The economic downturn has slowed hiring in the tech industry, forcing CTOs — and the teams they manage — to do more with less. In particular, it puts the microscope on developers when it comes to efficiency. Google CEO Sundar Pichai recently said productivity “isn’t where it needs to be,” while Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg raised performance targets to eliminate employees he believes “shouldn’t be.” [there].”
A significant portion of developers’ time is spent on internal tooling, including building administrative dashboards, report-generating systems, and data pipelines. And it’s here where there’s a meaningful opportunity to reduce repetitive, manual programming, according to Brad Menezes. He is the CEO of Superblocks, a recently launched platform that provides building blocks to create custom internal apps, workflows, and scheduled tasks.
The data is a little hard to come by, but — according to Menezes — internal tools seem to cost companies a lot of time and resources. Retool, a competitor to Superblocks, found in a recent study that developers spend more than 30% of their time building internal apps. Interestingly, respondents said the pandemic has led to an increase in time spent on internal tools, perhaps because employers had to quickly adapt their tech stacks to remote and hybrid work setups.
“As developers, my co-founder, Ran Ma, and I faced the pain of building in-house tools over and over at every company we worked at, and came to realize that building fundamental blocks are largely the same,” Menezes told TechCrunch in an email interview. “Software devours every business process and custom in-house software has become incredibly expensive to build, difficult to maintain and difficult to secure. we built super blocks to free developers from time-consuming, custom-built in-house tooling infrastructure, so they can fully focus on the user experience… unique to their business.”
Prior to co-founding Superblocks, Menezes was a principal 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 mission of simplifying developers, Superblocks delivers tools to build apps, workflows, and tasks connected to corporate data sources. Using a drag-and-drop interface, users can build apps such as database management 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 tasks in Superblocks run every minute, hour, day, week, or month to automate tasks such as emailing reports, while apps created with the platform can be monitored using existing tools such as Datadog and Grafana. Workflows can be programmed to trigger automations when customers take in-app actions, such as tapping an alert.
“CTOs are always looking for ways to allocate more engineering time to their differentiated customer-facing product, but are often withdrawn from in-house tooling because it’s the only way operations can grow with business growth. As developer salaries rise and customer support costs grow to meet ever-increasing customer expectations, the costs to build, maintain, and secure internal apps are at an all-time high,” said Menezes. “Superblocks is an accelerator for building internal apps.”
Certainly, expenses are a concern for companies with a lot of internal tooling. According to Retool’s back-of-the-envelope math, the cost of maintaining internal apps can exceed $8.2 million per year for a company with more than 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, data from Retool shows, and developer salaries are running high.
But just because a company is looking for a faster, cheaper way doesn’t mean they will choose Superblocks. Rivals include Appsmith, Snapboard, and Airplane. Several have significant corporate support; the aforementioned Retool raised $45 million in July at a valuation of $3.2 billion.
Menezes says he thinks about the competitive landscape in three ways: DIY, legacy incumbents, and low-code startups. Legacy incumbents necessarily have large professional services teams to configure on-prem software, while startups, he argues, largely target business users rather than developers.
“Superblocks [allows] much more customization, performance and integrations with business systems,” says Menezes. “In the current macroeconomic environment, where the tech industry has faced a slowdown in hiring in recent months, the business has only accelerated as organizations strive to increase developer efficiency, leading to thousands of apps, workflows and jobs growing by more than 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 clients, including Motive, Payhawk, Clearco, Papaya Global, and Alchemy, which Menezes says are the most widely used. platform to automate customer support activities. Investors were clearly encouraged by the financial numbers, which Menezes declined to disclose — Superblocks today closed a $37 million financing round from Kleiner Perkins, Greenoaks, Spark and Meritech, as well as Airtable co-founders and founders, Twilio, Okta, Confluent, Firebase, Instacart, Fivetran, Box, Yelp and DocuSign.
“Recent market volatility has slowed hiring in the tech industry, forcing CTOs to achieve more with less. This has led to a refocus on developer efficiency, driving a huge demand for Superblocks, especially in operational intensive companies,” continues Menezes. “This … fundraiser allows us to invest in products that meet the massive customer demand we see. We will invest deeply in our core products, launch new ones and continue to invest in our world-class technical support that our customers love.”