Nix, the open source tool for creating reproducible builds and deployments, is becoming increasingly popular among developers, but it’s not always the easiest service to work with. It’s maybe no surprise then that we’re now seeing a new batch of startups that aims to bring Nix to more developers by building the tooling necessary to bring Nix to the enterprise. One of those is flox, a startup that is making it easier for developers to use Nix and that platform’s vast repository of curated packages, all while adding more collaboration and other enterprise features on top of it. The company today announced that it has raised a $16.5 million Series A round led by New Enterprise Associates (NEA), bringing its total funding to date to $27 million.
Flox was incubated at DESCOvery, the venture studio of the multinational hedge fund D.E. Shaw. Other backers include Addition and Hetz, as well as angel investors like GitHub CEO Thomas Dohmke, Snyk founder Guy Podjarny and former Docker VP and Microsoft for Startups CTO — and now Sotheby’s CTO — James Turnbull.
The company was co-founded by Ron Efroni and Michael Brantley. Like so many Israeli startup founders, Efroni got his start in the Israeli Defense Forces’ Unit 8200 and then founded two Chicago-based startups before joining Facebook (while it was still called Facebook), where he led that company’s developer products arm. Brantley, meanwhile, has an academic background, working at Rice and Princeton, where he managed the Unix interoperability lab before joining D.E. Shaw in the mid-90s. At D.E. Shaw, he was responsible for building the group’s release engineering infrastructure. That’s also where he encountered Nix and started building the tooling for D.E. Shaw to make it easier for its internal developers to use.
“We found [Nix] challenging, to be perfectly frank,” Brantley explained. “But we were able to wrestle it into submission by putting a layer around it. That’s ultimately what D.E. Shaw’s own venture arm spotted as a potential commercial opportunity and spun out into flox.”
The two co-founders “virtually dated” for a while, as Brantley put it. Since that worked out, the two then officially launched the company last October. Until now, flox remained in beta, but the flox open source platform is now open for anyone, with plans to launch an enterprise version later this year.
“The whole mission was that Nix is an incredibly powerful technology and we want to bring it to the global stage, bring it to more developers,” explained Efroni, who is also a member of the NixOS Foundation board. “We’ve set out on the mission of two things that are way easier said than done with Nix. One is reducing the barriers to adopting the Nix technology. And, on the other side, bridging the gaps to the enterprise — bringing Nix to work with all the things that Michael [Brantley] worked on that just inherently are needed to even have an enterprise consider using any technology.”
As the team argues, the way enterprises are building software is changing, with code bases growing larger and software dependencies growing more complex, all while cloud-native technologies have changed how these applications are being deployed. Nix promises to streamline the build and development process by making it easily reproducible and allowing developers to share their development and build environments in a declarative way.
At the core of this is the Nix cross-language packages collection, which currently features about 80,000 packages and which flox also relies on. “It’s the largest collection of curated build recipes for public domain software out there. It’s incredibly current as compared to any Linux distribution — and because it’s built with Nix, it can run on any Linux distribution, side-by-side with whatever was there before, so any integration plans that anybody would want to take on, they can do so incrementally at their own pace.”
Flox then wants to provide developers with what Efroni called “a happy path” that makes it easier for them to succeed in adopting Nix.
“Building and deploying software in a reproducible, secure manner is perhaps the biggest challenge facing developers today,” said Aaron Jacobson, partner at NEA. “Flox recognizes the innovations within Nix solve this challenge yet they come with the cost of a steep learning curve. By creating an easy-to-use platform around Nix, flox supercharges productivity for developers everywhere while also making their software more secure.”