Pittsburgh-based Rhiza wants to make big data more accessible to brand marketers and salespeople

By Editor July 9, 2014

Rhiza logoA Q&A with Rhiza co-founder and CEO Josh Knauer. The Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania-based startup, which offers detailed big data analytics for big consumer brands that are easily accessible to marketers and salespeople, announced the closing of a $3 million Series A funding round in late June. Investors include Draper Triangle Ventures, Arthur Ventures and Camp One Ventures. It was founded in 2008 by Knauer, Michael Higgins, and CFO Maryl Curran Widdows, and this is its first round of outside funding.

SUB: Please describe Rhiza and your primary innovation.

Knauer: Rhiza is the leading provider of marketing analytics tools that make big data actionable for marketers and salespeople. In a world of seemingly unlimited data sources and an abundance of dashboards, Rhiza’s platform stands out in its ability to deliver detailed recommendations based on integrated consumer insights to enable its customers to make smarter decisions to grow their business.

Rhiza accomplishes this through a simplified and elegant user interface that allows users to develop marketing plans, support multi-channel media buys, and create data-driven sales and market collateral—all in real-time.

SUB: Who are your target markets and users?

Knauer: Rhiza’s customer base includes media companies and national/international consumer products and services brands. Our users are executives in marketing and sales, researchers, analysts and ad salespeople. Ease-of-use is a primary focus for Rhiza, and we’ve achieved great success in being able to serve more types of users within the enterprise.

SUB: Who do you consider to be your competition, and what differentiates Rhiza from the competition?

Knauer: Within the large enterprises that are our customers, Rhiza is disrupting the way data has traditionally been made available to the business-focused end users. Typically, data-driven presentations have had to be generated by the geeks within the enterprise—database engineers, analysts, etc.—at the request of business users. Rhiza’s tools enable business users to directly interact with the data using an incredibly intuitive user interface. The end results are very effective data-driven presentations that are helping our customers sell more effectively and make better marketing decisions.

SUB: You just announced that you’ve raised $3 million in Series A funding. Why was this a particularly good time to raise outside funding, and how do you plan to use the funds?

Knauer: Rhiza has been in business since 2008 and has been profitable from day one. We chose to raise money not because we had to, but because we knew the company needed to scale. There has been such an overwhelming demand for our easy-to-use tools that it became quite obvious now is the time to bring in some additional capital to meet that demand.

We are using the capital to create strong sales and marketing teams, as well as increasing the capacity of our customer analyst team that provides customer support, user training, etc.

SUB: Do you have plans to seek additional funding in the near future?

Knauer: We don’t have specific plans yet for raising additional funding. We’ll evaluate the landscape and make a decision when we’re sure it’s the right plan for the company.

SUB: What was the inspiration behind the idea for Rhiza? Was there an ‘aha’ moment, or was the idea more gradual in developing?

Knauer: The co-founders of Rhiza came together based on a common belief that working with big data did not have to be so hard and inefficient. We knew we could solve that problem, and so we brought together a team of designers, engineers, and human scientists who study how people interact with data, user interfaces, etc.

SUB: What were the first steps you took in establishing the company?

Knauer: We partnered with a technology research firm that had spun out of Carnegie Mellon University. They helped to incubate Rhiza, which allowed us to focus on the technology and design.

SUB: How did you come up with the name? What is the story or meaning behind it?

Knauer: I’m a bit obsessed with natural systems, and how technologies that mimic them—a concept called biomimicry—tend to be more resilient and successful. The name ‘Rhiza’ is taken from the Greek root of the word ‘rhizome’ which form incredible root systems in nature that can physically connect together large numbers of plant species to create one massive organism. Our name and logo reinforce our core mission of aggregating all of the data from many different sources and helping our users get to the point so they can make it actionable.

SUB: What have the most significant challenges been so far to building the company?

Knauer: Being a small, upstart company competing against the entrenched, large business intelligence companies when trying to sell our product into some of the largest media and consumer brands in the world is always a challenge. We’ve learned to use our size and agility to our advantage, and as a result have landed some great, very large accounts like Comcast, Cox Media, Univision, Experian, etc.

SUB: How do you generate revenue or plan to generate revenue?

Knauer: Rhiza has generated revenue and been profitable from its inception without any outside capital before we closed this round of investment. Our product is sold into the enterprise and delivered in a SaaS (Software-as-a-Service) subscription model. We do have some customization and consulting services, but the majority of our revenue comes from SaaS subscriptions.

SUB: What are your goals for Rhiza over the next year or so?

Knauer: Our goals are to significantly grow our customer base and revenue within the marketing analytics space. We’ll accomplish this by continuing to put out powerful yet easy-to-use tools, and growing our capacity within sales, marketing, and customer service.