From a Mattress to a Standing Desk: Announcing our $22M Series A led by Drive Capital

November 30, 2016 Dan Wagner

This week, Civis Analytics is announcing the close of our Series A investment. All in we raised $22M, led by Drive Capital — a Midwestern-focused venture capital firm — with participation from Verizon Ventures, WPP, and Eric Schmidt, executive chairman of Alphabet.

It’s a great round with a great set of partners, but you’ve probably read a lot of press releases that start this way, haven’t you?

I have, too. But the thing is, they always tend to leave out the most interesting part of the story — How did you get here? Where did you start? What do you believe in? That’s the most interesting story behind any company with a vision for changing the world, and it’s a story I’d like to tell using a few old photos I’ve got saved on my phone, if you’ll humor me for a moment.

Civis Analytics started in a windowless back room of the Obama 2012 campaign offices. Appropriately enough, we called it “The Cave.” It looked like this.

The Cave

Our team of more than 50 Vitamin D-deficient data scientists and engineers spent more than 18 months in that room attempting to re-invent one of the world’s oldest industries — politics — using data science. We suspected that if we used the tiny pieces of information we knew about people, in aggregate—information they gave us every day — we could talk to the people we needed to talk to in a way that’d resonate with them. It worked out well for the campaign and for our country, and we got to go to this:

2012 Election Result

The day after the election, I met with Eric Schmidt, who’d advised the campaign on technology. Soon, he followed up with a life-changing note:

An Email from Eric Schmidt

And then, the next day, I went home to these illustrious quarters, where it all started:

Living in Luxury

Yeah, I started Civis on a Serta.

This, you see, is the untold story of most start-ups. You have a few promising successes early on. You get buy-in and validation from established, respected figures willing to take a chance on you. It feels almost unreal. And the world opens up. And from there — it’s on you, your team, and your collective brains to figure out how to turn it into something real. So you start bootstrapping. (Inevitably, there’s always a whiteboard involved.)

Our First Business Plan

So you figure out how to build a company that will actually be useful — one that will take the lessons gleaned from a national Presidential campaign and make them more broadly relevant in the long term. You know that data is becoming broadly acknowledged as the biggest untapped opportunity for most major businesses — but that most of those businesses don’t know how to properly use it. So your rapidly growing team works to put the knowledge of 100 data scientists into a single software-as-a-service application to empower our client’s teams with the same tools that we have. Here’s a snapshot:

The Civis Data Science Platform

And, once you start kicking the tires on it, you find that companies across sectors — from insurance to B2C tech to media and government — have a real and demonstrated need for it.

You also learn that you don’t have to ship off to Silicon Valley to build it. With the right people and the right mission, you can start in Chicago, right where your company’s mission was born:

Number of Employees at Civis by Year

Today, four years later, we have more employees, more sunlight, and of course, standing desks for all.

Our New Chicago Office

So, yeah — we’ve come a long way from my 400-square-foot apartment on Wabash Avenue in the Chicago Loop.

Why am I telling you all of this? Because our mission hasn’t changed. We may have fancier offices and a better website, but our mission hasn’t changed since I got that email from Eric four years ago. Every single day, we’re driven by the same fundamental questions: How can we turn data into action? How can we put it to work to drive the most important causes in the world forward?

That’s why we’re here. We’re immensely grateful to our clients and friends, and we’re prouder than ever to announce the support of more big brains supporting our cause.


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