Nexla Revolutionizes Data Operations
Nexla is a data operations platform that allows engineers, data scientists and business users to intelligently integrate, transform, and monitor data. I caught up with Nexla CEO and Wharton alumnus Saket Saurabh to discuss how Nexla is simplifying data transactions and putting power back in the hands of data professionals.
More Data, More Problems
Every two years, the amount of data in the digital universe doubles. As data availability scales, so does companies’ need to produce actionable insights, causing them to ingest more information. However, the influx of data entering corporate systems is proving too unruly for data scientists to manage. This problem is compounded by third party data that may enter a company through disparate channels and in many different formats.
As a result, data scientists describe trying to manage large swaths of data as akin to drinking from a firehose. According to Nexla’s 2018 Data Operations Report, data scientists spend only 14% of their time on analysis and the rest on necessary but low value-add tasks like integration, cleanup, and troubleshooting. In fact, data scientists have become preoccupied with “data housekeeping,” which makes it harder for companies to experiment and make decisions.
“Big data isn’t just a buzzword or a passing fad; it is a fundamental, increasingly ‘table stakes’ capability for companies in all sectors. If you’re not actively investing in your company’s ability to gather and harness your data in ways that matter to your customers, you’re almost certainly falling behind your competition, even if you don’t know it.” -Matt Zisow, Director of Product at Wayfair
Saket Saurabh, a 2009 graduate from the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, imagined a world where data scientists could get the other 86% of their time back. Furthermore, he wanted to democratize data analysis tasks by making them accessible to business users. He asked himself, “How will companies work with more data, and how will more people in the company work with that data?”
Enter Nexla. Saurabh’s goal with Nexla is to help companies produce scalable, repeatable, and predictable data flows. Nexla automates data housekeeping tasks, alleviating demands on analysts and allowing them to better isolate signal from the noise.
Nexla’s Competitive Advantage
With “big data” and “machine learning” becoming tech buzzwords, the data operations space is no longer a blue ocean. However, from speaking with Saurabh, I learned that Nexla has two key differentiators.
First, Nexla is a market-leader in data integration from third parties. 91% of companies are using third party data to augment their data sets, primarily due to the popularization of machine learning as a data analysis tool. Nexla can accept and convert data from many different third parties, regardless of whether or not the source is a Nexla customer.
Second, Nexla’s sleek, user-friendly interface is accessible to tech-aware business users. Adding new sources, updating fields, and filtering for certain data points can be done with a simple menu. Nevertheless, data scientists are not limited by the platform, as they can write their own custom code injections for in-depth data analysis.
Due to the uniqueness of its value proposition and ability to deliver on the promises fundamental to its brand, Nexla is poised for success. Nexla has already raised a seed round of $3.5M and counts large companies such as Instacart, InMobi, Grand Rounds, and Poshmark among its customers.
The Road to Nexla
Saurabh began his entrepreneurial career in 2009 when he co-founded MobSmith, a mobile advertising technology platform that helped publishers serve personalized and targeted ad campaigns, following his graduation from Wharton. The Rubicon Project acquired Mobsmith in 2012 to expand its digital advertising architecture business into the mobile market. Saurabh served as Vice President of the mobile product, technology, and operations teams at Rubicon until its IPO in 2014.
After the success of his first startup, Saurabh knew that he had caught the entrepreneurial bug. In 2015, he galvanized an experienced team of innovators and engineers that had previously worked at MobSmith, including Nexla co-founder Jeff Williams, to establish a new venture. Soon after, Nexla was born.
Nexla Co-Founders Saket Saurabh and Jeff Williams
Since then, Saurabh has focused on replicating the positive organizational culture that drove the MobSmith team to success. He explained, “My co-founder Jeff Williams, and members of my core team—all of whom had worked together in… MobSmith— wanted the success story of our group culture to define Nexla’s core values.”
His organizational philosophy for Nexla espouses empathy, intellectual curiosity, and an innate desire for excellence as core tenets. Those who have worked with Saurabh note that despite his clear technical excellence and product expertise, he remains “a total team player” and checks his ego at the door.
“My co-founder Jeff Williams, and members of my core team—all of whom had worked together in… MobSmith— wanted the success story of our group culture to define Nexla’s core values.” – Saket Saurabh, CEO of Nexla
Data Operations on the Blockchain
With all the hype around blockchain, I felt compelled to ask Saurabh if he’d considered that option for Nexla. In the context of data operations, using a distributed ledger system could help accurately track changes that are made when a data set is altered or augmented.
Saurabh explained that there were two possible applications of blockchain for data operations. In his view, “One is as a transportation layer for data, I don’t think the scale is there for that part. The second application is to use blockchain specifically as a way for company to transact on the data itself.” He noted that the former is infeasible because there isn’t enough infrastructure available to record changes to individual pieces of data. However, the latter is possible, although not how Nexla’s system is currently implemented.
“One [use of blockchain] is as a transportation layer for data, I don’t think the scale is there for that part. The second application is to use blockchain specifically as a way for company to transact on the data itself.” – Saket Saurabh, CEO of Nexla
What’s Next for Nexla?
Saurabh explained that building a venture-financed technology company requires agility and fast growth; as a result, Nexla is currently in a massive scaling phase. Since Nexla derives much of its funding from early-stage investors, he notes that, “It’s very important to have very precise execution… there’s very little room for error… [because] there’s an initial expectation for growth.”
Thus, he’s focused on getting initial products out the door, giving potential new customers a wide array of solutions from which to choose, and up-selling current customers. If Nexla continues rapidly scaling data operations, I have no doubt that they will also be able to scale their success.