A look into how FL0 was founded and our product-led approach to building the platform.
Recently, Blackbird's Mason Yates interviewed Dale (CEO at FL0) about the platform, product led growth and successfully building a scaleable business.
Prefer to skim the recap notes? Continue reading below...
Can you rewind back to pre FL0 and share the experiences that led you to start the business?
The idea came from the last company that I built, where we had a team of about a hundred in product and engineering. It was really hard to find good engineering talent and when you have a team full of engineers, everyone has their own coding standards. That makes it quite complex to build products when you're working across multiple teams.
At the time, we were also working very closely with Microsoft to launch a new developer tool. As part of the project, we needed to move our entire backend over to this new platform. And for us, it would take about six months and for others, it would take about two years.
So we thought, what if we could do it a different way? What if we built our whole platform on top of a set of APIs? And then in two years time, when they say "Hey, here's the next best thing" - we could point at the new platform they want us to. Which, you know, is inevitable to happen.
What if we also went further up the stack, and we could do that with code as well. So what if we could abstract away the code? And then if you have these pre-configured blocks, always powered behind the scenes by the latest state-of-the-art technology.
And so we thought, if we could make a way for people to actually build software applications without having to write code, that would be really cool.
And so that was kind of the origination of the idea.
After 10 years of dealing with the problem, what was the catalyst that helped you to start this business today?
Good question. I think that the catalyst was just, it felt right. The timing in the market, where we were at and the problem just didn't feel like it was getting solved. When we had the idea and drew it down, we talked about it with a few other founders. Almost immediately, we found that people were very interested in what we were thinking - the problem of solving software engineering and democratising software engineering. It's a global problem facing pretty much every company today.
How do we enable not just engineers to build quicker, but how do we enable less confident engineers or, even as citizen developers to be able to build and create? So it's a very, it's a very big problem. And so, it just kind of lined up with now that things came together and we wanted to solve this.
AFR described you as the Canva for engineers, why do you think that they said that?
I love that analogy.
So I think if you think of FL0, it's basically, a Lego kit of blocks for modern engineers. And so we have this abstraction layer over the code and developers can assemble together these blocks and then you can build complex applications, and you can ship entire products without needing to code.
So I think that's very similar to how Canva operates for design, where as you land, you can pick different types of templates and very quickly have something really great without having to spend much time designing it. And so I think that's the similarities and from a coding perspective, we add all the serverless infrastructure.
So when you're building, you don't have to worry about any of the scalability. It's all built into the product and we've made it completely extensible as well. So, you can easily code and create your own blocks, which means engineering teams are not going to hit limitations within the platform.
It really allows them to achieve what they want to achieve. We want to build up the marketplace, so it's very much an open source community. Here, you've got different types of blocks, like recipes and entire products that you can share. And then there's also a marketplace for third party integrations. So think like your Zapier on steroids.
What are examples of some early customers and how you've made their life easier?
So I'll go with the first example is a FinTech platform. They're looking to revamp and rebuild their entire loan process and the ruling engine. So the engine that when someone wants to apply for a loan, whether it's like a type of a home loan or a buy now pay later type situation, you need all these different types of data sets coming together to analyse the person and provide a score.
We're looking to build that engine. They're currently building that now in FL0, as the core heartbeat of that FinTech app. And that's just the beginning. And then from there, you can really build, the entire app, the entire platform, all the backend, onto FL0.
What is the north star that helps guide your decisions?
There's two parts. There's the actual usage and consumption in the platform. So usage for us is based around requests. So if you've got a FinTech app with all these different datasets, you've got a lot of requests being made, a lot of API calls and that generates consumption.
That for us shows usage of the platform, that's a very good metric. But early on, we're really in that product market fit stage where we actually want to say that engineers are really loving the product and getting a lot of value out of using it. So we don't just want to be based on the consumption metrics that are happening, but also the ease of use.
So I think for us marrying those two metrics together is really, that's kind of our north star.
How do you think about building the best product that helps you to achieve product market fit and then scaling to build such a category defining product?
We're now in product market fit stage. So like I was saying, we were making sure engineers love using the product and get a lot of value out of it.
And once we've been able to break through that, we're in that go to market phase where we're really scaling it. How we see building a great product now it's all about product led growth and a self-serve product.
So the common example is Slack, where you can sign up on your own, you invite your team and off you go. And so that's really our focus. It's minimal effort for new users to be able to create value and it is a zero touch acquisition model. So that's really what's expected today.
