Welcome to Snowflake’s Startup Spotlight, where we learn about awesome companies building businesses on Snowflake. In this Q&A, we hear from Nico Acosta, CEO and Co-Founder of Propel, about how his company is building an API platform to equip developers to build with data, and why data architecture is the most important technical decision a company will make.
Tell us about yourself.
I’m Nico Acosta, co-founder of Propel (along with Tyler Wells and Mark Roberts). I’ve worked on building API platforms throughout my career. I started programming when I was 14.
I was employee 65 at Twilio and was there for 9 years. I led the developer experience team and the Voice product (one of the main revenue engines), and I founded the AI/ML business unit. Prior to Twilio, I got my MBA at Kellogg and founded my first startup in the mobile messaging space.
Fun fact: I interned at AWS in 2010, when there were around 500 people. My internship project was the AWS Brazil region.
What inspires you as a founder?
Unlocking the creativity of developers to build with data. My favorite quote is from mathematician and philosopher Alfred North Whitehead: “Civilization advances by extending the number of important operations which we can perform without thinking of them.” APIs do just that.
Building APIs to unlock the power of developers to build with data—that’s what drives what we do at Propel. The customer-facing analytics on 99% of SaaS and consumer products out there suck. We want to change that.
Explain what your company does in one sentence.
Propel is an API platform for developers to build web and mobile apps with their Snowflake data.
What makes Propel different from others in this market?
Propel is different because it is an API platform. It allows developers to build web and mobile applications with their Snowflake data. We take a unique approach with an all-in-one API platform that leverages the best of Snowflake and solves key requirements when building production-grade apps:
- Build at any level of the stack: Propel equips developers to build with powerful GraphQL APIs or easy-to-use UI React components, making it easy to build native look and feel product experiences.
- Sub-second response times: It provides a powerful cache that automatically syncs and serves your Snowflake data with blazing-fast queries to your apps. There’s no need for ETLs, pre-aggregations that sacrifice flexibility, or additional infrastructure that requires data engineering resources.
- Metrics API: It provides a Metrics API that not only gives meaning to your raw data but also empowers your dev teams across the company to build with a self-service analytics API.
- Multi-tenant security: It controls access to your data in customer-facing, multi-tenant environments. Propel’s access control ensures that each customer can only see their own data without maintaining per-customer policies.
- Zero operational overhead: It operates as a serverless platform, which means there is no infrastructure to build or maintain, and you only pay for what you use.
Propel is ideal for powering customer-facing analytics use cases, from customer dashboards and analytics APIs to product usage or in-product metrics. Propel’s APIs equip developers across a company (not just the data teams) to build with Snowflake data. It reduces the burden on data engineering so dev teams can build more with their Snowflake data, build for scale, and move on with their roadmap (for more on this, check out our blog post How to build a Snowflake API).
When you were implementing Snowflake, how did you decide which architecture to use? What feedback did you get from your customers?
We decided to use the connected architecture so that customers can use the data they already have and unlock new use cases with Propel.
We hear from customers that they are really good at using their data internally for business intelligence decision-making, but struggle to expose it externally through their customer-facing products.
Customers love the fact that with Propel’s API on top of Snowflake, they can now empower dev teams to use their data for external customer-facing applications and products. They’re thrilled when front-end engineering teams can build without any back-end or data engineering dependencies. Companies can build more without hiring more people.
Lastly, they find it compelling that they can do this without having to build or manage new services. Propel’s serverless nature enables our customers to have a powerful API on top of Snowflake without having to build it themselves.
As one of our customers, Seth Carney, CTO at Courier, said: “I’ve had to own this in the past, and it’s not cheap. If you were to build what Propel gives you … you need a data team, engineering team, build and implement UI, caching, performance optimizations, ongoing needs, and maintenance of the data. It adds up. With Propel, I was able to carve out a sprint or two and get something out the door with my existing folks.”
We talk a lot about how Snowflake provides a platform for innovation. What does this look like for Propel?
We fully align with Snowflake’s vision of the Data Cloud. We couldn’t have built Propel in an on-prem data warehouse that is hard to run and scale.
Snowflake centralizes an organization’s data from all the different data silos, whether internal databases or SaaS applications. Snowflake is also the best platform to transform and clean data, making it optimal for visualization and consumption. Together with Propel’s API platform, it is also ideal for customer-facing analytics in web and mobile apps.
We’ve been able to leverage all the Snowflake primitives—Streams, Procedures, Tasks, and others—to accelerate the development of our platform and provide customers with a Snowflake-native experience, where a lot of the heavy lifting happens in our customers’ Snowflake accounts.
What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned?
How data is architected is the single most important technical decision companies make. The interesting thing is that this applies to any size of company. Whether it is a two-person startup just starting out or a Fortune 500 enterprise undergoing a data transformation initiative, the data architecture and platform will dictate the extent to which a company can leverage data. Businesses that can’t fully use their data will eventually die.
Looking ahead, what’s next? What role will Propel play in your industry’s future?
We see Propel playing a key role in expanding what is possible with Snowflake by equipping all developers with the tools they need to build with data without being a data engineer. We’re lowering the barriers of entry to millions of developers who previously had to rely on their data engineering teams to build customer-facing analytics. By using Propel, teams will be able to ship the customer-facing analytics they want in record time, empower their customers to make informed business decisions, and help make products that are more valuable and sticky.
Learn more about Propel at www.propeldata.com or follow them on Twitter, and check out the Snowflake Startup Program today. If you’re an early-stage startup, don’t forget about the 2023 Snowflake Startup Challenge—submissions are due March 1!