Jan
15
2021
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Twilio CEO Jeff Lawson says wisdom lies with your developers

Twilio CEO Jeff Lawson knows a thing or two about unleashing developers. His company has garnered a market cap of almost $60 billion by creating a set of tools to make it easy for programmers to insert a whole host of communications functionality into an application with a couple of lines of code. Given that background, perhaps it shouldn’t come as a surprise that Lawson has written a book called “Ask Your Developer,” which hit the stores this week.

Lawson’s basic philosophy is that if you can build it, you should.

Lawson’s basic philosophy in the book is that if you can build it, you should. In every company, there is build versus buy calculus that goes into every software decision. Lawson believes deeply that there is incredible power in building yourself instead of purchasing something off the shelf. By using components like the ones from his company, and many others delivering specialized types functionality via API, you can build what your customers need instead of just buying what the vendors are giving you.

While Lawson recognizes this isn’t always possible, he says that by asking your developers, you can begin to learn when it makes sense to build and when it doesn’t. These discussions should stem from customer problems and companies should seek digital solutions with the input of the developer group.

Building great customer experiences

Lawson posits that you can build a better customer experience because you understand your customers so much more  acutely than a generic vendor ever could. “Basically, what you see happening across nearly every industry is that the companies that are able to listen to their customers and hear what the customers need and then build really great digital products and experiences — well, they tend to win the hearts, minds and wallets of their customers,” Lawson told me in an interview about the book this week.

Billboard for book Ask your Developer by Jeff Lawson, CEO of Twilio

Image Credits: Twilio (image has been cropped)

He says that this has caused a shift in how companies perceive IT departments. They have gone from cost centers that provision laptops and buy HR software to something more valuable, helping produce digital products that have a direct impact on the business’s bottom line.

He uses banking as an example in the book. It used to be you judged a bank by a set of criteria like how nice the lobby was, if the tellers were friendly and if they gave your kid a free lollipop. Today, that’s all changed and it’s all about the quality of the mobile app.

“Nowadays your bank is a mobile app and you like your bank if the software is fast, if it is bug free and if they regularly update it with new features and functionality that makes your life better [ … ]. And that same transformation has been happening in nearly every industry and so when you think about it, you can’t buy differentiation if every bank just bought the same mobile app from some vendor and just off the shelf deployed it,” he said.

Jan
05
2021
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How Segment redesigned its core systems to solve an existential scaling crisis

Segment, the startup Twilio bought last fall for $3.2 billion, was just beginning to take off in 2015 when it ran into a scaling problem: It was growing so quickly, the tools it had built to process marketing data on its platform were starting to outgrow the original system design.

Inaction would cause the company to hit a technology wall, managers feared. Every early-stage startup craves growth and Segment was no exception, but it also needed to begin thinking about how to make its data platform more resilient or reach a point where it could no longer handle the data it was moving through the system. It was — in a real sense — an existential crisis for the young business.

The project that came out of their efforts was called Centrifuge, and its purpose was to move data through Segment’s data pipes to wherever customers needed it quickly and efficiently at the lowest operating cost.

Segment’s engineering team began thinking hard about what a more robust and scalable system would look like. As it turned out, their vision would evolve in a number of ways between the end of 2015 and today, and with each iteration, they would take a leap in terms of how efficiently they allocated resources and processed data moving through its systems.

The project that came out of their efforts was called Centrifuge, and its purpose was to move data through Segment’s data pipes to wherever customers needed it quickly and efficiently at the lowest operating cost. This is the story of how that system came together.

Growing pains

The systemic issues became apparent the way they often do — when customers began complaining. When Tido Carriero, Segment’s chief product development officer, came on board at the end of 2015, he was charged with finding a solution. The issue involved the original system design, which like many early iterations from startups was designed to get the product to market with little thought given to future growth and the technical debt payment was coming due.

“We had [designed] our initial integrations architecture in a way that just wasn’t scalable in a number of different ways. We had been experiencing massive growth, and our CEO [Peter Reinhardt] came to me maybe three times within a month and reported various scaling challenges that either customers or partners of ours had alerted him to,” said Carriero.

