While some startups are trying to get people to abandon spreadsheets, Canvas, which is developing a collaborative data exploration tool, is going all-in with a spreadsheet-like interface for non-technical teams to access the information they need without harass data teams.
Luke Zapart, who started Canvas in late 2020 along with his former Flexport colleagues Ryan Buick and Will Pride, says the company is building a “Figma meets Looker” after experiencing the pain points while working at Flexport.
“Our data team would be inundated with mundane, annoying data requests that were more than they could handle, and then the business teams would give up waiting for answers for days, essentially go to the business intelligence tool and hit the ‘export’ button. to the CSV button and just run in Google Sheets,” Zapart explained. “Essentially, this resulted in a breach of trust between the company and the data side of the house. That inspired us to lead Flexport and really try to understand and solve the problem.”
The data space is experiencing “a renaissance” where traditional business intelligence tools are being unbundled by targeted, best-in-class tools, he added. However, business users are excluded from many of the benefits of the modern data stack unless they are proficient in Structured Query Language (SQL) or have a well-staffed data team.
Canvas was created as a spreadsheet-based workspace that allows business teams to make independent decisions without taking an SQL course, and gives data teams time to focus on their strategic work.
Here’s how it works: Users start with their own “blank canvas” and can choose the data they want from a table of definitions provided by the data team. Once you’ve found the data, you can drag and drop the table onto the canvas and work with it the same way you would in Google Sheets. For example, use the ‘pivot’ button to build a certain statistic and then create graphs or charts.
“You can interact with the graph and drag it around this canvas,” Buick said. “This is where it starts to look and feel more like Figma, and we’ve really found that this is a new way of working with data because it makes it much easier to iterate, prototype and match your mental model with how you want to think about the problem you are trying to solve the fun part is that we know business teams get stuck so that’s where collaboration comes into play – you can tag people on the team and let them ask to try it out.”
In addition to reducing questions to the data team, the company sees its tool being adopted by startups that have found Canvas as an easy way to model business logic, Buick said.
On Friday, the company launched its platform to the public after raising $4.2 million in a round led by Sequoia, involving Abstract Ventures, SV Angel and a group of two dozen individual investors. The list includes data experts Calvin French-Owen (Segment), Taylor Brown (Fivetran), Boris Jabes (Census) and Olivier Pomel (DataDog), operators Jack Altman (Lattice), Tony Xu (Doordash), Ryan Petersen (Flexport) , Bryant Chou (Webflow), Max Mullen (Instacart) and angel investors.
The founders of Canvas realized that building a data workspace for business teams would be a daunting task and decided to look for capital. Zapart said they were deliberate about the kinds of investors they wanted to work with, such as world-class data experts and founders of companies in the data space.
The company currently has six employees and has a handful of paying customers and a number of design partners it works with. The new capital will be spent on hiring more engineers to flesh out the company’s roadmap, including self-service models, and will participate in a series of product launches as it develops further go-to-market and product development strategies. Canvas will look to another round of funding when it reaches its first 10 to 20 customers, Zapart said.
Konstantine Buhler, partner at Sequoia, said the company has a “cohesive, technically strong team” and that the modern data stack has created opportunities for building great businesses and serving enterprise customers. In Canvas, he saw a company that creates a common front-end for that entire stack.
“The advantage is that you have all your data in one place instead of downloading it to Excel and then creating pivot tables, which is all pretty hard,” added Buhler. “Here you can just plug right into the system and see it right in front of you. The team has done a great job together at Flexport and now they are tackling a problem that is very material and everyone can do something with it. The big vision is that if we can create self-service, which is a huge factor because it democratizes access to data and gives everyone in the company more power over data, as opposed to just a few people who have full access.”