Developer Tools are Shovels in a Goldrush. Enter The Bulldozer…
Render or Not! Here I come!
When the winner of this year’s Tech Crunch ‘Disrupt’ startup competition was announced, I and many more were pleasantly surprised that it wasn’t another Robotics, AI or consumer application. Render outright kicked everyone’s arse, and it was in one of the most important, but least sexy parts of technology: Developer Tools!
With Render’s big win, we’re seeing the simplification of one of the most complex workflows that sit at the core of the myriad libraries, languages, and utilities that developers use: cloud deployment workflows. If the sexy startups in AI, B2C, and Robotics that normally win Tech Crunch are like striking gold, then Developer Tools are the shovels that you will always need in order to dig. It doesn’t sound as cool — but, they are 100% necessary for you to do anything. And the better your shovel, the more digging you can do, the more likely you are to make a fortune.
Selling shovels in a goldrush is a lucrative business for entrepreneurs and investors. Twilio, a cloud messaging platform that created an API to send text messages to users, is worth over US$ 13 billion as a floated company. Heroku, a cloud development platform that supports multiple programming languages, was sold to Salesforce for US$ 212 mm having raised just US$ 13 mm in venture capital. But fundamentally, the design of a ‘shovel’ hasn’t changed in the last decade. We are still approaching developer workflows more or less the same way, with the core challenges of overwhelming options, poor collaborative workflows, and complex deployment systems still to be overcome.
Enter the bulldozer.
A bulldozer takes the basic mechanics of the shovel and adds a bunch of hardened machinery to automate steps and allow the digger to focus on, well, digging. The Developer Tool equivalent would be:
- Programming languages and solutions agnostic
- Anti-fragile; can deal with the flux of new technologies
- UI-based approach focused on simplifying cloud workflows
Companies like Render and my own, KintoHub, are inventing intuitive, yet immensely powerful, cloud bulldozers in the world of Developer Tools. These tools will inevitably become the backbone of businesses delivering the best quality value to customers faster than the competition.
Cloud Bulldozers (Maybe I should trademark this?) act as a foundation in the cloud and empower teams to deliver features and fixes with less effort than ever before. With microservices and serverless functions, teams don’t have to worry about how new languages or technologies could break workflows, but can quickly and simply introduce new languages and tools into their products. If we can build solutions faster, the world should be able to focus on innovating versus wasting time rebuilding the same foundational requirements of getting an idea out to market.
In summary, “Cloud Bulldozers” focus on simplifying complexities without compromising power in the world of software engineering. This is why I believe Render won Tech Crunch Disrupt this year. The judges understand the pain in their own companies and desperately want a solution.
I’m reminded of an article I read a few years ago about the great unbundling of Craiglist. In this article, the author points out that each of the categories on Craigslist has created dozens of billion-dollar businesses. For example, Airbnb for couch-surfing, TaskRabbit for household services, Github for social coding, Chegg for tutoring, etc… Essentially, an aggregated tool was ‘unfolded’ into dozens of vertical-focused businesses.
Much has changed since this article was written. Most of the startups that attempted an unbundling of Craigslist have failed. The true survivors (which are more valuable than ever) were the more broad-stroke platforms, such as Airbnb, Indeed, Upwork, Thumbtack and Nextdoor that focused on categories.
My prediction is that the opposite is going to happen for Developer Tools. Today, the ecosystem of developer tools is very niche-focused and incredibly complex — you’d need a hundred Craigslist home pages to cover the tools that are out there. I believe that trusted businesses will leverage the latest-and-greatest technologies across categories, such as cloud deployment workflows, to abstract away the pain of constantly using the next language or tool and to instead focus on building things. And by the way, the landscape of developer tools is far more crazy than Craigslist’s home page.
Although abstracting the cloud is a massive step to making life easier for businesses, I believe there are still many challenges that we have to confront and overcome in order to get teams synced and in flow, regardless of the pace-of-development in the dev tool ecosystem. In my next article, I’d like to share my thoughts on startups that are building bulldozers — what they do well and why you might want to take a look at them.
Thanks for reading! Shortly, I’ll be posting a second article around these problems and with the hope of advocating solutions around maximizing developer velocity which leads to happy teams and unlocking new innovations.