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Data storytelling vendor Toucan Toco poised for growth

Startup data storytelling vendor Toucan Toco has big goals for 2021, including doubling its annual revenues and expanding its customer base by about 50%.

Toucan Toco is hoping for dramatic growth in 2021.

As the new year begins, the vendor has about 130 customers generating about $10 million in annual revenue. By the end of the year, it's hoping to boast some 200 customers and double its revenue to $20 million, according to co-founder and CEO Charles Miglietti.

Founded in 2015 and based in Paris, Toucan Toco is a business intelligence software vendor specializing in data storytelling. As part of the startup's expansion plans, it now has offices in Boston -- where Miglietti is based -- and Amsterdam.

Data storytelling, meanwhile, is an emerging trend with the potential to revolutionize analytics  by making it accessible to more than only trained data scientists and analysts and extend its reach to most end users within an organization.

Studies have shown than only 20% to 40% of employees in most organizations use analytics, but data storytelling -- the automatically generated explanation of data in narrative form -- has the potential to make that close to 100%, according to Miglietti.

"We believe that a lot of people need to get knowledge through data who are not data literate, and that a lot of products are targeted toward only data-literate users," Miglietti said. "We want to speak to the crowd, and this is where we feel there is the most potential impact. Data storytelling is the best way, the obvious way to allow the audience to be knowledgeable about data."

A sample dashboard from Toucan Toco.
A Toucan Toco dashboard shows an organization's revenues by region.

Differentiation from other vendors

While Toucan Toco -- toucans symbolically represent storytelling and communication -- is one of the few vendors specializing in data storytelling, traditional BI vendors including Tableau and Yellowfin offer data storytelling features. Therefore, in order to achieve the ambitious growth it's hoping for in 2021, differentiation will be key for the vendor, said Donald Farmer, principal at TreeHive Strategy.

And one key way its platform is different than the tools offered by other BI vendors is that Toucan Toco views data storytelling as a practice rather than just a feature.

Toucan Toco is very focused on storytelling as the purpose of the product and therefore the workflow is built around that concept, and that does feel different when you use it.
Donald FarmerPrincipal, TreeHive Strategy

"They've built their product around a data storytelling workflow," Farmer said. "The purpose of their product is to tell stories and stories aren't just an ad-on. Toucan Toco is very focused on storytelling as the purpose of the product and therefore the workflow is built around that concept, and that does feel different when you use it."

The visualization of the data, Farmer continued, is developed around how to communicate a particular finding, as opposed to the data storytelling features developed by more traditional BI vendors that often develop the visual first and then add a narrative on top.

"It's not visual analysis where you visualize in order to analyze," Farmer said. "This is visualizing in order to tell someone something. These differences are subtle, but when you put it in every aspect of the product it creates a coherent storytelling workflow and experience."

Miglietti likewise cited Toucan Toco's focus on data storytelling as the main reason its platform differs from tools such as Microsoft Power BI Smart Narratives, Tableau's Explain Data and Yellowfin Stories.

"We are [one of the] only ones who focus on data storytelling," he said. "[Most] others focus on data exploration to boost heavy data users and enable them to make the most of their data. We focus on making impactful stories and applications in the shortest time to market.

"With us, the differentiator is a lot in the philosophy in which the product is built."

A critical juncture

Despite its differentiation, Farmer said he thinks that a bit less than six years after its founding, Toucan Toco is at an inflection point.

In the five-plus years since it emerged from stealth, the vendor has built its platform up from something with basic dashboards that could only work with static reports and spreadsheets and only the vendor itself could configure to a visually attractive environment with an easy setup that's capable of working with an organization's data no matter where it's stored.

Toucan Toco now enables self-service analytics, including the ability to embed insights, and even offers a data lake of its own.

If it expands too much, however, and focuses too much on data management and other aspects of the analytics process, Toucan Toco risks losing what differentiates it from the general BI platforms in which data storytelling is simply a feature and not the focus, according to Farmer.

"As soon as they start saying they're an end-to-end platform, well, there are lots of end-to-end platforms," he said. "The challenge for Toucan Toco is how to avoid becoming just another feature-rich product and keep their identity.

"They're trying to walk that tightrope. Like a lot of companies, they could get pulled into being just another faster, easier, cheaper tool rather than owning their differentiation."

He added that Toucan Toco has positioned itself to potentially meet its lofty goals for 2021, but it has to be done by sticking to its focus on data storytelling rather than becoming too broad. As tech giants including Google and Microsoft dip into data storytelling, its domain expertise and focus are what can separate Toucan Toco and keep it from getting steamrolled.

"I could absolutely see them having a good year and doubling their revenue, or they could lose momentum, which is a problem for companies that size," Farmer said. "There's a very fine line between the two."

The roadmap

As Toucan Toco looks to double its revenues over the next 12 months and significantly grow its customer base, perhaps its greatest strengths are the flexibility of its platform to work with users' data no matter where it's stored and its ease of use, according to Miglietti.

Nevertheless, the vendor's roadmap for 2021 is to further enable its customers to do data management and analysis in a no-code, easy-to-use environment.

"The main things we want to add this year are to build the full bottom-up motion that will allow our users to … manage their entire Toucan stack by themselves," Miglietti said. "Our model is to do enable customers to do everything by yourself. We are working hard to provide all the resources to our customers so they can be fully autonomous."

Farmer, meanwhile, said that in addition to its ease of use, Toucan Toco's user interface is a strength.

"It looks great," Farmer said. "It just looks very good out of the box and people build very attractive, good-looking, modern interfaces with it. And that's important. Toucan Toco feels like a modern presentation layer."

In order to reach its growth goals, however, he said strategic partnerships will be important.

Toucan Toco doesn't yet have an extensive array of partners -- it lists a total of 28 on its website -- and none of its partnerships are with any with the major cloud data warehouse vendors.

"Companies of their type do not grow on their own," Farmer said. "They need data partners, partners in services and technical integrations with other products."

The next 12 months have the potential to be big for Toucan Toco. But there's risk in its ambition.

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