BuildBuddy, whose software helps developers compile and test code quickly using a blend of open-source technology and proprietary tools, announced a funding round today worth $3.15 million.
The company was part of the Winter 2020 Y Combinator batch, which saw its traditional demo day in March turned into an all-virtual affair. The startups from the cohort then had to raise capital as the public markets crashed around them and fear overtook the startup investing world.
BuildBuddy’s funding round makes it clear that choppy market conditions and a move away from in-person demos did not fully dampen investor interest in YC’s March batch of startups, though it’s far too soon to tell if the group will perform as well as others, given how long it takes for startup winners to mature into exits.
Let’s talk code
BuildBuddy has foundations in how Google builds software. To get under the skin of what it does, I got ahold of co-founder Siggi Simonarson, who worked at the Mountain View-based search giant for a little over a half decade.
During that time he became accustomed to building software in the Google style, namely using its internal tool called Blaze to compile his code. It’s core to how developers at Google work, Simonarson told TechCrunch. “You write some code,” he added, “you run Blaze build; you write some code, you run Blaze test.”
What sets Blaze apart from other developer tools is that “opposed to your traditional language-specific build tools,” Simonarson said, it’s code agnostic, so you can use it to “build across [any] programming language.”
Google open-sourced the core of Blaze, which was named Bazel, an anagram of the original name.
So what does BuildBuddy do? In product terms, it’s building the pieces of Blaze that Google engineers have access to inside the company, for other developers using Bazel in their own work. In business terms, BuildBuddy wants to offer its service to individual developers for free, and charge companies that use its product.
Simonarson and his co-founder Tyler Williams started small, building a “results UI” tool that they shared with a Bazel user group. The members of that group picked up the tool, rapidly bringing it inside a number of sizable companies.
This origin story underlines something that BuildBuddy has that early-stage startups often lack, namely demonstrable enterprise market appetite. Lots of big companies use Bazel to help create software, and BuildBuddy found its way into a few of them early in its life.
Simply building a useful tool for a popular open-source project is no guarantee of success, however. Happily for BuildBuddy, early users helped it set direction for its product development, meaning that over the summer the startup added the features that its current users most wanted.
Simonarson explained that after BuildBuddy was initially used by external developers, they demanded additional tools, like authentication. In the words of the co-founder, the response from the startup was “great!” The same went for a request for dashboarding, and other features.
Even better for the YC graduate, some of the features requested were the sort that it intends to charge for. That brings us back to money and the round itself.
BuildBuddy closed its round in May. But like with most venture capital tales, it’s not a simple story.
According to Simonarson, his startup started raising the round during one of those awful early-COVID days when the stock market dropped by double-digit percentage points in a single trading session.
BuildBuddy’s goal was to raise $1.5 million. Simonarson was worried at the time, telling TechCrunch that it was his first time fundraising, and that he wasn’t sure if his startup was going to “raise anything at all” in that climate.
But the nascent company secured its first $100,000 check. And then a $300,000 check, over time managing to fill out its round.
So what happened that got the company from $1.5 million to just over $3 million? The investor that put in $300,000 wanted to put in another $2 million. The company talked them down to $1.5 million at a higher cap (BuildBuddy raised its round using a SAFE), and the deal was done at those terms.
The startup initially didn’t want to raise the extra cash, but Simonarson told TechCrunch that at the time it was not clear where the fundraising environment was heading; BuildBuddy raised back when startup layoffs were a leading story, and a return to high-cadence VC rounds was months away.
So BuildBuddy wound up securing $3.15 million to support a current headcount of four. It intends to hire, naturally, lower its comically long runway and keep building out its Bazel-focused service.
Picking a few names from the investor spreadsheet that BuildBuddy sent over — points for completeness to the startup — Y Combinator, Addition, Scribble and Village Global, among others put capital into the round.
Dev tools are hot at the moment. Given that, as soon as BuildBuddy’s ARR starts to get moving, I expect we’ll hear from them again.