Mode raises $2M and opens ‘GitHub for data’ to the public

Mode, a startup that launched last year under the tagline of “GitHub for data analysis,” has raised $2 million in venture capital and is opening a beta version of its service to the public. Formation8 led the round, with participation from Panorama Point, Goldcrest and a number of individual investors, including Reddit founder Alexis Ohanian.

Derek Steer, Mode’s co-founder and CEO (pictured above, second from right), explains the company’s platform as being similar to GitHub in theory but significantly different in practice. It’s a place where data analysts can share their work and find others’ work (datasets, models, code, etc.), establish reputations for themselves, and generally reduce the need to reproduce analyses or clean messy datasets that others have already done. Users can clone others’ work and start their own analysis from that point rather than starting from scratch.

Where Mode differs quite a bit is that it lets users actually work on data right from the browser. It connects to several popular databases and data warehouses; users can work on data with a SQL editor and a visualization editor; and the charts users’ create are embeddable. There’s a paid version for private organizations that’s walled off from the public version. Overall, Steer said, Mode is “very Yammer-like in its construction” — not such a surprising statement considering he and his two co-founders all came from Yammer.

Mode's visualization editor.
Mode’s visualization editor.

Despite all the excitement around data science over the past couple years, though, it’s fair to ask how big a business there is in building companies that cater to data scientists or similar roles. It’s a very specific audience that already has preferred sets of tools and probably their own data, and analytics startups seem to be on a mission to minimize the need for data specialists altogether by creating visual interfaces for everything.

Steer didn’t buy that argument nearly a year ago at Mode’s launch, and he’s still not buying it. The time-saving benefits of collaboration and sharing aside, he’s also convinced that data workers — including the swarms of them currently making their way through college — will need a place to show their stuff. “Just think of everything GitHub is to the world. It’s where you have your resume if you’re a developer,” Steer said. “… Something like Mode makes it possible for [data workers] to establish a presence.”

Already, he noted, there are people doing some cutting-edge things in Mode, including prepping it as the home base for “canonical” datasets and analyses.

Mode's SQL editor.
Mode’s SQL editor.

And Mode’s focus on SQL as the method of manipulating data could actually help it attract users who might never have guessed their careers would have them knee-deep in data. The company actually created a SQL tutorial that’s meant to teach newbies how to use the query language without all the extraneous database-administrator-focused content that many SQL educational materials contain. Steer calls it “an accidental new product with lots of potential.”

“I think we do have a large addressable base right now,” he explained. “I say we’re focused on technical people, but SQL’s not actually that technical. … Facebook teaches almost every person who walks through the door SQL.”