Ex-Facebook employees launch data visualization startup Polychart

Startup name: Polychart
Co-founders: Lisa Zhang, CEO; Samson Hu, vice-president of business development; Fravic Fernando, vice-president of user experience
Funding: Raised $135,000 in seed funding

Startup premise:

Back in 2010, higher-ups in the U.S. military had a problem – complaints abounded about all of the charts and graphs appearing on Microsoft PowerPoint slides and lurking in boardrooms and offices everywhere.

According to The New York Times, military officials could barely understand the information being conveyed to them in a parade of pie charts, line graphs and bar visualizations. One famous slide, meant to depict American military strategy in Afghanistan, was so difficult to read that the Times dubbed it a “bowl of spaghetti.”

Three years later, for those looking to avoid creating either pasta-like data charts or yawn-inducing graphs, Waterloo-based startup Polychart believes it has a solution.

Gone are the days of dry data columns and overly complex charts, said CEO and co-founder Lisa Zhang. On Thursday, she went on stage to tell a room full of entrepreneurs, investors and mentors about her company, which was part of the cohort in the third round of Extreme Startups Demo Day.

With the rise of big data as an industry buzzword and the rush of companies looking to map out their numbers, what sets Polychart apart from the visualization crowd is their focus on design and keeping things simple for users. The startup’s specialty is serving up lightweight business intelligence, Zhang said.

“We started off as a data visualization tool … which is really at the heart of it. Charts and graphs are a common language that we all understand and it doesn’t scare people,” she said.

Zhang and one of her co-founders, Fravic Fernando, are both University of Waterloo graduates, but they only met when they were working at Facebook Inc. in the data analysis department.

While Zhang had already founded one startup, she realized she had zero passion for the idea and wanted to try something else. She, Fernando and another friend, Samson Hu, decided to build Polychart together.

(Image: Polychart - screenshot)
(Image: Polychart – screenshot)

“Back in 2010, before data science was something everyone was talking about, we saw how big data and democratization of data could change an organization. And we saw how [change] happened at Facebook, and that really inspired us to bring that change to organizations who might not have that resource,” she said.

“[For SMBs], it’s really hard to get good data scientists, but we’re at a point now where everyone has tons of data. It’s so easy to collect data that it’s not really about data collection anymore, but OK. We have the data. What can we do with it? How can it help us with our business?”

Counting MySQL Inc. and Salesforce Inc. as among its clients, Polychart allows non-technical people to make charts via a simple user interface. The service involves dragging and dropping components into a web browser, so no coding experience is necessary. It also allows for quick analysis, and charts and graphs can be deployed via the cloud, on a business’ premises, or be embedded through an original equipment manufacturer (OEM). Plus, whatever can be done on the web browser can also be modified using mobile devices.

So far, Polychart has generated some interest, Zhang added. The service has attracted about 1,000 requests to try it, with about 15 companies actually using it in closed beta.

Three companies are currently using it, including Fieldglass Inc. and TribeHR, leading Polychart to double its revenue since it began the accelerator program at Extreme Startups 12 weeks ago, Zhang added.

“The biggest way Extreme Startups helped us is through connections. Pretty much anyone in the community would be able to provide an introduction,” she said. “That really helped us in terms of really understanding our core customers, really understanding the process and some of the pinpoints.”

Leveraging the expertise of these connections also helped Polychart make its product more user-friendly, Fernando said. The team plans to spend the next couple of months fine-tuning its service.

At this point, Polychart has raised about $135,000 in seed funding. It will be seeking a second round of funding at the end of the summer.

Polychart created this video to explain how its service works:

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Candice So
Candice Sohttp://www.itbusiness.ca
Candice is a graduate of Carleton University and has worked in several newsrooms as a freelance reporter and intern, including the Edmonton Journal, the Ottawa Citizen, the Globe and Mail, and the Windsor Star. Candice is a dog lover and a coffee drinker.

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