For most of the past decade, the founders of development software startup Convex have worked at Dropbox, where they helped achieve the staggering feat of migrating billions and billions of gigabytes of user files from the cloud to Amazon to an internal system they built. Now they have grown weary of the limitations of this technology. “We’ve built some of the biggest databases in the world, and even now we’re convinced that they’re not the right tool for most people’s jobs,” says co-founder and CEO Jamie Turner.
Seizing on a wave that propelled Netlify and Vercel last year to billion-dollar valuations, Convex has the idea of simplifying web development under the hood – often a patchwork of databases and servers – by not no longer relying on databases. The San Francisco-based startup announced Wednesday that it has raised $25.7 million in a Series A funding round led by Andreessen Horowitz, with participation from Netlify and existing investors including Neo and l solo investor Elad Gil. The round values the one-and-a-half-year-old startup at $128 million and Andreessen Horowitz’s partner Martin Casado joins the board.
Web development has become more accessible with the emergence of Netlify and Vercel, which make software that separates front-end programming from the back-end. This means that developers can now create websites and applications without skills under the hood. Nevertheless, behind-the-scenes engineers are needed to ensure that the customer-facing product functions properly. “You’ll find that in many companies, especially as they mature, 30% or 40% of their workforce may be engineers who aren’t really working on anything the customer sees,” Turner says.
Convex’s software is intended to give frontend engineers backend capabilities by taking on a difficult backend task: managing the “state” of an application. Casado gives an example: consider a chess application in which two people compete, one in Europe and the other in the United States. The application should display the shared chessboard, statistics and other features in real time to both users by transmitting data across the world so that the “state” is correctly aligned. For more complex use cases, with more users, state management can be tedious, especially since it has often been assembled using technologies not designed for this purpose. “Databases are used to put a bunch of data and make queries,” says Casado. “They are not designed for overall state management.”
Turner and Dropbox teammates James Cowling (now Convex CTO) and Sujay Jayakar (Chief Scientist) launched the company in late 2020 and announced their Neo-led seed funding last November at a “ party night” with some 80 angel investors, including Casado. . The A-series arrives while the company is still in the pre-revenue phase with a product undergoing beta testing, which Turner says is currently open to hundreds of developers, most of them “enthusiasts” or “hobbyists” working on side projects. Letting these people in first is Convex’s business strategy: spreading the word among developers who could then evangelize the product to the companies where they work. The startup plans to offer both a free product for individuals and a paid version with enterprise-grade features. This “bottom-up” approach mirrors that of Netlify and GitHub before it – both companies have succeeded and now derive more than half of their revenue from enterprise clients.
But, Convex has a long way to go before the product is ready for the kind of use that Turner hopes will one day allow social networks, dating apps, and business processes like inventory management to be powered by convex. So far, the software only works on top of Amazon Web Services (the goal is to go multi-cloud in the future) and Turner expects the general release won’t be available until August or September. As for corporate clients, its timeline to start doing business is a year from now.
Convex will be in a race against time against other budding startups that have identified the same opportunity. Xata, which also offers a beta product, raised $30 million last month to build a developer-friendly database. The Canadian company ChiselStrike is even newer, but has the support of the founders of Netlify and Vercel. “Any business building a large-scale application needs something like this. Today they either do it wrong, or they have to build a back-end team, or they rely on one of the cloud services “Explains Casado. “It really is an essential tool for any application development.