The good news was that it was attracting customers and partners to the platform at a rapid clip, but it could all have come crashing down if the company didn’t improve the underlying system architecture to support the robust growth. As Carriero reports, that made it a stressful time, but having come from Dropbox, he was actually in a position to understand that it’s possible to completely rearchitect the business’s technology platform and live to tell about it.

“One of the things I learned from my past life [at Dropbox] is when you have a problem that’s just so core to your business, at a certain point you start to realize that you are the only company in the world kind of experiencing this problem at this kind of scale,” he said. For Dropbox that was related to storage, and for Segment it was processing large amounts of data concurrently.

In the build-versus-buy equation, Carriero knew that he had to build his way out of the problem. There was nothing out there that could solve Segment’s unique scaling issues. “Obviously that led us to believe that we really need to think about this a little bit differently, and that was when our Centrifuge V2 architecture was born,” he said.

Building the imperfect beast

The company began measuring system performance, at the time processing 8,442 events per second. When it began building V2 of its architecture, that number had grown to an average of 18,907 events per second.

Nov
02
2020
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Twilio wraps $3.2B purchase of Segment after warp-speed courtship

It was barely a month ago we began hearing rumors that Twilio was interested in acquiring Segment. The $3.2 billion deal was officially announced three weeks ago, and this morning the communications API company announced that the deal had closed, astonishingly fast for an acquisition of this size.

While we can’t know for sure, the speed with which the deal closed could suggest that it was in the works longer than we had known, and when we began hearing rumors of the acquisition, it could have already been signed, sealed and delivered. In addition, the fact that Twilio CEO Jeff Lawson and Segment CEO Peter Reinhardt knew one another before coming to terms might have helped accelerate the process.

Regardless, the two companies are a nice fit. Both deal with the API economy, providing a set of tools to help developers easily add a particular set of functions to their applications. For Twilio, that’s a set of communications APIs, while Segment focuses on customer data.

When you pull the two sets of tooling together, and combine that with Twilio’s 2018 SendGrid acquisition, you can see the possibility to build more complete applications for interacting with customers at every level, including basic communications like video, SMS and audio from Twilio, as well as customer data from Segment and customized emails and ads based on those interactions from SendGrid.

As companies increasingly focus on digital engagement, especially in the midst of a pandemic, Twilio’s Lawson believes the biggest roadblock to this type of engagement has been that data has been locked in silos, precisely the kind of problem that Segment has been attacking.

“With the addition of Segment, Twilio’s Customer Engagement Platform now enables companies to both understand their customer and engage with them digitally — the combination is key to building great digital experiences,” Lawson said in a statement.

In a recent post looking at the reasoning behind the deal, Brent Leary, founder and principal analyst at CRM Essentials, saw it this way: “This move allows Twilio to impact the data-insight-interaction-experience transformation process by removing friction from developers using their platform,” Leary explained.

With the deal closed, Segment will become a division of Twilio. Reinhardt will continue to be CEO, and will report directly to Lawson.

Oct
12
2020
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Twilio’s $3.2B Segment acquisition is about helping developers build data-fueled apps

The pandemic has forced businesses to change the way they interact with customers. Whether it’s how they deliver goods and services, or how they communicate, there is one common denominator, and that’s that everything is being forced to be digitally driven much faster.

To some extent, that’s what drove Twilio to acquire Segment for $3.2 billion today. (We wrote about the deal over the weekend. Forbes broke the story last Friday night.) When you get down to it, the two companies fit together well, and expand the platform by giving Twilio customers access to valuable customer data. Chee Chew, Twilio’s chief product officer, says while it may feel like the company is pivoting in the direction of customer experience, they don’t necessarily see it that way.

“A lot of people have thought about us as a communications company, but we think of ourselves as a customer engagement company. We really think about how we help businesses communicate more effectively with their customers,” Chew told TechCrunch.

Laurie McCabe, co-founder and partner at SMB Group, sees the move related to the pandemic and the need companies have to serve customers in a more fully digital way. “More customers are realizing that delivering a great customer experience is key to survive through the pandemic, and thriving as the economy recovers — and are willing to spend to do this even in uncertain times,” McCabe said.

Certainly Chew recognized that Segment gives them something they were lacking by providing developers with direct access to customer data, and that could lead to some interesting applications.

