Reflect reflects on lessons learned, rebuilds and opens its public beta

Startups need to follow their noses and learn from what their users are telling them. Reflect shows how.

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I wrote about Reflect last year when Alex Bilmes, a Portland, Ore. tech scene stalwart, launched the startup to tackle the opportunity around visualizations.

More specifically, Reflect was all about building a developer tool (think Twilio or SendGrid) that makes it super easy for developers to create visualizations within their applications -- but without having to custom code visualization functionality themselves.

At the time, Bilmes opined to me that:

"Companies are spending millions of dollars and wasting years building infrastructure, APIs and entire front-ends to visualize data for their teams and customers. 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."

Hence Reflect came to be -- a tool which allowed dashboards, reports and graphical views of application to to be embedded within web and mobile applications -- without having to build and scale infrastructure and visualization libraries. Back in July, the experience that the Reflect team had while attending the TechStars program, and the early progress they demonstrated, led to a $2.5 million seed round led by Draper Fisher Jurvetson.

Now, some eight months or so later, Bilmes and the team have had time to reflect on those initial assumptions, assess progress to date, and change things up based on customer observations. Which takes us to today’s announcement that Reflect is opening a public beta of a completely rewritten platform that the company hopes will help it grab market share off incumbents such as Tableau and GoodData.

The launch comes after almost a year of user feedback from companies such as GM, Barracuda Networks, Zendesk and TUNE. So, what has the past year shown Bilmes and what necessitated a reworking of the platform?

According to Bilmes, Reflect found a number of trends that were consistent across their userbase. Firstly, large enterprises are moving away from traditional BI approaches and settling on smaller application-based solutions because they can’t get their users to adopt traditional BI tools. Many are looking to add BI functionality to the apps their employees already use. Whereas BI was formerly an adjunct to applications, it is now an inherent part of those apps.

Reflect obviously has a number of SaaS companies as customers -- and Bilmes told me that from what he’s seen, every SaaS company is getting asked for reporting and analytics by their customers. Most of their customers are buying their software for the promise of better visualization, but analytics are harder to build than they thought. The amount of failed analytics projects that Reflect hears about is surprisingly high.

In terms of actually implementing analytics alongside an application, Bilmes points to the real life difficulties that developers face. He suggests that data integration has historically been a really tough challenge. Developers would have to go through IT to get a port opened in their company’s firewall, go through security screening, etc. Reflect aims to change that by using their agent, which lets companies connect to almost any datasource by launching a Docker container in their infrastructure. With Reflect, developers can visualize data that lives anywhere, and embed it anywhere, without moving it off the server.

This speaks to a dual value proposition -- the initial one of a modular developer tool for realizing visualization and analytics needs within applications, and a new one which more directly challenges the other visualization vendors for driving visualizations off of third-party applications.

For the former use cases, Bilmes talks of new ways that organizations are approaching greenfield applications:

“Traditional monolithic stacks aren't keeping up with the way developers work today. Developers are building their own stacks, using a collection of microservices that work the way they work. We found that the biggest value we provided was in replacing the entire API/ACL layer. Our most engaged customers were adding Reflect directly on top of their Redshift warehouses and managing multi-tenancy entirely through our platform.”


It strikes me that Reflect is attempting to broaden its franchise here, moving beyond a pure developer tool and addressing a far more widespread number of use cases. In doing so, however, they more squarely come up against the traditional analytics/visualization tools and have to justify their place in the world as opposed to these larger competitors. The age old arguments around a lack of legacy and an approach that more closely aligns with the way modern developers want to work should help the company to grow its userbase as it gets closer to broader general availability.

Copyright © 2017 IDG Communications, Inc.

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