Gabi Steele, CEO of Preql: “Take bigger swings, you’ve already proven you can do this”

People keep on talking about digital transformation, but what about data transformation? The truth is that many companies struggle to extract the power from their data, in part because it requires specialist knowledge and coding. And that’s the problem Gabi Steele and her Preql Co-Founder Leah Weiss are attempting to solve.

The two met at WeWork, where Gabi led the data team, and faced the daily struggle of meeting executive demands for seemingly simple information from data teams – simple information that was actually difficult to deliver. Preql is a no-code tool that reduces this friction, and means you don’t need specialist teams with SQL expertise to extract the information you want.

Creating this tool was no easy task, but with years of experience – not to mention Gabi’s MSc in Data Visualization – the result is now available for all. Here, we discover the story behind Preql, the challenges and successes, and what happens next.

What’s your elevator pitch?

Preql empowers revenue, operations and strategy leaders to own and manage their metrics without relying on data engineering resources. It provides a no-code UI for business users to manage their own business logic and access metrics across data sources while maintaining usable SQL in the warehouse that data teams can also access and oversee.

What made you launch a startup?

My co-founder and I had been solving this problem for years at our data engineering consultancy writing hundreds of lines of custom SQL for each client just to get them access to basic reliable business reporting.

Gabi Steele CEO Preql
Gabi Steele, Co-Founder and CEO at Preql

We realised most organisations want to measure the same things and all companies struggle with maintaining metrics in SQL that business teams best understand. Preql was the first product approach we took to try to solve this problem and directly support business users while also generating usable code that engineering teams could access/manage.

We separated the consulting business and hired an incredible CEO, Celina Wong, to run and operate that company while Leah Weiss and I run Preql. The two orgs work closely and Data Culture frequently implements Preql as a solution for its customers.

Can you talk us through your journey so far?

We officially launched the product in May 2023 having closed a seed round of $7 million from Bessemer and Felicis the year prior. Our greatest milestone is now having paying customers and seeing the value of our solution in solving this critical data problem. 

Who are your main competitors and what distinguishes Preql from them?

The incumbent in no-code data transformation is a tool called Alteryx which allows business users to model their own data. Our main differentiators are:

  1. Preql’s no-code UI also generates usable SQL in the data warehouse so that data teams can always see and understand how metrics are being structured, unlike most tools which are black-box systems and only support non-technical users (so most of the time data teams need to rip these out)
  2. Our UI requires no onboarding or SQL knowledge, it’s completely user-friendly and accessible from day one
  3. We autogenerate hundreds of out-of-the-box metrics based on your data sources so you can get started the moment you connect the product to your data warehouse

How has the startup scene in New York helped?

It’s been really positive to be a part of the New York startup scene, especially post-Covid. We share an office space with several other startups and have had a few larger-scale in-person events (including our launch party and business users summit hosted at Sigma HQ on May 4).

NYC has an incredibly vibrant and diverse community of professionals who constantly meet and share feedback with one another. The fast-paced energy of the city, endless events and opportunities to network play a significant role in the success of the startup ecosystem here.

What’s the biggest mistake you’ve made and how did you overcome it?

Not making decisions quickly enough, stalling or overthinking is often much worse than making the wrong choice altogether and then fixing it later. I’m very indecisive in a lot of aspects of my life but this job continues to force me to overcome that and be more accepting of the inevitable mistakes that happen along the way. 

Where do you hope Preql will be in ten years?

Our hope is that in ten years Preql will be the number one solution when companies need access to reliable reporting and we’ll be able to get all of them frictionless access to the data they need in a matter of minutes. Our goal is and has always been to empower all employees within an organisation to make decisions with data and cut the tension between data experts and business people when trying to understand the health of their company.

What advice would you give yourself if you could go back in time?

Take bigger swings! You’ve already proven you can do this – don’t doubt yourself.

What would you say to potential investors reading this interview?

Patterns and repetition don’t always make for better businesses – you directly hold the power to change what type of founders and companies are built in the next 15 years, don’t just give the same group of white men money.

What advice do you have for aspiring entrepreneurs and anyone looking to launch their startup?

No one is that much more qualified than you are, and those who appear to be don’t know much more than you do. If you’re passionate about a certain topic or space and feel ready to start building a solution, there’s no time like the present. Approach each phase of building with humility and openness – don’t be stubborn about your ideas and listen as closely as possible to the market.

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Our thanks to Gabi for taking the time to share her insights with us. To hear from more inspiring startup founders, head to the links below:

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Tim Danton

Tim has worked in IT publishing since the days when all PCs were beige, and is editor-in-chief of the UK's PC Pro magazine. He has been writing about hardware for TechFinitive since 2023.