The economic downturn prompted a hiring slowdown across the tech industry, forcing CTOs — and the teams that they manage — to do more with less. It's particularly put the microscope on developers where it concerns efficiency. Google CEO Sundar Pichai recently said that productivity is “not where it needs to be,” while Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg upped performance goals to weed out employees he believes “shouldn't be [there].”
A decent chunk of developers' time is spent on internal tooling, including building admin dashboards, report-generating systems and data pipelines. And it's here where there's a meaningful opportunity to cut down on repetitive, manual programming work, according to Brad Menezes. He's the CEO of Superblocks, a recently launched platform that provides building blocks to create custom internal apps, workflows and scheduled jobs.
The data is a bit hard to come by, but — to Menezes's point — internal tools appear to cost companies a lot of time and resources. Retool, a Superblocks competitor, found in a recent survey that developers spend more than 30% of their time building internal apps. Interestingly, the respondents said that the pandemic led to an increase in time spent on internal tools, perhaps because employers had to quickly adjust their tech stacks to remote and hybrid work setups.
“As developers ourselves, my cofounder, Ran Ma, and I faced the pain of building internal tools over and over at every company we worked at, and came to realize that the fundamental building blocks are largely the same,” Menezes told TechCrunch in an email interview. “Software is eating every business process, and custom internal software has become incredibly expensive to build, arduous to maintain and difficult to secure. We built Superblocks to free developers from spending time on time-intensive custom internal tooling infrastructure so that they can focus entirely on the user experience … unique to their business.”
Prior to co-founding Superblocks, Menezes was a lead product manager at Yelp and senior director of product management at Datadog, as well as an angel investor in enterprise startups at Sequoia. Ma was previously a senior engineer at Morgan Stanley before co-founding Supportive, a help desk software-as-a-service startup, and joining Confluent as an engineering lead.
True to its dev-simplifying mission, Superblocks delivers tools to build apps, workflows and jobs connected to enterprise data sources. Using a drag-and-drop interface, users can build apps like database admin panels and order management screens with business logic (e.g., “When a new support ticket is created, send it to Slack”), integrating data from databases, internal APIs and elsewhere.
Scheduled jobs in Superblocks execute every minute, hour, day, week or month to automate tasks like emailing reports, while apps created with the platform can be monitored with existing tools like Datadog and Grafana. Workflows can be programmed to trigger automations when customers take actions in-app, such as tapping on an alert.
“CTOs are always looking for ways to allocate more engineering time towards their differentiated customer-facing product, but often get pulled back into internal tooling because it’s the only way for operations to scale with business growth. As developers' salaries rise and customer support costs grow to meet ever-increasing customer expectations, the cost of building, maintaining and securing internal apps is at an all time high,” Menezes said. “Superblocks is an accelerant for building internal apps.”
Certainly, expenses are a concern for companies with lots of internal tooling. According to Retool's back-of-the-envelop math, the cost of maintaining internal apps can exceed $8.2 million a year for a company with over 1,000 employees. That's because more than half of companies have at least one full-time employee dedicated to building and maintaining internal tools, Retool data shows — and developer salaries run high.
But just because a company seeks out a faster, cheaper way doesn't mean that they'll choose Superblocks. Rivals include Appsmith, Snapboard, and Airplane. Several have substantial venture backing; the aforementioned Retool raised $45 million at a $3.2 billion valuation in July.
Menezes says he thinks about the competitive landscape in three ways: build-it-yourself, legacy incumbents and low-code startups. Legacy incumbents necessarily have large professional services teams to configure on-prem software, while startups, he argues, are largely focused on business users as opposed to developers.
“Superblocks [allows] much greater customization, performance and integrations with business systems,” Menezes said. “In today’s macroeconomic environment, with the tech industry facing a hiring slowdown in recent months, the business has only accelerated as organizations scramble to increase developer efficiency resulting in thousands of apps, workflows and jobs growing over 30% month over month.”
Superblocks — which offers both a fully managed service and a hybrid model with open source, self-hosted packages — claims to have “hundreds” of customers, including Motive, Payhawk, Clearco, Papaya Global and Alchemy, who Menezes says are most frequently using the platform to automate customer support operations. Investors were evidently encouraged by the financials, which Menezes declined to disclose — Superblocks today closed a $37 million funding round from Kleiner Perkins, Greenoaks, Spark and Meritech as well as the co-founders and founders of Airtable, Twilio, Okta, Confluent, Firebase, Instacart, Fivetran, Box, Yelp and DocuSign.
“The recent market volatility has caused a hiring slowdown across the tech industry, forcing CTOs to achieve more with less. This has caused a refocus on developer efficiency which is driving enormous demand for Superblocks, especially in operationally intensive businesses,” Menezes continued. “This … fundraise enables us to invest in products to meet the immense customer demand we’re seeing. We will invest deeply into our core products, launch new ones and continue to invest in our world-class engineering support that our customers rave about.”