Backupify Rolls Out Gmail Tool, Wants to Build Data Protection Layer for the Web

Three pearls of wisdom from Backupify CEO Rob May, right off the bat:

1. “Successful companies often look like bad ideas at the beginning.”

2. “The company that solves the ‘big data’ problem for businesses won’t have set out to do that.”

3. “We’re losing the ability to see patterns across history.”

May (pictured above) is nothing if not provocative. His observations on the tech industry—from the big players to the daily echo chamber of blogs and social media—hint at a deeper view of what his company is trying to achieve (and a healthy contrarian streak).

Backupify is known for its Web software that backs up data from business apps and social media. The Cambridge, MA-based startup is rolling out a free Gmail management tool today that monitors storage space and identifies big e-mail attachments that Google Apps users can delete or download to save space. The tool is called FreeSpace, and it’s of particular interest to me, since I’m currently at 90 percent capacity in my Xconomy e-mail account. (50,000+ unread e-mails isn’t helping my cause.)

It’s a small piece of news, but it speaks to where Backupify is heading. The company has been targeting both small and medium-size businesses and enterprise customers (backing up data, for example). Last month, it released a software platform to allow outside developers to integrate Backupify’s data backup and protection capabilities into their applications; the platform is in private beta trials, with a public release slated for this summer.

Backupify is trying to cover all the bases necessary to stake a claim to the “data graph.” That would be analogous to the social graph of the Web—showing how each piece of data on the Internet is identified and connected to others.

Yes, I’m afraid this all ties into the buzzword of “big data.” But the idea is that reams of business data—all the corporate information that needs to be accessed in the cloud—may warrant a separate layer to move around in. “Long term, over the next decade, we can build a data protection layer across the [software as a service] ecosystem,” May says. “Think of it as a relational data layer, not a database.”

Sounds pretty abstract, but the concrete payoff is in providing secure copies of business data for software-as-a-service companies that are building and managing apps—and helping them share that data with their partners and customers, May says.

That’s no small task, and it could be quite lucrative. Backupify ultimately may have to fend off bigger players including EMC, Carbonite, Actifio (which has some big funding news today), Box, Dropbox, Symantec, and even Google in the battle to be the default online-backup system for business data.

Backupify was started in 2008, originally in Kentucky. The company has raised about $20 million from Avalon Ventures, General Catalyst, Symantec, and others. It has 30-some employees, including a new marketing team (there has been a lot of turnover in that department). May didn’t give any absolute numbers, so the baseline number may be quite small, but he says revenue increased by a factor of seven in 2012 over the previous year.

One gets the sense that Backupify is on the cusp of something really big—and that it could still crash and burn, but is trying to take off before competitors and potential acquirers really take notice. Is that fair to say?

Check back later this year, May says. And then he’s back to work.

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