Arik Hesseldahl

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Meet Domo, the Latest Chapter in the Josh James Saga

If you were going to write a Saturday afternoon serial about the adventures of a young entrepreneur starting over, you could probably draw a lot of material from Josh James. You certainly can’t fault him for all the fun he seems to be having.

In our last episode, James and his employees threw a party — actually kind of a funeral (it’s complicated) — for the name of the Utah-based company he had bought: Corda Technologies. The point was to make way for the new name: Domo Technologies.

And he couldn’t just rename it and put out a press release like everyone else. He had to have fun with that, too. So he drew up a complicated mathematical formula, that would lead people good at math to the clues they would need to figure out the new name. The first person who guessed it right would get $10,000. (Someone in Utah, an engineer, ultimately won the prize money.)

But it wasn’t all fun and games. There was the uncomfortable matter of a continuing lawsuit with Adobe, which acquired James’ first company, Omniture, in 2009. Adobe claimed that James violated noncompete agreements by buying Corda and trying to hire away a former Adobe employee. Adobe sued James in Utah, while James sued Adobe alleging unfair competition in California. That part’s complicated, too.

And as we reported in April, after bolting Adobe, James started raising money and found investors willing to line up, checkbooks in hand, based almost entirely on his reputation. Today he confirmed our reporting by announcing that Benchmark Capital, whose notable investments include Twitter, eBay and MySQL, has invested $33 million in a Series A round of funding. Matt Cohler — General Partner of Benchmark; also the fifth employee at Facebook and a founder at LinkedIn — led the deal and is joining Domo’s board of directors.

Also joining Domo’s board:

  • Mark Gorenberg, Managing Director at Hummer Winblad Venture Partners and former board member of Omniture
  • John Thompson, Chairman and former CEO of Symantec and current CEO of Virtual Instruments
  • Fraser Bullock, co-founder and Managing Director at Sorenson Capital, former Omniture director and one of the founding partners of Bain Capital
  • Neal Williams, founder of Corda, the company James bought and is transforming into Domo

The funding comes on top of a $10 million seed round from several angel investors, including Ron Conway’s SV Angel, Andreessen Horowitz, and several others.

What’s the name about? Domo will be a cloud-based software-as-service play, James says. And cloud-based companies are different from traditional enterprise software companies in one key way. “With traditional enterprise software, it’s all about selling a license and then signing up the customer for maintenance fee, and you live on that,” he told me. “With software-as-a-service, it’s all about making the customer happy. You’re doing everything you can to make their user experience a good one — one that’s so good that at the end of the day they say ‘thank you.'” As in “domo arigato,” which is Japanese for “thank you,” and which is also part of the title of a very strangely memorable song that was a hit for the band Styx in 1982. Get it?

The son of a U.S. Marine, James lived for a time in Japan. Plus, Domo is the sort of word — like Google — that can function as both noun and verb. And, like Google and Facebook, it has two Os.

So what will Domo do? Business intelligence, but it’s not what you think. “When you think about BI, it’s a big industry worth $10 billion a year, and all those companies have done all the work to collect all the data. But the customer is not getting any real value from that data,” James told me. “They feel like they’re spending a lot of money putting data in a box but not getting anything useful out of it.” He plans to fix that.

All the major vendors that collect any kind of business data have APIs, or application programming interfaces. Taking advantage of those APIs, Domo will collect data from the major business applications to craft what James calls an executive management platform. “It sits on top of all your systems and all your corporate data and allows you access to it in a way you never had,” he says.

The average day of a modern executive is full of reports brimming over with data. “Every week and month you get dozens of different reports in PowerPoint and PDF and email and Excel from all sorts of different people, and you have access to a few dozen systems that you have user names and passwords for,” he says. “But if you want to use it, you have to remember where it came from and how to get to it, and who to call to find out more, because they’re usually static.”

It was a revelation running Omniture, which specializes in Web traffic data and analytics. James would hear back from online marketing companies about how useful the Ominiture data was to their business, and wished he could have the same kind of useful data for running his own. “I was getting all these reports from all these different parts of the business. It was overwhelming.”

And none of it was live. “All of the data has already been created. But there’s nothing that sits on top of them all, and gives you real-time access to all of it and lets you look at it the way you want to,” James says. So that’s what Domo is all about. Tune in next week!

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I’m a giant vat of creative juices.

— David Pogue on why he’s joining Yahoo