Starburst Innovates Real-Time, Distributed Query Engine For Big Data BIG Data

British mathematician and entrepreneur, Clive Humby coined the phrase “Data is the new oil” in 2006. Fifteen years later, the analogy still holds true. This is especially true for large businesses who often collect their ever-growing data assets into siloed data lakes within several platforms, formats and various Cloud providers, making it challenging to extract value from the data with ease for fast access and analysis.

What if there were a “Google-like,” real-time, distributed query engine that could access your data no matter where it resides, in whatever form it appears in?  

That’s the premise behind the founding of Starburst, the fast-growing, Boston-based data access and analytics company based on the Presto open-source SQL query engine originally created by four Facebook data engineers, Martin Traverso, Eric Hwang, Dain Sundstrom and David Phillips. With Presto, “You can query data in other databases, you can query data and other clouds, you can create data anywhere. And that was very unique and very novel. And so, I encouraged my co-founders to turn that into a company with me built around that technology,” says Justin Borgman, Chairman, CEO.

Founded in 2017, Starburst began life with customers and revenue and didn’t initially seek funding. “We started a little bit unusually in that we didn’t raise venture right away. We actually just sold support to existing users of the open-source project to get us off the ground and start to make some money and grow. The first couple of years we grew that way organically,” says Borgman. 

Borgman’s co-founders included Traverso, Phillips as well as Matt Fuller, Kamil Bajda-Pawlikowski, Wojciech Biela, Piotr Findeisen, Anu Sudarsan, Grzegorz Kokosiński, Lukasz Osipiuk and Karol Sobczak, providing the start-up with an all-star line-up of data scientists. Sundstrom and Hwang later joined the company reuniting the four original Presto creators. 

Today, the 300-person company has greatly expanded its offerings to serve over 150 large, enterprise customers like Comcast, Carrefour, FINRA, Verizon, and VMware to name a few.

They’ve attracted $164 million in venture funding from Andreessen Horowitz, Index Venture, Coatue and Salesforce Ventures, valuing the company at $1.2 billion. “Our valuations are a little crazy right now and we try not to take ourselves too seriously on that front. In fact, we like to call ourselves a workhorse, not a unicorn and have fun with with that,” says Borgman. 


Starburst, originally named PrestoSQL, rebranded in January 2021 to avoid confusion with other Presto initiatives. The PrestoSQL query engine was itself rebranded as Trino. The Starburst name is a reference to a SQL query called “select star,” which is a search command to bring back everything. “We really liked star as a name just because it’s a reference to anything and everything. The burst piece was a reference that we can retrieve anything really fast. A friend of ours came up with that. We gave him a little bit of stock for thinking about that idea and that was how we came up with the name,” says Borgman.

The company is Borgman’s second big-data software start-up. He founded Hadapt, the industry’s first Big Data analytic platform natively integrating SQL and Apache Hadoop in 2010. The company was acquired by Teradata in July of 2014. “I became a VP there and my job was to figure out the future of data warehousing analytics. And along the way discovered some guys at Facebook who had created a new technology for analysing data at tremendous scale with hundreds of petabytes of data and thousands of users hitting the system at the same time,” says Borgman.

Borgman was born in Chicago but grew up outside of Boston. He went to UMass Amherst for his undergrad degree and Yale for his graduate degree. “That’s actually where I started my first business which was a spin out from the Yale computer science department,” says Borgman. “This is all I’ve ever really wanted to do. What’s exciting about start-ups is it’s an opportunity to change the world in some small way, as corny as that may sound, and that’s exciting.”

He attributes his drive to his mother’s example. “I was very lucky to have an amazing mother who, not only worked exceptionally hard, but is just a very determined, tough, driven human being. She taught me to never give up. And I really believe that start-ups are an endurance sport,” says Borgman.

Starburst recently launched a product called Galaxy, a hosted solution that runs in the cloud. “Our current product prior to Galaxy you deploy, and you can deploy it anywhere. It could be in the cloud, it could be on prem, but you have to manage it. And so, there’s kind of more work, more burden on you as a customer. Whereas Galaxy is just point and click and you’ve got a cluster running,” says Borgman.  

He believes this will broaden the market for Starburst substantially. “I think one of our challenges up to this point is that you have to be pretty smart and sophisticated to use this software. Galaxy aims to make it a lot easier so that we can go a little bit down market,” says Borgman.

As for the future for Starburst? 

“I want to build a big standalone independent business. [With Starburst] You don’t have to move the data around. You don’t have to ingest it. You don’t have to get it all in one place. You can access it where it lives. And that’s inherently going to give you access to more data. It gives customers access to everything that they have as a business to really draw correlations to find those hidden insights. It can be really valuable,” concludes Borgman.

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