“The data capabilities that Segment has are providing a full view of the customer. It really layers across everything we do. I think of it as a horizontal add across the channels and extending beyond. So I think it really helps us advance in a different sort of way […] towards getting the holistic view of the customer and enabling our customers to build intelligence services on top,” he said.

Brent Leary, founder and principal analyst at CRM Essentials, sees Segment helping to provide a powerful data-fueled developer experience. “This move allows Twilio to impact the data-insight-interaction-experience transformation process by removing friction from developers using their platform,” Leary explained. In other words, it gives developers that ability that Chew alluded to, to use data to build more varied applications using Twilio APIs.

Paul Greenberg, author of CRM at the Speed of Light, and founder and principal analyst at 56 Group, agrees, saying, “Segment gives Twilio the ability to use customer data in what is already a powerful unified communications platform and hub. And since it is, in effect, APIs for both, the flexibility [for developers] is enormous,” he said.

That may be so, but Holger Mueller, an analyst at Constellation Research, says the company has to be seeing that the pure communication parts of the platform like SMS are becoming increasingly commoditized, and this deal, along with the SendGrid acquisition in 2018, gives Twilio a place to expand its platform into a much more lucrative data space.

“Twilio needs more growth path and it looks like its strategy is moving up the stack, at least with the acquisition of Segment. Data movement and data residence compliance is a huge headache for enterprises when they build their next generation applications,” Mueller said.

As Chew said, early on the problems were related to building SMS messages into applications and that was the problem that Twilio was trying to solve because that’s what developers needed at the time, but as it moves forward, it wants to provide a more unified customer communications experience, and Segment should help advance that capability in a big way for them.

Oct
11
2020
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Twilio is buying customer data startup Segment for between $3B and $4B

Sources have told TechCrunch that Twilio intends to acquire customer data startup Segment for between $3 and $4 billion. Forbes broke the story on Friday night, reporting a price tag of $3.2 billion.

We have heard from a couple of industry sources that the deal is in the works and could be announced as early as Monday.

Twilio and Segment are both API companies. That means they create an easy way for developers to tap into a specific type of functionality without writing a lot of code. As I wrote in a 2017 article on Segment, it provides a set of APIs to pull together customer data from a variety of sources:

Segment has made a name for itself by providing a set of APIs that enable it to gather data about a customer from a variety of sources like your CRM tool, customer service application and website and pull that all together into a single view of the customer, something that is the goal of every company in the customer information business.

While Twilio’s main focus since it launched in 2008 has been on making it easy to embed communications functionality into any app, it signaled a switch in direction when it released the Flex customer service API in March 2018. Later that same year, it bought SendGrid, an email marketing API company for $2 billion.

Twilio’s market cap as of Friday was an impressive $45 billion. You could see how it can afford to flex its financial muscles to combine Twilio’s core API mission, especially Flex, with the ability to pull customer data with Segment and create customized email or ads with SendGrid.

This could enable Twilio to expand beyond pure core communications capabilities and it could come at the cost of around $5 billion for the two companies, a good deal for what could turn out to be a substantial business as more and more companies look for ways to understand and communicate with their customers in more relevant ways across multiple channels.

As Semil Shah from early stage VC firm Haystack wrote in the company blog yesterday, Segment saw a different way to gather customer data, and Twilio was wise to swoop in and buy it.

Segment’s belief was that a traditional CRM wasn’t robust enough for the enterprise to properly manage its pipe. Segment entered to provide customer data infrastructure to offer a more unified experience. Now under the Twilio umbrella, Segment can continue to build key integrations (like they have for Twilio data), which is being used globally inside Fortune 500 companies already.

Segment was founded in 2011 and raised over $283 million, according to Crunchbase data. Its most recent raise was $175 million in April on a $1.5 billion valuation.

Twilio stock closed at $306.24 per share on Friday up $2.39%.

Segment declined to comment on this story. We also sent a request for comment to Twilio, but hadn’t heard back by the time we published.  If that changes, we will update the story.

Sep
29
2020
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How Twilio built its own conference platform

Twilio’s annual customer conference was supposed to happen in May, but like everyone else who had live events scheduled for this year, it ran smack-dab into COVID-19 and was forced to cancel. That left the company wondering how to reimagine the event online. It began an RFP process to find a vendor to help, but eventually concluded it could use its own APIs and built a platform on its own.

