Fly.io co-founder and CEO Kurt Mackey says developers don’t really understand the term edge computing. They just know they want to run their applications closer to the user to make them more responsive. He believes that the traditional way of doing this with a content delivery network (CDN) is a flawed approach, and he started Fly.io to deliver applications close to the user in a more efficient way.
Today, the company announced a $25 million Series B that it closed in June, and also publicly unveiled a $12 million Series A that it first raised last August.
The best way to think about Fly is a new kind of public application delivery cloud that delivers applications around the world, wherever the end user is. It’s not about building your own data centers, at least not yet, but it does require installing hardware in various co-location facilities around the world.
“So we deploy our own hardware. We are not built on others [clouds]. Developers build applications, especially real-time applications where the response to user interactions is very important. So basically they’re using us to just ship their stack to whatever country they’re in,” Mackey explained.
If that sounds like a CDN like Cloudflare or Akamai to you, Mackey sees a big difference between what his company does and this approach. “My hot take is that a CDN is kind of a misfit for most developers who build dynamic applications because what happens is you end up running your app in Virginia and then put some of it on the CDN which is then close to the users, rather than just putting the application itself where it needs to go,” he said.
Launched in 2017, the company has spent a lot of time refining the process of deploying the hardware where it’s needed, and Mackey believes he can continue to scale from those lessons as the company grows. In fact, he sees this more as an operational problem than a financial one, getting enough money to fund the hardware.
“We have currently implemented several hundred thousand apps. And the types of users that use us today are like small teams of developers running a full-stack app in a database. They might use 50-100 gigabytes of data, but it’s easy to size because the servers we buy are so huge that we can support many of those customers with the original setup.”
The company helps the developers deploy the applications where needed. He says the founders grew up with Heroku and they’ve tried to use that as a reference point when building the software side of the company. “The way you deploy an app is very similar to Heroku. You download the CLI, then you run fly launch and if all goes well, your app will be packaged and deployed to our cloud,” he said.
Mackey previously founded a company called MongoHQ, which later changed its name to Compose before being sold to IBM in 2015. Despite being a veteran founder with an exit under his belt, he and his co-founders went through Y Combinator in the winter of 2020. He says he has benefited more from the experience than he thought he would. “I went in a little arrogant, and as soon as I started talking to the partners there, I realized they knew so much more than I did, because [they have dealt with] thousands of companies, and their advice was incredibly helpful,” he said.
When the company got out of Y Combinator and started talking to investors in the 2020 time frame, most thought the idea of deploying their own physical hardware was silly, but they got on it because they saw it was less expensive than the running Amazon EC2 instances, and they were building a system that would help them better control costs.
The company currently has about 35 employees and is hiring. Mackey says he’s put a lot of thought into building a more diverse workforce, while acknowledging that it’s easier said than done.
“I think we did a few things right to make progress, but I also think that as I got older I realized that this is a priority that remains important but will never be resolved,” he said. . One thing his company has done is instead of hiring the most experienced engineers it can find, it looks at people from different backgrounds and then takes advantage of seeing these differences in perspective.
“I’d say the one thing we’ve done really well this time around is just being good at technical management and giving people a place where they can start early and then progress.”
The company’s $25 million Series B was led by Andreessen Horowitz with help from Intel Capital, Dell Technologies Capital, Initialized Capital and Planetscale CEO Sam Lambert. The Series A was led by Intel Capital.