After three years in operation, NFLabs, Korea’s most promising Big Data startup has raised series A funding from Big Basin Capital, Bon Angels and Coolidge Corner investment. The funding of $1.5 million USD will be primarily used to bring the startups big data analytics and visualization software to a global audience.
NFLabs CEO Sejun Ra explained, “the investment will really boost our expansion to North America. We will focus on speeding up data analysis technology by simplifying Peloton's Big Data collecting, handling, and visualizing processes, as well as increasing sales and marketing activity outside Korea.”
His feelings were echoed by Phil Yoon of Big Basin Capital who stated, "As much as Peloton is receiving interest here in Korea, I hope to see the same great results around the world. We have joined NFLabs to help them with this mission.”
Shinhuk Kang, Co-Founder of Coolidge Corner added: “Since meeting with NFLabs’ founders, Sejun Ra and Munsu Lee, I was impressed by their enthusiasm, sincerity, and specialist abilities in big data.
Opportunities in big data are already huge and growing rapidly. Peloton offers enterprises an incredible opportunity to harness big data and drive their businesses forward. I am convinced that NFLabs will see rapid and sustained success in the near future.”
With the mission of democratizing big data, NFLabs has been building an “industry specific modular big data analytics platform” that aims to put big data analytics into the hands of ‘unskilled teams’ across organizations. The company has addressed a paint point held by all organizations that want to implement big data analysis, namely that it is a niche skill normally undertaken by specialized teams with robust engineering expertise.
Sejun explained that, “the original tools were created by the likes of Google and Yahoo. These tools, while effective, were actually very difficult to use. Unless you were a developer these tools were beyond reach and had to be used by developer teams, rather than end users.”
To tackle this issue NFLabs has developed ‘Peloton’ and ‘Zeppelin’. Peloton provides the easy to use enterprise dashboard and security functions while Zeppelin is the defacto interface for all your big data discovery needs. Zeppelin enables data scientists to perform the full lifecycle of data analysis—from ingestion to visualization—via a single interface, then it passes along the setup to Peloton for monitoring and managing the stream-based updated reports.
How It Works
Zeppelin can sit on top of Hadoop, S3, or any other data storage infrastructure (NFLabs has both an on-premise and a cloud offering). Through Zeppelin, the data analysts/scientist can retrieve, prepare (ETL), visualize, and even apply complex algorithms directly to the data. No need to learn multiple applications or move the data to different depositories. Data discovery can be conducted directly on the raw data through multiple iterations at interactive speeds. And as Zeppelin has multiple interpreters (markdown, shell, scala, SparkSQL—with Tajo and R and others in progress), the data analyst/scientist is not limited to simply Java and map reduce frameworks.
Once data discovery is completed, and the answer to the question is identified, this analysis can then be shared through Peloton which is an easy to use enterprise monitoring system. Peloton includes all the necessary access controls, security, and dashboard features (drag and drop, drill in) that business users are accustomed to. This enables companies to get answers to their data questions faster, allowing more insight and better decision making.
“We have decided to open source Zeppelin to (1) share it with the rest of the big data community, and (2) to accelerate its adoption and evolution. And we are amazed at the feedback. It’s been less then six months since our beta launch and Zeppelin already has almost a hundred members in its community with multiple contributors globally. ,” Sejun explained.
As the Zeppelin user community grows, Sejun believes Peloton, as well as their other enterprise products in their pipeline, will be adopted faster.
NFLabs already counts multiple domestic telecommunications companies and leading global technology companies as paying customers. In addition, NFLabs is working with a number of gaming and social content companies to help them get more value out of their data faster.
It is a testament to the company that they have bootstrapped to this stage, and have already achieved profitability. The next stage is to build out a global sales team that can take their solution to a wider audience. The early stage of this global expansion was achieved when NFLabs was nominated as a top ten Korean startup and given the opportunity to meet investors in Silicon Valley. They met Big Basin Capital at the event.
Sejun previously worked at Akamai Technologies, who handle 20% of internet traffic so he has deep experience of dealing with big data, before tools existed to process and analyze it effectively. He recalled, “a huge range of daily business processes leave behind breadcrumbs of data. The growth of that data has been incredibly fast. Traditional solutions can’t handle the speed and volume of this data and even tech savvy companies are having a hard time keeping up.” He went on to explain that it is not feasible to simply expand big data-centric teams and that a longer term approach that could simplify analytics was needed in the market. He believes NFLabs will become a leader in achieving that.
The investment from Big Basin is of particular interest for NFLabs global expansion, as it will help them in two key areas, beyond financing. Their networks in the US will enable rapid connections with clients as well as presenting opportunities for M&A down the line.
Korean startups and their investors face a tough battle seeking exit opportunities in Korea, with around 95% of exits coming through public listing. Sejun believes that by building bridges to the US market he will expose his company to better opportunities in the future. “Some companies can survive in Korea. You can reach $Bs in revenue in e-commerce or gaming. But for enterprise software you have to go out. My plan was never to be limited to only the Korean market,” he explained.
No Longer Just Copy-Cats
There has been a perception in the past that Asian startups are only good at copying existing technology. In fact even Korea’s top manufacture, Samsung, has attracted scorn for allegedly following Apple, rather than innovating. But companies like NFLabs are beginning to debunk this. Another example is 5Rocks, a Korean company that was recently acquired by TapJoy in the US.
Sejun explained that as someone who grew up in the west he sees a great opportunity to build a global technology brand from Korea: “I think there is a stigma that startups in Korea are just copy-cats. I think it is why Korean startups are sometimes looked down on, or find it difficult attracting attention in the US and Europe. But these days startups in Asia are buzzing. I think talent is sometimes even better than in Silicon Valley and there is no reason why Asian startups can’t now begin to find global success, instead of just domestic. Asian startups have a lot of talent and grit. That stigma was maybe true five years ago, but now it is changing extremely fast.”
Silicon Valley has a history of startups and is normally in the spotlight when it comes to innovation, along with Israel. But recent stories from Korea, such as Coupang’s $300 million USD funding from BlackRock and Yello Mobile’s $100 million USD round from Formation 8 demonstrate that Korea doesn’t need to start from zero. I am sure that innovation from Asia will gain in prominence in the near future and the likes of NFLabs look set to lead that charge.