Nebulagraph spurs China’s growing appetite for graph databases • Technology Flow


Graph databases, which store information in nodes and relationships instead of tables like Excel sheets, have become popular amid the data explosion across industries. While TigerGraph and Neo4j dominate the Western market, China is seeing its own homegrown pioneers in the space.

Nebulagraph is one of China’s fastest growing startups offering open source and graph databases with enterprise subscription options. The company announced this week that it has closed a Series A round led by Generation Capital, two years after we covered its $8 million funding round. The company didn’t specify how much it raised, saying only that it was in the “low tens of millions” of dollars.

Other investors in the round include Matrix Partner China, Redpoint China Ventures and Source Code Capital.

Nebulagraph has seen some encouraging growth over the past two years, during which its user base has grown from just over 60 to over 900, including freemium and paid. The types of consumers have also broadened. Two years ago, users were primarily using NebulaGraph to explore data relationships across social media, e-commerce, and fintech platforms. Since then, the startup has attracted companies from the manufacturing sector, the most surprising being makers of electric vehicles and airplanes.

The EV supply chain is highly sophisticated and can generate reams of data after each car sale is shipped from the design stage, says founder and CEO Sherman Yu, who previously worked at Ant Group and Meta. Even a small flaw in a nail can have a large ripple effect on the vehicle, so manufacturers have information detailing the conditions of various parts, including which supplier and worker are responsible for them.

Data collection is not the end. In today’s hyper-customization, Internet-connected vehicles are also learning driver and passenger behavior. That means auto companies need more robust tools to process their own sea of ​​data, which is where graph databases come into play.

“You can find relationships in data before, but relational databases become very slow as the data set grows,” Yu explained. Much of what Nebulagraph does for its customers is real-time, like shopping recommendations, so speed is critical.

Other emerging use cases for Nebulagraph include AI-based drug discovery and chip design, Yu added.

About 90% of the company’s users are in China, but like many mature open source SaaS firms, Nebulagraph has a vision of entering the West and building a global developer community. Yu said the company’s plan to open an office in the US was “stopped” by the COVID-19 pandemic, but it is retooling resources to bring back global expansion in 2023.

While many of China’s consumer-oriented startups continue to go global as regulatory uncertainties rise at home, Nebulagraph wants a piece of the Western SaaS market because it is “more mature,” Yu said.

With the world’s largest Internet population, China is clearly rich in data to mine. The problem is that, from scrappy startups to deep-pocketed corporations, willingness to pay for SaaS remains low. This is in part due to China’s long history of software piracy and its relatively low labor costs, which make office automation less urgent than in the West.

There is also the issue of legacy accounting, Yu explained. Until today, China still does not officially classify computer software – it must be classified as assets or expenses, making it tricky for companies to prepare their books.

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