Investing in Fishtown Analytics, the makers of dbt

Martin Casado

Posted April 22, 2020

Editor’s note: Fishtown Analytics has rebranded as dbt Labs.

Every so often there is a software project released that has so much momentum and buzz, you start to run into it all the time. That was certainly the case with dbt. I’ve had many days where dbt would arise in conversations across a broad swath of meetings – investors curious about it, startups using it, larger companies partnering with it. We’d been tracking dbt, and the team behind it, for over a year, and were always huge fans of both. But the asymptotic rise in excitement around it surprised even us.

So, what is dbt, and why all the excitement? Let’s start with a bit of background.

As we’ve stated many times before, one of the biggest macro trends in infrastructure is the shift to data. Underlying this shift is a shift in how we build data infrastructure. Over the last few years, we’ve seen a meteoric rise in the use of cloud data warehouses (e.g. Redshift, Big Query and Snowflake), and the emergence of a new paradigm for handing data.

Traditionally, data was extracted, transformed, then loaded – or “ETL,” for short – into a database. For ETL, complex transformation pipelines were built at the data source. However, cloud data warehouses have finally made it cost effective to store all of a company’s data in a central location, and we no longer need to transform data before we load it. In short, ETL has become ELT – “Extract, Load, Transform.”

In ELT, data is first extracted from the sources, using a tool like Fivetran (also an a16z investment), loaded into the cloud data warehouse, and then transformed into the format needed for analytics processing. Further, because all of the data sits in the same location, the transformations can be far more sophisticated and draw on data from diverse sources. ELT is both simpler and more powerful than the traditional ETL model, and we strongly believe it is the future for getting data into the analytics stack.

So where does dbt fit in all of this? It is the leading open source tool for doing transformations. In other words, it is the T in ELT.

There are a number of reasons dbt stood out to us. To begin with, dbt is built around SQL as a transformation language and is accessible to anyone who knows SQL, which all data analysts do. Second, it has an incredibly vibrant community of users who absolutely love the product. The traction really is best of breed for bottoms up, open source projects. Over the last year, they’ve managed double digit MoM growth.

Finally, we fell in love with the team. Data infrastructure is a deep, complicated space that’s going through a massive transformation. There are legacy tools, and legacy understanding, as well as quickly emerging platforms. It takes a very special skill set to bridge that gap, and to build a community around a go-forward vision! And that is what the founding team of Fishtown Analytics (the company behind dbt) has done. The founders, Tristan, Drew, and Connor, have deep experience running data infrastructure services, and they’ve used that deep understanding of the user and problem space to build the right tool for an exciting, and rapidly expanding, market.

And so we’re absolutely thrilled to announce our partnership with Fishtown Analytics. And we know that dbt is only the beginning. We’ve entered an era where data is a first class infrastructure component, and we strongly believe Fishtown Analytics is the right team to build the tooling to tame, and transform, it.