It was almost exactly two years ago that we first wrote about a company called Heroku. At the time, the Y Combinator startup was little more than a good idea: ease the development and deployment process a lot of other startups face by putting it in the cloud. Last month, Salesforce bought them for $212 million in cash. It’s no wonder that a new startup, StackMob, doesn’t mind being called a “Heroku for mobile”.
Truth be told, that is a pretty good way to describe what they’re doing. They’ve created a cloud-based system to ease the development and deployment of mobile applications. Or even more simply put, “we’re trying to solve the backend services for mobile applications,” is how co-founder Ty Amell phrases it. They want to be the single integration point for all the backend needs that an app developer may have.
And like Heroku, this has the potential to be huge. Mobile app development is exploding right now. But at the same time, there aren’t a ton of experts at it that aren’t already locked up by either larger companies or well-funded startups. That means that a lot of great ideas are either being left on the table, or take way too long to come into being. StackMob’s goal is to condense development time by weeks if not months, by taking care of a huge range of needs that can be streamlined rather than forcing the developer to learn everything and implement it themselves.
What kinds of things? It’s all across the backend board really. OAuth, social services (Twitter, Facebook, etc), storage solutions (Joyent now, Amazon coming shortly), advertising (coming soon), messaging (including Push), APIs, analytics, etc. A developer can pick and choose what they want or need to include from StackMob. And in some cases, it’s as easy as filling out a web-based form. “Everyone keeps reinventing the wheel everytime. Haven’t we learned our lessons yet?,” Amell asks.
Currently, they’re focused on the iOS platform, but the grand goal is to work across many of the popular mobile platforms — including, of course, Android. But iOS is a good place to start as StackMob’s tools combine nicely with the SDK tools Apple provides to developers to get them going. Plus, StackMob co-founder Pouyan Salehi is ex-Apple.
And while post-Salesforce/Heroku, ideas like this seem ripe for anyone to try to take advantage of, Amell and Salehi actually started StackMob well before the Heroku deal made this so hot. In fact, they already got funding well before that. While they haven’t disclosed it previously, they took a seed round from Harrison Metal, Baseline, Founder Collective, CRV, and some individuals back in May 2010. (Though they’re still not disclosing the amount.) Yes, those are a number of the same guys that funded Heroku. Funny how that works, huh?
StackMob launched a very small alpha test in late November/early December. And they’re now comfortable enough to talk about the basic ideas of how the service will work. The plan is to launch a beta version by late February or early March.
The model for this is a freemium one. Everything will be free to start out. It’s only if you decided you want to actually deploy your app that they’ll charge you based on how popular your app is, and how much of their backend resources it’s taking up. But not to worry, both Amell and Salehi are adamant about your work and data being your own. If you chose to leave StackMob for whatever reason, you’ll be able to take your work with you. “We want to make sure that developers know that they own their data,” Salehi says.
“Mobile is where the web was in ’97 or ’99,” Amell says. “It’s booming — but there’s no framework or infrastructure. There’s no Ruby on Rails. No Django. Nothing that helps with that kind of stuff. There are apps that get really popular, but they don’t know how to monetize,” he says. “We want to bring an experienced backend and ops team to the masses,” is how he finally puts it. In other words, Heroku for mobile!
StackMob is currently a team of 5 people working in San Francisco. I’m sure we’ll be hearing more about them in the coming months.