For the better part of the last decade, the founders of developer software startup Convex worked at Dropbox, where they helped pull off the staggering feat of migrating billions and billions of gigabytes of user files from Amazon’s cloud onto an internal system they built. Now, they’ve grown weary of the limits of that technology. “We built some of the world’s biggest databases, and even we’re convinced now that they’re not the right tool for the job for most people,” says cofounder and CEO Jamie Turner.
Seizing on a wave that last year propelled Netlify and Vercel to billion-dollar valuations, Convex has an idea to simplify web development beneath the hood—often, a patchwork of databases and servers—by no longer relying on databases at all. The San Francisco-based startup announced on Wednesday that it had raised $25.7 million in a Series A funding round led by Andreessen Horowitz, with participation from Netlify and existing investors including Neo and solo investor Elad Gil. The round values the 1.5-year-old startup at $128 million and Andreessen Horowitz partner Martin Casado joins the board.
Web development has become more accessible by the emergence of Netlify and Vercel, which make software that separates the front end programming from the back end. That means developers can now make websites and apps without proficiency under the hood. Still, behind-the-scenes engineers are necessary to ensure the customer-facing product is running properly. “You’ll find that in many companies, especially as they mature, 30% or 40% of their headcount could be engineers that are not really working on anything the customer sees,” Turner says.
Convex’s software is meant to give frontend engineers some backend capabilities by taking care of one difficult backend task—managing the “state” of an app. Casado gives an example: consider a chess app in which two individuals are facing off, one from Europe and another in the United States. The app must display to both users the shared chessboard, statistics and other features in real time by transmitting data across the globe so that the “state” is properly aligned. For more complex use cases, with more users, state management can be cumbersome—especially as it often has been stitched together using tech not built for this purpose. “Databases are for putting a bunch of data in and doing queries,” Casado says. “They are not built for global state management.”
Turner and Dropbox teammates James Cowling (now Convex’s chief technology officer) and Sujay Jayakar (chief scientist) launched the company in late 2020 and announced their Neo-led seed financing last November in a “party round” with some 80 angel investors, including Casado. The Series A comes while the company is still pre-revenue 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: spread word among developers who might then evangelize the product to the companies where they work. The startup plans to offer both a free product to individuals, and a paid version with enterprise-grade features. This “bottoms up” approach mirrors that of Netlify, and GitHub before it—both companies were successful in their bet and now bring in more than half of their revenue from enterprise customers.
But, Convex has much to do before the product is ready for the type of usage that Turner hopes will one day enable social networks, dating apps and business processes like inventory management to be powered by Convex. The software so far only works on top of Amazon Web Services (the aim is to become multi-cloud in the future) and Turner anticipates that the general release will not come until around August or September. As for enterprise customers, his timeline to start closing deals is one year away.
Convex will be in a race against the clock versus other budding startups that have identified the same opportunity. Xata, which also has a beta product, raised $30 million last month to create a database tailored for developers. Canada-based ChiselStrike is even newer but has backing from the founders of both Netlify and Vercel. “Any company building an app to scale needs something like this. Today, they either do it poorly, or they have to build a backend team, or they’ll rely on one of the cloud services,” says Casado. “This really is a core enabler to any app development.”