Wednesday, 9 August 2017

Tech: A hot startup is using $12 million from Andreessen Horowitz to pursue a 'holy grail' of web technology

Netlify cofounders Mathias Biilmann (left) and Christian Bach (right)

Netlify, a startup making it super-easy for programmers to deploy websites, has taken in $12 million.

* Netlify has landed $12 million in funding in a round led by Andreessen Horowitz.

* The startup is on the cutting edge of web development, letting programmers instantly deploy super-fast websites with a click.

* Andreessen Horowitz General Partner Peter Levine will join the company's board.

Sometimes, less is more.

For the last decade or more, most major webpages have been designed to be dynamic — they rely on a complicated system of code and databases to offer a super-interactive experience. Facebook's site, for example, relies on a complex system based largely on PHP and other "server-side" programming languages.

The problem with these dynamic sites is that complexity often brings a whole new set of headaches: All of that code can be slow to load, plus all the various moving parts leave bigger gaps for bad guys to potentially sneak in. It requires a lot of management, but it's just the tradeoff for building modern websites.

Now, some developers are finding that there might be a better way — "static" websites, with less code and fewer components. These "static" sites load faster, are more secure, and can handle more visitors. And thanks to some advancements in web technology, the tradeoffs for a static site are fewer than ever before.

Which takes us to Netlify, a startup that's trying to spark this revolution by making it easier than ever for programmers to build a static website. Over the last two years, Netlify has attracted over 100,000 developers at companies like Facebook, Google, and NBC.

Today, Netlify announced that it's raised $12 million in new investment capital in a funding round led by Andreessen Horowitz. Peter Levine, a partner at Andreessen Horowitz, is joining the startup's board of directors.

The goal is nothing less than changing how websites are built entirely: "This should be the default," says Netlify co-founder Christian Bach.

Dynamic past

Bach and his cofounder Mathias Biilmann are old friends who actually grew up together in Denmark. Both of them entered the world of web development in the 2000s, and both of them quickly got disillusioned with the state of website development.

"I was really suffering from the issues of the legacy web," says Bach.

All of the headaches of building dynamic websites were getting worse, not better, he says. Websites were getting bigger and slower, with more effort needed to ride herd on them.

Over the last few years, though, things have changed. The rise of companies like Stripe and Twilio meant that companies no longer had to build their own systems for accepting payments or sending text messages on their websites; they just had to pay for a subscription and "snap" those services into their sites.

Developers also began to "decouple" their applications, breaking one big app into a bunch of smaller ones that are loaded only when needed. That trend is called "microservices."

The net effect is that websites don't need to carry so much baggage anymore. A site can just be a bunch of basic HTML — which loads faster and is more secure — and still offer all the bells and whistles. In recognition of this trend, Biilmann and Bach formed Netlify, and created the solution to their own biggest problem.

Static cling

What Netlify, specifically, does, is let programmers deploy their static websites from their existing code with just a click. And when the website goes up, it's hosted on what's called a "content delivery network," (CDN) the same kind of system that Netflix and Amazon use to make their videos load lightning-fast.

Netlify has a CDN of its own design, intended to make sure these sites load as quickly as possible. Better yet, developers can get started for free.

Peter Levine, the Andreessen Horowitz general partner joining the Netlify board, says that in many ways, what Netlify offers is the "holy grail of web development and application development."

It's easy for developers to use, easy for them to make changes to their sites, and provides way better performance than the established way of doing things. Developers are already taking advantage of this "microservices approach," Levine praises Netlify for simplifying that process.

As far as business model, co-founder Biilmann says that the plan is to keep marketing Netlify to developers: "You sort of acquire them like consumers, but they spend like enterprise," he says.



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