No one wants to sit in line or book a meeting with someone and have to talk to sales for an hour and then get a demo.
To really build this out and get this product led growth model working for global scale, we're looking at our funnel. A different funnel, that's related to that product. There's a lot of similarities, but these are the areas how we see it. We see it in terms of acquisition.
So how do we get new engineers to find out about us or to hear about us? From there we move them into our onboarding. Then how do we get them to that wow moment or that hello world moment? For us that means where they're able to really quickly build their first feature, with an integration or create a data pipeline.
And they're also introduced to our community and our support. Once we've got that, the next part of the funnel is where we focused on the conversion. So because our pricing is based on consumption, this really does depend if what they're building has traffic and is going to be growing. And so, you know, sometimes if someone's building a small, like we've got a really great meditation app and they're just in testing.
So we know that when they launch publicly, it will be a great app and we'll start to scale into a paid customer. But for now it's in that testing and so then it's about how do we help them grow? Similar to like an AWS or Azure that's when the consumption starts. So they only pay for what they use and if they use a small amount, they're probably in our free tier or as they're growing, then it starts to scale with them.
Then finally, we've got that expansion metrics. So looking at once they've built something and it's been successful, how do they keep building more and more functionality in FL0?
and so one of the great things that we see now, and one of the metrics that's really exciting for us is that engineers today in the platform spend, around four to five hours a day in FL0, it's a great metric to see how people are building.
How did you acquire your first few cases?
With our first customers, we're pretty fortunate. We have a, a great network of friends and we built up that a founders, CTOs engineers, and also through our investors.
We have a great network of friendlies that we could invite into the platform and start testing and using the product. And that's where we started to really quickly get traction and get feedback from them. And so it was all about those networks and those connections to get those people into the platform. And that's what we sort of found out what we needed to do from that.
What was your relationship like with those customers?
I think those are the earliest conversations was a slide deck. And so, pitching the division and getting them really excited. here's always great excitement with people, and, you call on your friendships and be like, I really want to show you something which is gonna change the way you build software. We're gonna help you ship and release products rapidly for your customers.
So it's kind of like a, it's a no brainer that anyone's pretty excited to try. From there when we'd built out that first pilot, that MVP that actually worked, and then we got the engineers in, surprisingly, we actually had some good feedback even as a new product with bugs.
Maybe there's some features they want to do, and we need to show them how to do a work around. Even we didn't have tech docs at the beginning. Our documentation was jumping on a call with them and explaining to them how to do things but we'd been able to now rapidly learn with them.
We've built out documentation and how to guides which has evolved quickly over the last few months. Now, we're in a place where onboarding a customer is much easier to automate. We'll still meet with them, talk about some cool ideas and workshop some ideas with them to really help them build. But we're really shifting away from that and opening up self service.
How long is that process of learning and iteration been before?
I think if we look at some concrete numbers, probably around the time when we have 20 to 30 good customer businesses being built on FL0 or using FL0. And those engineering teams really starting to get a lot of value out of it, the metrics are trending upwards without much churn and without any blocks.
Where do you see FL0 in 10 years time? And, and what change will FL0 have on the way?
Awesome question. So I think in 10 years time, if you're looking to build a product or a feature, that's not something simple like e-commerce or a blog or something like that, you're building it on FL0. And we see there's a thriving global community and open source community where people are able to share things that are built.
So it's very quickly to put together these building blocks of very complex things and, really being able to empower a new generation of creators. And so having that global platform that's in that space, I think empowering that generation is something that's super cool.
Have you seen signs like the best engineers being 2000x more productive than mid-level?
Yeah, very much. When you do find that that one engineer that can work at the power of 10 or 20 engineers, which is really about what we're creating here - good engineers, they're a rare breed.
And what we're doing is we're giving superpowers to all engineers and helping to democratise that superpower.
So you've got juniors all the way through to seniors, being able to really amplify their skill sets with a platform like this. And that's really what we're seeing now in the market. It's the tools now being made readily available to help raise the bar of what you've got with junior engineers. They're able to produce code at a very, very senior level, because now they're really configuring the blocks. They're passionate to learn new things like FL0, and they're able to do some really cool things, which has been really exciting.
So it's definitely something that's out there in the market now. You're starting to see these trends of this new modern engineer, being able to really produce and mix it up with the best of them.
Want to keep reading?
Continue on to part 2 and learn about dev acceleration and building category defining products. Coming soon.