That’s a pretty bold move, but one of the key issues facing Twilio was how to recreate the in-person experience of the show floor where people could chat with specific API experts. After much internal deliberation, they realized that was what their communication API products were designed to do.

Once they committed to going their own way, they began a long process that involved figuring out must-have features, building consensus in the company, creating a development and testing cycle and finding third-party partnerships to help them when they ran into the limitations of their own products.

All that work culminates this week when Twilio holds its annual Signal Conference online Wednesday and Thursday. We spoke to In-Young Chang, director of experience at Twilio, to learn how this project came together.

Chang said once the decision was made to go virtual, the biggest issue for them (and for anyone putting on a virtual conference) was how to recreate that human connection that is a natural part of the in-person conference experience.

The company’s first step was to put out a request for proposals with event software vendors. She said that the problem was that these platforms hadn’t been designed for the most part to be fully virtual. At best, they had a hybrid approach, where some people attended virtually, but most were there in person.

“We met with a lot of different vendors, vendors that a lot of big tech companies were using, but there were pros to some of them, and then cons to others, and none of them truly fit everything that we needed, which was connecting our customers to product experts [like we do at our in-person conferences],” Chang told TechCrunch.

Even though they had winnowed the proposals down to a manageable few, they weren’t truly satisfied with what the event software vendors were offering, and they came to a realization.

“Either we find a vendor who can do this fully custom in three months’ time, or [we do it ourselves]. This is what we do. This is in our DNA, so we can make this happen. The hard part became how do you prioritize because once we made the conference fully software-based, the possibilities were endless,” she said.

All of this happened pretty quickly. The team interviewed the vendors in May, and by June made the decision to build it themselves. They began the process of designing the event software they would be using, taking advantage of their own communications capabilities, first and foremost.

The first thing they needed to do was meet with various stakeholders inside the company and figure out the must-have features in their custom platform. She said that reeling in people’s ambitions for version 1.0 of the platform was part of the challenge that they faced trying to pull this together.

“We only had three months. It wasn’t going to be totally perfect. There had to be some prioritization and compromises, but with our APIs we [felt that we] could totally make this happen,” Chang said.

They started meeting with different groups across the company to find out their must-haves. They knew that they wanted to recreate this personal contact experience. Other needs included typical conference activities like being able to collect leads and build agendas and the kinds of things you would expect to do at any conference, whether in-person or virtual.

As the team met with the various constituencies across the company, they began to get a sense of what they needed to build and they created a priorities document, which they reviewed with the Signal leadership team. “There were some hard conversations and some debates, but everyone really had goodwill toward each other knowing that we only had a few months,” she said.

Signal Concierge Agent for virtual Twilio Signal Conference

Signal Concierge Agent helps attendees navigate the online conference. Image Credits: Twilio

The team believed it could build a platform that met the company’s needs, but with only 10 developers working on it, they had a huge challenge to get it done in three months.

With one of the major priorities putting customers together with the right Twilio personnel, they decided to put their customer service platform, Twilio Flex, to work on the problem. Flex combines voice, messaging, video and chat in one interface. While the conference wasn’t a pure customer service issue, they believed that they could leverage the platform to direct requests to people with the right expertise and recreate the experience of walking up to the booth and asking questions of a Twilio employee with a particular skill set.

“Twilio Flex has Taskrouter, which allows us to assign agents unique skills-based characteristics, like you’re a video expert, so I’m going to tag you as a video expert. If anyone has a question around video, I know that we can route it directly to you,” Chang explained.

They also built a bot companion, called Signal Concierge, that moves through the online experience with each attendee and helps them find what they need, applying their customer service approach to the conference experience.

“Signal Concierge is your conference companion, so that if you ever have a question about what session you should go to next or [you want to talk to an expert], there’s just one place that you have to go to get an answer to your question, and we’ll be there to help you with it,” she said.

The company couldn’t do everything with Twilio’s tools, so it turned to third parties in those cases. “We continued our partnership with Klik, a conference data and badging platform all available via API. And Perficient, a Twilio SI partner we hired to augment the internal team to more quickly implement the custom Twilio Flex experience in the tight time frame we had. And Plexus, who provided streaming capabilities that we could use in an open-source video player,” she said.

