The explosion of cloud computing, broadband networks, smarter devices and a fashion for building SaaS startups has created a universe of software for businesses and consumers: whatever you want or need to do, there’s an app for it, as Apple once famously did. said.
But that’s not the only game in town. A startup called Retool believes there is still a lot of miles and important work to do in the world of custom software – apps developed for a specific use and user. Since its inception in 2017, it has built more than 500,000 apps on its platform with billions of queries indicating heavy use of that software. And today, it’s announcing a sizable $45 million fundraiser at a $3.2 billion valuation to further underscore its traction in the market.
The idea with Retool, in the words of CEO and co-founder David Hsu, is that it offers “a new way of building software”.
“Our core thesis is that if you look at how software has been built over the past 20 or 30 years, it really hasn’t changed,” he said.
You sit down at your computer and type away and what you do is based on “really specialized training, specialized knowledge,” he continued, “The idea behind Retool is that maybe there could be a much faster way to build software.” Here you use drag-and-drop interfaces for key components, with code written on top “for the last 20% or 30%” of the work, resulting in something flexible and adapted to what users need.
If Retool has its way, software could indeed eat the world, but it sounds like it will come in the form of many different cuisines.
The funding, which Retool has described to me as a Series C2, comes from Sequoia Capital, Stripe’s co-founders John and Patrick Collison, GitHub’s former CEO Nat Friedman, Elad Gil, Daniel Gross and Caryn Maroony, the former VP of comms at Facebook who is now a partner at Coatue. All are previous investors in the company. The round comes on the heels of the company raising a more modest $20 million Series C (valued at $1.85 billion) in December 2021.
To date, Retool has mainly focused on a category of software commonly described as “internal apps” – not customer-facing or consumer-facing software, but tools to help people in organizations do their jobs.
Clients include many companies that you might have thought were already capable of building things like this – big tech players like Amazon and Pinterest and Coursera, as well as the NFL, NBCUniversal, and others. This latest injection will be used to double what it has done, hire more talent, create more advanced and deeper functionality, and expand geographically from its home base in San Francisco.
Retool’s core platform today is built around 90 “components” that fit together – not so much in a “low code” approach, but for software developers and engineers to take some of the basic building blocks like forms, charts and tables out of the way. . In addition, it also provides validation, accessibility, and other tools necessary to verify that everything is working properly. Then developers can connect any database or API — anything with a REST or GraphQL API, it says, as well as PostgreSQL, MongoDB, and other datastores — to finish writing the rest of the software.
Hsu’s guess is that this approach makes both building and maintaining custom software much easier. Two weeks of typical development can be reduced to one day, he said.
The focus on internal apps is interesting. In a way, this means Retool’s profile remains relatively low. Hsu said this was a strategic choice the company made, as internal apps account for more than 50% of all apps in the world, and they are exactly the use case where organizations might need a little more customization, that in a private setting. app can run. cloud, or on-premise, or just work with whatever they use on older and more modern systems.
However, it is important to note that this is not where the company sees itself in the longer term. Future plans include building functionality to allow developers to work on customer-facing apps and possibly consumer-facing products as well. The support from Stripe’s co-founders is very interesting in this regard: Stripe’s tools are designed precisely to help build those last two categories of apps.
It certainly has some existing customers who might want to take advantage of that kind of expansion should it launch. “The flexibility and ease of the Retool platform has changed the scope of our internal tools roadmap from years to months. Retool has changed the way we work,” Shon Saoji, senior engineering manager at Coursera, said in a statement to TechCrunch.
Retool’s growth and positioning is very catchy, not least because of the way it zigzags when there’s so much else out there. It’s not surprising to see Sequoia, which has put a lot of money into another anachronistic-sounding idea – a messaging app (WhatsApp) – at a time when it seemed like that space was also completely stitched up.
“Retool is at the intersection of two major trends: the rise of the developer and the increasing importance of operational excellence following a pandemic that has compressed a decade of digital transformation into two years,” said Bryan Schreier, a partner at Sequoia. “Retool enables engineers to accelerate the operations of their companies by building in-house software incredibly quickly. Retool is well positioned to define the future of internal tooling in the enterprise and, more broadly, how developers actually develop. In the face of macroeconomic uncertainty, Retool’s value proposition is even more grim.”