Reflect raises cash to be the visualization engine for the modern world

Every man and his dog is trying to call their visualization offering "analytics." It's refreshing to meet a vendor that tells its story truthfully.

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Reflect is a young startup co-founded by Alex Bilmes, something of a stalwart of the Portland, Ore., tech scene. Over his time involved in tech, Bilmes has seen an increase in the use of "developer tools." Companies like Sendgrid, Twilio and Stripe were set up with the idea of giving developers discrete modular tools that they could simply plug into their applications. If you want to add communications to your web or mobile application, for example, it makes sense to use Twilio to do it rather than building it all from scratch yourself.

Seeing this preponderance of developer tools, along with spending time building functionality for the companies he was involved with, led Bilmes to hypothesize that there was another functional area that wasn't being delivered adequately: data visualization. Rather than simply surmise, however, Bilmes decided to dive in and start a company focused solely on the task of delivering "data visualization as a service."

The idea is that using Reflect, developers can add data visualizations within their web and mobile applications -- dashboards, reports and graphical views of their data without having to resort to building and scaling complex infrastructure and libraries.

"Companies are spending millions of dollars and wasting years building infrastructure, APIs and entire front-ends to visualize data for their teams and customers," said Bilmes. "Data visualization isn't a core competency for most companies, nor should it be. Today, they are forced to hire teams of experts -- designers, developers, product managers and data scientists -- to get things done. With Reflect, all it takes is a simple API."

Reflect is actually a recent graduate of the well-regarded Techstars program. While incubating at Techstars, Reflect gained some real attention -- over 1,000 companies requested access to the company's private beta, and investors started sniffing.

That sniffing is culminating today in the announcement that Reflect has raised $2.5 million in seed funding in a round led by DFJ (Draper Fisher Jurvetson). The round also included financing from Founders' Co-Op, Liquid 2 Ventures (Joe Montana's investment vehicle), Techstars, Stanford University and several prominent angel investors, including Ilya Sukhar and Alex Payne.

DFJ in particular is an interesting participant in this round. The company has something of a history of involvement in the developer component space, and hence its anointment of Reflect sends a positive message.

"Our experience with Twilio and Mapbox has reinforced that the modern application is increasingly a compilation of microservices, reusable components and APIs where the magic is in the overall user experience," said Bill Bryant of DFJ. "There is no need to reinvent basic functionality, time and time again. Services like Reflect simplify developer complexity, while reducing time to market and cost."


There is no doubt in my mind that using discrete composable developer tools such as these is the way forward. The question that needs to be asked is whether Reflect can create defensible market offering for its product -- after all, it's not rocket science to come up with a series of visualization tools, libraries and APIs that developers can use.

That is, however, an argument that can be used against the validity of most of these developer platforms: What stops another vendor, for example, from setting up a communications platform to compete with Twilio?

It all comes down to ease of use, go-to-market and pace. Can a company build a tool that developers want to use? Can it quickly build the partnerships and integrations that help it scale its market entry, and can it innovate continuously? Twilio is one example where the emphatic answer is "yes" to all three questions, and it's a safe bet that Bilmes and team will be closely watching and following Twilio's lead.

On another level, and unlike some other visualization tools that essentially lie to their customer base and the market by calling themselves analysis platforms when they most certainly aren't, it is very refreshing to see Reflect be completely honest about what it is -- and, more importantly, what it isn't. Kudos for the truth in marketing, team.

it's not a slam dunk by any stretch of the imagination, but Reflect has a good shot at creating some real impact in the space.

Copyright © 2016 IDG Communications, Inc.

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