VC firm Andreessen Horowitz explains why it led a $23 million round in a social network for data

Key Points
  • Instabase's software is based on technology developed at MIT's Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL).
  • The start-up is "tackling an incredibly challenging technical problem," says Andreessen Horowitz general partner Martin Casado.
Marc Andreessen, co-founder and general partner of Andreessen Horowitz.
David Paul Morris | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Andreessen Horowitz, one of Silicon Valley's most prominent venture capital firms, has placed a bet on a start-up called Instabase that's quietly building a web service where data scientists and less technical users can work with data, CNBC has learned.

Last month the start-up disclosed that it had raised $23.2 million, and a spokesperson from Andreessen Horowitz confirmed it was the lead investor.

The idea is that people would dump data into Instabase to make it more accessible to colleagues both inside and outside their organization. For instance, salespeople could use the product to store and access web site visitor data without requiring engineers to write queries to a visitor database. Engineers can also use it to store queries to back-end databases, which their colleagues can then explore and use.

Venture-backed GitHub has been doing something similar with source code for tens of millions of developers. But data is not very well suited for GitHub's underlying technologies.

So in 2014, Anant Bhardwaj and his colleagues at MIT's renowned Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL), along with other academic researchers, detailed a new system for data called DataHub in a paper. DataHub, now available on GitHub under an open-source license, forms the basis of Instabase.

But the start-up's web service is billed as being in preview and only lets a small number of people start using it every few days.

Once on the website, users can post data sets, which other users can explore, query, chart and contribute to them. The service keeps track of changes to data just as GitHub stores updates to code files.

"Instabase is a company that really resonates with me personally," Martin Casado, a general partner at Andreessen Horowitz and formerly a cofounder of Nicira, told CNBC in an email. "It's a first-time technical founder, tackling an incredibly challenging technical problem, in an emerging space that can can have huge industry-wide impact."

The idea for Instabase isn't completely new. Cloudera introduced a service that data scientists could use for collaboration in March, a few weeks before going public. Start-up Domino Data Lab offers something similar. Another start-up, Plotly caters to a broader crowd, letting people share data and charts that other users can build on.

Instabase was founded in 2015 and is based in San Francisco. Other Instabase investors include Greylock Partners, NEA and Roughdraft Ventures.