Follow Datanami:
January 13, 2022

Observable Eyes Better Data Collaboration with Series B Funding

(Source: Observable)

If Observable co-founder and CEO Melody Meckfessel has her way, the $35.6 million Series B round of financing announced today will help to jumpstart the adoption of data collaboration at a level the big data industry has never witnessed.

“Effective data collaboration is the biggest unmet need that we’re seeing in the enterprise,” Meckfessel said. “Especially if you think about the remote and hybrid workforce from the last couple of years, people need to be able to be connected in an environment.”

Currently, there’s no single environment that delivers the data analysis and visualization capabilities that people need. Instead, people use a hodge-podge of different tools to get the data they need to do their job, moving between them throughout the day.

They use a mix of spreadsheets like Microsoft Excel and Google Sheets to manipulate data, BI tools like Tableau (owned by Salesforce) and looker (owned by Google) to visualize data, and data science notebooks like Jupyter and RStudio to program with data. And they share files when they can, perhaps keeping track of versions with a tool like Git.

But as users traverse these tools throughout their day, something gets lost in the process, Meckfessel says. In the process of managing files or preparing a presentation for a supervisor or a colleague, the users loses her train of thought. Perhaps she forgets the question she wanted to ask another member of her team about a particular piece of data, or a moment of fleeting inspiration vanishes as quickly as it came.

In Meckfessel’s view, enterprises need a single data environment where people can not only explore data visually, but collaborate in real time with others. By eliminating that tool-hopping tendency, people will gain the ability to concentrate more closely on the data task at hand, she says. This is the goal with Observable.

Observable hopes to unite disparate data analytics, visualization, and science tools in a collaborative platform (Source: Observable)

“Staying in flow is critical for productivity of people working together,” Meckfessel tells Datanami. “And from what we’ve heard from our customers time and time again is that they are able to stay in flow. They may have other tools that they’re using and compliment, but they’re able to stay in flow, and they enjoy working together and they move faster. They make higher quality decisions in Observable.”

Currently, there isn’t a single tool that combines capacities from all of these product categories into a single platform, the former Google vice president of engineering says. That essentially is the role she sees for Observable, the San Francisco-based company she co-founded in 2016 with D3 creator Mike Bostock, a 2021 Datanami Person to Watch.

“Data practitioners, data scientists, data analysts, software developers who are helping write the code–they all come together in Observable to work together,” Meckfessel continues. “And by being in the same place where they can see the code and the data and the logic and the visualization together, it’s transparent. People ask questions. It’s just a game-changer in terms of people experience of working together.”

The open source version of Observable’s offering, called Plot, is based on D3. Users need to know some JavaScript to get started with Plot, which puts thousands of out-of-the-box visualizations at users’ fingertips. So far, Observable has recorded more than 5 million users of Plot, which is free.

Melody Meckfessel is the CEO and co-founder of Observable

But the collaboration aspect really requires moving up to Observable’s entry-level paid version, which is called Teams. For $144 per year, users get the ability to collaborate in private groups using the D3-based Observable environment. Moving up to the Enterprise version, which costs $480 per user per year, brings more security and authentication features, as well as better customer support from the company.

The Series B funding round, which was led by Menlo Ventures with participating by existing investors Sequoia Capital and Acrew Capital, will go far in helping Observable bring its mantra of data collaboration to a wider audience. A big part of that goal is growing the size of the company, which currently sits at just 26 employees, according to Meckfessel.

“Last year we saw 2x growth in the community, and we saw self-service adoption of our paid product continue to increase with zero investment in marketing and sales,” she says. “So this fundraising is going to help us hire people to do both pre- and post-sales support, to continue to invest in the community around social connections, sharing work, and creating sub-communities on the platform.”

It will also help the company to continue to invest in the product. D3 is celebrating its 11th birthday this year, and it continues to bring a lot of value as an open source visualization framework. With that solid technology under the covers, Observable is free to concentrate on helping communities of people collaborate with data in a more natural manner.

Observable ships with thousands of out-of-the-box visualizations

According to Matt Murphy, a partner at Menlo Ventures, the most promising enterprise tools are those that enable organizations to share and collaborate with information more freely.

“Observable marries data and visual communications to address a huge market need for enterprise-ready software that breaks organizational silos to drive stronger, more strategic, data-driven business decisions,” Murphy says in a press release. “We’re thrilled to back such an incredible team pioneering the next era of collaborative decision making.”

In Meckfessel’s view, there is a significant opportunity in the market for a data platform that let’s people work together in a fun and collaborative way. “There is not a solution in the marketplace to address data collaboration,” she says. “We’re being bold and creative to build a platform and a destination and a place where people come together.”

Related Items:

Visualizations That Make You Go ‘Hmmm’

Observable Seeks Democratization of Data Visualization

Meet Datanami 2021 Person to Watch Mike Bostock