They spent September testing what they built, making sure the Signal Concierge was routing requests correctly and all the moving parts were working. They open the virtual doors on Wednesday morning and get to see how well they pulled it off.

Chang says she is proud of what her team pulled off, but recognizes this is a first pass and future versions will have additional features that they didn’t have time to build.

“This is V1 of the platform. It’s not by any means exactly what we want, but we’re really proud of what we were able to accomplish from scoping the content to actually building the platform within three months’ time,” she said.

Sep
22
2020
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Microsoft challenges Twilio with the launch of Azure Communication Services

Microsoft today announced the launch of Azure Communication Services, a new set of features in its cloud that enable developers to add voice and video calling, chat and text messages to their apps, as well as old-school telephony.

The company describes the new set of services as the “first fully managed communication platform offering from a major cloud provider,” and that seems right, given that Google and AWS offer some of these features, including the AWS notification service, for example, but not as part of a cohesive communication service. Indeed, it seems Azure Communication Service is more of a competitor to the core features of Twilio or up-and-coming MessageBird.

Over the course of the last few years, Microsoft has built up a lot of experience in this area, in large parts thanks to the success of its Teams service. Unsurprisingly, that’s something Microsoft is also playing up in its announcement.

“Azure Communication Services is built natively on top a global, reliable cloud — Azure. Businesses can confidently build and deploy on the same low latency global communication network used by Microsoft Teams to support over 5 billion meeting minutes in a single day,” writes Scott Van Vliet, corporate vice president for Intelligent Communication at the company.

Microsoft also stresses that it offers a set of additional smart services that developers can tap into to build out their communication services, including its translation tools, for example. The company also notes that its services are encrypted to meet HIPPA and GDPR standards.

Like similar services, developers access the various capabilities through a set of new APIs and SDKs.

As for the core services, the capabilities here are pretty much what you’d expect. There’s voice and video calling (and the ability to shift between them). There’s support for chat and, starting in October, users will also be able to send text messages. Microsoft says developers will be able to send these to users anywhere, with Microsoft positioning it as a global service.

Provisioning phone numbers, too, is part of the services and developers will be able to provision those for in-bound and out-bound calls, port existing numbers, request new ones and — most importantly for contact-center users — integrate them with existing on-premises equipment and carrier networks.

“Our goal is to meet businesses where they are and provide solutions to help them be resilient and move their business forward in today’s market,” writes Van Vliet. “We see rich communication experiences – enabled by voice, video, chat, and SMS – continuing to be an integral part in how businesses connect with their customers across devices and platforms.”

Jul
15
2020
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As companies accelerate their digital transitions, employees detail a changed workplace

The U.S.’s COVID-19 caseload continues to set records as major states move to re-shutter their economies in hopes of stemming its spread. For many workers the situation means more time in the home office and less time in their traditional workplace. My colleague Greg Kumparak spent some time talking to companies about how best to work remotely. You can read that on Extra Crunch here.

What the world will look like when safety eventually returns is not clear, but it’s becoming plain that the workplace will not revert to its old normal. New data details changed employee sentiment, showing that a good portion of the working world doesn’t want to get back to its pre-COVID commute, and, in many cases, is eyeing a move to a different city or state in the wake of the pandemic and its economic disruptions.


The Exchange explores startups, markets and money. You can read it every morning on Extra Crunch, and now you can receive it in your inbox. Sign up for The Exchange newsletter, which will drop every Saturday starting July 25.


The changing workplace has shifted — accelerated, you could say — demand for all sorts of products and services, from grocery delivery to software. The latter category of tools has seen quickening demand as the world moves to support newly remote workforces, helping keep them both productive and secure.

TechCrunch has covered the accelerating digital transformation — industry slang for companies moving to a more software-and-cloud world — before, noting that investors are making big bets on companies that might benefit from its ramping pace. Thanks to new data from a Twilio-led survey, we have a fresh look at that trend.

Undergirding the digital transformation is how today’s workers are adapting to remote work. If many workers don’t want to stop working from home, the gains that companies serving the digital transformation are seeing could prove permanent. New data from a Qualtrics -led survey may help us understand the new mindset of the domestic and global worker.

