billion by 2025, which is likely why Google spent more than $2 billion to acquire Looker in 2020, and Salesforce picked up Tableau for more than $15 billion to do so.
Lightdash, for its part, serves as the main gateway for companies looking to explore their data, sporting native integrations with many of the tools that make up the modern data stack, from dbt via Snowflake, Airbyte and Fivetran.
“Lightdash is built to be open and integrated with the modern data stack, not as a closed system”, said Chaudary.
The genesis of Lightdash can be traced back to Chaudhary and his CTO co-founder Oliver Laslett spent time together at UK insurtech Cytora, where they were tasked with scaling the company’s data analytics output.
“We saw the huge gap in the quality of the tools available to our data teams versus our software engineers, even though the tasks asked of our data analysts were equally technical,” said Chaudary.”When we left Cytora, we knew we wanted to empower data analysts and data teams by giving them tools that were more fit for purpose and up to date. We [then] worked as a data consultant helping companies set up their data stacks, eventually found out that the weakest link in the workflow was the BI layer, because BI tools don’t integrate well with the rest of the data stack, don’t support data workflows from developers and make it difficult for data teams to collaborate effectively.”
And this perhaps gets to the heart of what Lightdash is trying to do: it’s about helping data analysts and analytics engineers use their existing tools, such as code editors, and empowering teams to collaborate at scale. “A platform built to integrate with other tools”, as Chaudhary says so.
The open source factor
While its main Lightdash project is open source, the company launched a fully managed and hosted Lightdash Cloud service in beta in January, ahead of the launch of the free self-hosted Community edition in June. Today signals the public beta launch of its core product Cloud, which has so far amassed a waiting list of some 600 companies.
“We had always intended to have a commercial version of Lightdash, but also wanted to make sure that the open source product was usable as well – that’s why almost the entire product features are available in the self-hosted open source- version”, said Chaudary.
Looker and its ilk are the obvious comparisons here, but Lightdash’s open source credentials are one of the key differentiators, somehow becoming attractive to SMBs and larger enterprises. Open source is a major selling point for security-conscious companies in particular, as it means they have complete visibility into how their data is handled. It also means they can start small by deploying Lightdash to just one or two teams to test it out before expanding further in their stack if they like what they see.
“This is much more efficient compared to proprietary BI tools, where you often have to go through a lengthy sales and purchasing process before you can put the product into practice yourself.” chaudhary said:. “For many enterprises and startups, this is the preferred method of getting started with new tools – it has the added benefit of being open source and already built to deploy on-premise as needed, which is often a requirement for large enterprises.”
This is a model that has been successful for so many startups: an open source foundation for organizations that need complete control and flexibility, with a commercial layer that takes a lot of the complexity and clutter out of those who need it.
A quick look at the competitive landscape reveals a few other players in the commercial open source BI space, including: metabase which raised a $30 million tranche last year, and Pre-set which raised approximately $36 million to commercialize the Apache Superset project. So it is clear that there is not only demand for BI, but also for open source BI supported by a fully supported commercial service.
Lightdash is a remote-first company, with its founders based in or around London and the rest of its 8-person team spread across Europe, although the company is founded in both the US and UK. With $8.5 million in the bank, including a hitherto unannounced $2.4 million pre-seed round led by Moonfire, the company said it is now well-funded to accelerate hiring, particularly in the product team, and to expand an educational program called Lightdash University, which is designed to “retrain” BI teams.