Dev

Former Node leader takes big money, launches Node startup

Image Credit: Isaac Schlueter

$2.6 million is a pretty hefty seed round. But given this startup’s provenance, it makes perfect sense.

“Everybody told me that raising would take forever, but it actually happened pretty fast,” Npm, Inc. COO Rod Boothby told VentureBeat in a recent interview.

The speed was thanks to Node’s white-hot status among developers and investors — and the stellar Node pedigree of the company’s founding team.

The term sheet, Boothby said, came together between November 2013 and January 2014. That’s lightning speed.

Investors are churning around developer tools these days as software makers gain more and more control and mindshare in an increasingly crowded universe of data and devices. Node is one of the most popular programming technologies around, and npm, the Node packaged modules, are what make Node work.

“Node.js itself is around 140,000 lines of code, and all the packages have over a billion lines of code,” Boothby explained.

“The genius behind Isaac’s design of npm is that it solves dependencies, a longtime problem in computer science. … And anyone can publish right away. There’s no friction in the community to change the core; you just add what you want with the Node packages. It’s like assembling Lego.”

He’s referring to Isaac Schlueter, the guy who stepped in and led Node when its creator backed out a couple of years back. He created npm and worked at Joyent, the corporate steward of Node.js.

“npm is absolutely critical to Node.js’s success and the success of the Node ecosystem,” said Schlueter. “I’m not going to be modest: It’s one of Node’s killer features; it’s created the explosion around Node. You don’t have to get approval from a cabal of developers to get your stuff up and running.”

Npm-the-company is now the corporate entity building large-scale support for npm-the-technology.

“Our goal is … to build products and services for enterprise users,” said Schlueter. “One of the reasons we closed funding so quickly is because at Node Summit all the big companies talked about npm and some of the difficulties with it. … Everyone wants what we’re building.”

To build out the tech, Schlueter & co. have teamed up with a roster of Node superheroes and nerd celebrities: Raquel Vélez, CJ Silverio, Jacques Marneweck. In spite of the cash influx, Npm will not be hiring before product development kicks off, Schlueter said.

The round was led by True Ventures with participation from well known angels and Node heavyweights. For example, longtime Node users MacDonald and Gavin Uhma, who cofounded GoInstant.com (acquired by Salesforce) got in on the action. So did WordPress creator Matt Mullenweg and Charles Beeler and all the other folks who run Node Summit.

Of course, now that there’s outside cheddar involved, Schlueter has to start thinking about exit options.

Funny story: He actually got an offer to hand over the Npm IP for a bonus when he joined Joyent — an offer he obviously turned down. When I asked if he’d ever allow Npm, Inc. to be acquired by Joyent, I got a round of laughs from the cofounders.

“I suspect we’ll be acquired eventually, but Joyent’s not high on my list,” Schlueter said.

“When it comes to the stuff we’re building, it’s more of a social product rather than just a technology play. It’s not really in Joyent’s wheelhouse. … There’s other companies I have in mind.”

But first, the profitability. As with any open-source technology, bringing paid options into a free-for-all system can introduce a certain amount of awkwardness.

“There’s always the danger that the intrinsic motivations get screwy. I don’t want our community to go sour by introducing money into the equation in a reckless way,” Schlueter concluded.

“It’s important to us that this is done correctly. … I think it’s reasonable that we’ll turn a profit this year. Most startups spend a year or two implementing an idea and then figuring out whether people want it or not. With Npm, people are already demanding to give us money for what we’ve got. It’s a little bit of a race.”

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