If this week’s Series B announcement from data automation platform Prefect seems like news you’ve heard before, it’s because the company made a similar splash just a couple of months ago.
The D.C. dataflow automation company announced Thursday that it raised $32 million in Series B funding in a round led by Tiger Global Management, with contributions from Bessemer Venture Partners and Positive Sum, as well. The funding comes on the heels of an $11.5 million Series A raise in February.
The reason for such high growth? Prefect CEO Jeremiah Lowin said it’s as simple as the fact that engineers can spend up to 90% of their time working on problems outside of what they were hired to do, and Prefect’s product solves the issue.
“All we need to do to have a huge impact is make a very minor gain,” Lowin said. “So if our engineers are reporting 90% of their time spent [elsewhere], if we could just get that to 80% then their productivity doubles from 10% to 20% of their time.”
Prefect automates tasks like scheduling, monitoring and retries that put extra stress on data scientists and engineers, ultimately helping with orchestration issues (you can check out CTO Chris White’s recent presentation on the topic here). Lowin described those outside concerns as negative engineering, as they can interfere with the job an engineers are actually supposed to be doing, and leave room for things to go wrong.
“When a model is handed off from a data scientist to a data engineer….there’s an opportunity for failure,” Lowin told Technical.ly. “So our software is principally concerned with making it as easy as possible to govern those failures or those incidents so that our users can really focus on the the business outcome and the business logic that they’re implementing.”
The company, founded in 2018, first released its commercial platform, Prefect Cloud, just a few weeks before COVID hit in March 2020. As a result, the company open sourced a large portion of the product in a week’s time, something Lowin said Prefect normally would have taken a few months to do. Lowin said that Prefect’s engaged user community has grown to about 1,000 people per month and its commercial platform has grown about 130% per quarter since it launched last year, which is part of the reason for the multiple rounds in such a short period.
“This round comes about because we are chasing our own growth,” Lowin said. “We have this really strong, organic, product-led motion. We have an open source product, and that is a beautiful nature of open source is that the distribution is open, anyone can take it and deploy it however they want and that’s amazing to see.”
Prefect's growth is driven by 'strong, organic, product-led motion,' said CEO Jeremiah Lowin.
Lowin said growth picked up particularly in the third and fourth quarters of 2020, leading the company to expand its pricing model and bring on smaller users, as well as introduce a free tier.
“The benefit of having such a vibrant community is that we can observe the use cases,” Lowin said. “We can have conversations and really learn, where are people spinning their wheels and spending time? So we now want to take all of that knowledge and apply it to our product and our roadmap and with these new resources, we can really do that in a very significant way that wasn’t possible in the past.”
Following the raise, Lowin said Prefect will be adding about 50 members to the team. The company was previously based in downtown D.C., but has shifted to a remote-first company since the pandemic. Although the company was built in D.C., it plans to continue with remote hiring, seeing as roughly half the team works remotely already. Beyond the hiring and product development, it will also be working on its philanthropic arm, A More Prefect Union (pun intended) and partnering with the D.C. government on education services.
Lowin told Technical.ly that the first time he sold the Prefect product, there were actually buttons that the user couldn’t push because the whole system would crash. But he said that it was very apparent that the company solved a root problem, which is one of the main drivers of its momentum over the past year. He hopes to have some product announcements in the second half of the year and into 2022, but he noted that the company has had some trouble keeping to a schedule in the past.
“It’s just a very weird feeling to be dragged along by your product as it sort of viscerally solves a problem for people…” Lowin said. “Experiencing that is this very fun ride, but it means that we spend a lot of time not following our multi-year roadmap, but really just trying as fast as we can to continue to deliver the features that our users are already out in the world trying to use.”
Lowin added that following the new funding and hiring, the company will have the chance to take a better look at its product offerings. He hopes the company can reconstruct the product given everything its learned over the past three years.
“We have this opportunity to take a step back and catch our breath and say, okay, we have this great product out in the wild, let’s take a couple months and let’s just figure out how to make it just completely next level,” he said.
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