While it might not seem so to outsiders, Y Combinator’s new Developer Tools Request for Startups (RFS) is a big deal. (Editor’s note: The deadline to apply is tomorrow.) This is a request from one of the biggest tech incubators for startups that make developer tools, and it’s an important sign of the increasing value and prominence of developer products and the companies behind them. And I’m thrilled about it.
When Adam, Orion, and I founded Heroku, we were one of the earliest developer product companies to go through YC. It was critical for us: We wouldn’t be where we are without it, and I can’t recommend it enough.
Since then, many great developer companies have come out of YC, including Stripe, PagerDuty, Docker, Meteor, CoreOS, Firebase, Parse, Cloudkick, Zencoder, Light Table, Circle CI, and Rainforest, just to name a few.
Founders of developer-focused startups often ask if YC is a good fit for them. The answer is yes: At that early stage, the value YC provides is huge and is very similar across company types.
It’s after they get past their seed funding that things become different for these companies as they realize they face a unique set of challenges that other startups don’t. This is why I created Heavybit as a sort of grad school to YC’s undergrad — it’s narrowly focused and later stage.
From Heroku to Heavybit
At Heroku, we had to transition developers to a new model of agile and continuous development, get people sold on the idea of the cloud, warm people up to a new on-demand SaaS business model, figure out how to translate happy developers into enterprise sales, and convince investors there was serious money to be made in the dev-tools business. It was tough.
Having also been an investor, advisor, and board member of many of these companies, it was clear that not only do they face unique challenges, but that there’s a right way to build a developer-focused company.
Heavybit’s nine-month program is designed to help post-seed companies like Rainforest (YC Winter 2013), Apiary, and Librato and their older counterparts like Stripe (YC Spring 2010), PagerDuty (YC Spring 2010), and Meteor (YC Spring 2011), get traction with developers, grow their team, harden their technology, create their go-to-market strategy, and attract meaningful customers.
Even though there’s a generation of mentors and advisors who’ve already seen significant wins with developer companies, there’s a lack of community and surprisingly poor transmission of learnings. We’re aiming to address this with Heavybit’s library and curriculum aimed squarely at founders of developer-focused companies.
The rise of developer products
Developer productivity has never been more valuable. Building quality software quickly has become a competitive advantage for every business, and this move toward continuous development and delivery of software is creating opportunities for new solutions throughout the developer’s toolchain.
Products like Apiary allow developers at Microsoft to quickly design and build new APIs and keep code and documentation always up to date. Rainforest provides sophisticated quality assurance to prevent bugs from being introduced into AirBnB or Zenefits. And PagerDuty is relied on 24/7 for incident response by the DevOps teams at Pinterest, Wikipedia, and Evernote.
Developer products can be anything from programming, workflow, and collaboration tools to platforms and infrastructure for building, testing, deploying, and running software. These products are high leverage, high scale, and super valuable. They’re the foundations on which everything else is built — the heavy industries of the software supply chain.
Developer tools will shape the world
YC’s new RFS is both evidence of how important these companies are, and that YC wants to work with them. And it’s no mystery why: several of YC’s top 10 exits to date have been developer companies (Zencoder, Cloudkick, Parse, and Heroku which until 6 weeks ago was YC’s largest exit).
This is the era of designing “by developers for developers:” There has never been a better time to start one of these companies. If you’re a developer with an entrepreneurial itch and you’ve got an idea for a product you wish you had, start a startup and build it.
The future is made of software, and the products developers use have a dramatic impact on the kinds of software being built. Developer tools will shape the world.
James Lindenbaum is the founder of Heavybit — a 9-month program for post-seed funded companies building developer-facing products. Prior to founding Heavybit, Lindenbaum co-founded Heroku, a YC company which was acquired by Salesforce.com in 2010.
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