At the union of the two datasets is a lens into the future of not only how many information workers, to borrow an old phrase, will labor in the future, but how they’ll feel about it. So, this morning let’s explore the world through two data-driven lenses, helped as we go with notes from interviews with Qualtrics’ CEO Ryan Smith and Twilio’s chief customer officer, Glenn Weinstein.

What workers want

May
14
2020
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Why we’re doubling down on cloud investments right now

Years from now, people will look back on the COVID-19 pandemic as a watershed moment for society and the global economy.

Wearing a mask might be as common as owning a phone; telework, telemedicine and online education will be more of a norm than a backup plan; and for the global economy, the cloud will have transformed the underlying infrastructure of businesses and entire industries.

COVID-19 is a turning point for the cloud and cloud company founders. For its computing power and as a delivery model of software, the cloud has been embraced as a solution to many challenges that businesses face during today’s economic downturn and recovery. Not only is the cloud industry more resilient than other industries, but the cloud model offers businesses a promising future in the age of social distancing and beyond.

We believe that once founders find shelter in the cloud, they’ll never go back.

Cloud’s resiliency amid historic volatility

Over the past decade, there’s been a massive market shift from on-premises to cloud, as 94% of enterprises use at least one cloud service today. 2020 was already a milestone year for the cloud industry, as aggregate SaaS and IaaS run-rate revenue each crossed $100 billion, and the BVP Nasdaq Emerging Cloud Index (^EMCLOUD) market cap crossed $1 trillion in early February. Yet in a matter of days, as the COVID-19 pandemic spread, fear tore through financial markets.

In early March, public markets experienced the steepest crash in history with volatility we haven’t seen since the Great Recession. The cloud index market cap dropped to ~$750 million and cloud multiples returned close to their historical averages of ~7x while the VIX volatility index spiked to the mid-80s. Both at global highs in February 2020, the ^EMCLOUD and the S&P 500 traded off by roughly 35% by mid-March. Over the next two months, though, the ^EMCLOUD recouped those losses, charging to a new all-time high on May 7.

The cloud index has continued its rise since then, and as of the close on May 11 has a market cap above $1.2 trillion and has returned to the lofty 12x forward run rate revenue multiples from 2019. Similar to Adobe in 2012, we expect many enterprises to transition over to the cloud model, and the index will continue to expand. As we predicted in this year’s State of the Cloud 2020, by 2025 we expect the cloud to penetrate 50% of enterprise software.

Apr
28
2020
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Checkly raises $2.25M seed round for its monitoring and testing platform

Checkly, a Berlin-based startup that is developing a monitoring and testing platform for DevOps teams, today announced that it has raised a $2.25 million seed round led by Accel. A number of angel investors, including Instana CEO Mirko Novakovic, Zeit CEO Guillermo Rauch and former Twilio CTO Ott Kaukver, also participated in this round.

The company’s SaaS platform allows developers to monitor their API endpoints and web apps — and it obviously alerts you when something goes awry. The transaction monitoring tool makes it easy to regularly test interactions with front-end websites without having to actually write any code. The test software is based on Google’s open-source Puppeteer framework and to build its commercial platform, Checkly also developed Puppeteer Recorder for creating these end-to-end testing scripts in a low-code tool that developers access through a Chrome extension.

The team believes that it’s the combination of end-to-end testing and active monitoring, as well as its focus on modern DevOps teams, that makes Checkly stand out in what is already a pretty crowded market for monitoring tools.

“As a customer in the monitoring market, I thought it had long been stuck in the 90s and I needed a tool that could support teams in JavaScript and work for all the different roles within a DevOps team. I set out to build it, quickly realizing that testing was equally important to address,” said Tim Nolet, who founded the company in 2018. “At Checkly, we’ve created a market-defining tool that our customers have been demanding, and we’ve already seen strong traction through word of mouth. We’re delighted to partner with Accel on building out our vision to become the active reliability platform for DevOps teams.”

Nolet’s co-founders are Hannes Lenke, who founded TestObject (which was later acquired by Sauce Labs), and Timo Euteneuer, who was previously Director Sales EMEA at Sauce Labs.

Tthe company says that it currently has about 125 paying customers who run about 1 million checks per day on its platform. Pricing for its services starts at $7 per month for individual developers, with plans for small teams starting at $29 per month.

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