ToolJet, an open source low-code app builder, wants to help companies do more with less


ToolJet demo screen
Image Credits: ToolJet

Do more with less” has emerged as something of a business mantra over the past year, with companies across the industrial spectrum facing growing economic headwinds.

Organizations of all sizes have been looking for ways to cut spending without jeopardizing their output, which is having a sizeable knock-on effect. Indeed, most of the big tech companies have announced significant layoffs these past few months, with Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella essentially blaming its 10,000 jobs cull on its customers’ transition toward thriftiness.

“As we saw customers accelerate their digital spend during the pandemic, we’re now seeing them optimize their digital spend to do more with less,” Nadella said. “We’re also seeing organizations in every industry and geography exercise caution as some parts of the world are in a recession and other parts are anticipating one.”

And so it goes without saying that technologies that promise to help companies to be more productive, while relying on fewer people, would currently be in hot demand. This is certainly what low-code enterprise app builder ToolJet is finding, as the Indian startup today announced that it has raised $4.6 million in a pre-Series A round of funding to capitalize on the growing popularity of an open source project it launched some 20 months ago.

Internal apps

ToolJet-created app. Image Credits: ToolJet

ToolJet, essentially, allows companies to create custom internal business applications, such as admin panels or order tracking systems, by connecting to data sources such as Postgres, MySQL or Airtable — minimal coding required, with a visual-based front-end builder in tow. Earlier this month, ToolJet launched version 2.0, replete with built-in database, redesigned UI, Python support and more.

Thus, ToolJet and its ilk open the app-building process to a broader array of disciplines within a company, beyond developers and engineers.

“Companies are going through times where they have to build more with less resources and money,” ToolJet founder and CEO Navaneeth Padanna Kalathil explained to TechCrunch. “Finding talented engineers has become a difficult and expensive affair — even after dozens of layoffs. With ToolJet, business applications can be built quickly with significantly less number of engineering resources.”

At its core, ToolJet is positioning itself as an open source alternative to something like Retool, the heavily venture-backed startup that hit a lofty $3.2 billion valuation just six months ago. But there are a number of similar open source incumbents out there already too, such as Appsmith, which raised $41 million last year, and Budibase, which raised a more modest $7 million.

One of the ways ToolJet has been setting out to differentiate itself in what is an increasingly busy space is through extensibility. Indeed, open source projects — as with most software development projects — can become complex after a few years. Kalathil said that he’s aiming to make ToolJet as flexible as possible, without requiring the user to dive into the expansive codebase.

“We are making this possible using a plugin-based approach,” he said. “Currently, anyone can build new integrations like connectors for a new database for ToolJet without going through our codebase. This approach of ours has helped us to get many integrations as contributions from open source community.”

In truth, this “plugin-based approach” is something that other players such as Budibase also offer, which is why ToolJet is looking to bolster its own offering through extending support to Python, having previously only supported JavaScript, while it’s also building out team-collaboration features that support things like real-time commenting.

“As a late entrant to this market, we’ve managed to catch up with the competitors very quickly,” Kalathil said. “We are trying to move forward at this pace to get ahead of everyone soon.”

Team collaboration in action. Image Credits: ToolJet

The story so far

ToolJet first went to market in June 2021, and the open source project has since garnered more than 17,000 “stars” (similar to a “like”) on GitHub. The company monetizes through an enterprise edition, used by companies such as French telecom giant Orange and Indian edtech juggernaut Byju, which offers additional features and services on top of the basic open source incarnation. The company also offers a fully managed and hosted SaaS incarnation.

“The free and open source software ‘community edition’ of ToolJet can be self-hosted for free, without any restrictions on the features or the number of users,” Kalathil explained.

Although ToolJet is incorporated in the U.S., the bulk of its team — including Kalathil himself — is based in India. The company had previously raised around $1.5 million, and its fresh $4.6 million cash injection was led by Nexus Venture Partners with participation from January Capital, Ratio ventures and a slew of angel investors, including Algolia co-founder and Y Combinator group partner Nicolas Dessaigne.

“The money from the new round will be used for expanding our team,” Kalathil explained. “We need more resources for our engineering and product teams to keep up with feature requests from our community, and to build the internal tooling ecosystem that our community would love.”

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