There are many trends and cycles of computing that I’ve long observed or participated in as a technologist and investor — from the evolution of SaaS and the advance of cloud computing to the commoditization of infrastructure. Sometimes, however, the trends you watch combine in unexpected, and surprising, ways — and often, that combination is where the real innovation is at…
Take microservices, which are a more modular, independently deployable approach to developing software systems compared to monolithic architectures. Or take the rise of computing at the edge, which moves cloud computing closer to endpoints and users. And then take the rise of the developer and Git ecosystem over the past decade — with it, Github has become far more than a source code management/ version-control tool to a critical social and collaboration network for developers.
Each one of the above trends are important by themselves, and may therefore seem self-evident (and even obvious) to those studying the evolution of computing or watching the space. But when you combine these trends, they can help us move to yet another new and better way of doing things. Enter Netlify, a SaaS platform that enables web developers to build, publish, and maintain modern websites — more suited for our real-time, mobile-centric, distributed world today — through a “decoupled web” that isn’t hog-tied to legacy monolithic infrastructure. It’s ridiculous that the web is still clinging on to monolithic backends — with their high costs, slower speeds, and huge surface area for attacks — in an age of microservices.
By using microservices to help create faster, more secure, and more flexible websites/apps, we can bypass the static server-side approach. Netlify does this by “prebuilding” sites — abstracting to the visitor’s browser, which in turn deals directly with any needed microservices — instead of building them every single time there is a visitor. But the other genius of the approach is that developers can now choose from a growing list of third-party services delivered through APIs on the client side, enabling them to do, well, almost everything all in one place. They can just focus on the frontend and let Netlify do the rest.
Decoupling the frontend and backend in this way — moving the UI and any necessary real-time processing closer to the edge — gives applications the simplicity of the web with the fidelity of a mobile app. Back in the day, Sun Microsystems’ John Gage used to say “the network is where it’s at”; now, I’d argue, the “edge is where it’s at”. To me, it’s part of a broader trend of services at the edge.
Besides the performance advantages, though, Netlify makes web application development and collaboration so much easier and extends developer workflows overall by integrating with Git and Github. But the founders had yet another clever insight here: Using the Github database as a repository for holding content a eliminates the need for databases on websites altogether. Github becomes the de facto content management system or CMS. Take it a step further: when you store information this way, building and deploying applications involves just a few clicks without requiring developers to build everything themselves. The benefits of this cascade all the way from developers and the entire web ecosystem to all kinds of companies and users.
It’s these three things — using microservices and APIs to build more flexible, dynamic websites; deploying to the edge to create a more high-performance end-user experience; and integrating with Github to easily create and manage the application — that give Netlify co-founders Christian Bach and Mathias Christensen their “superpowers”. It’s also what gave me the “aha” moment when they presented to our team one Monday morning several months ago; I went from being merely interested to being blown away! While I’d seen or would have conceived of maybe one of these things, combining them all together and managing them all in one place was sheer genius. Until now, the industry has been suffering from fragmented workflows, difficulty accommodating infrastructure, and lack of a proper ecosystem of services — Netlify is the first such complete platform of its kind. It’s combinatorial innovation in action.
By the end of the meeting, I practically jumped out of my chair. Especially when I learned that the team already had 75,000 developers, growing at about 200 per day. Today, over 100,000 developers use Netlify, growing over 300 per day — running over 300,000 web projects and delivering 2.5 billion web requests a month. All this, on seed funding alone.
There are over 300M websites deployed every year; most of those sites and webapps could be on Netlify. That’s why I’m excited to lead the next stage of investment from Andreessen Horowitz. Netlify is creating a new, necessary, “hybrid” category in the evolution of computing and software as a service: It completely changes the way websites are built by providing both an infrastructure platform and an automation platform for building and deploying the modern open web. It’s literally the next generation, perhaps the holy grail, in web and application design.