In December 2020, I received a tip from one of the most talented engineers I know saying that I had to track down Connor Hicks. He had seen a Tweet that Connor was working on a side project called Suborbital, and he was impressed with the project. After one cold email and several months of talking to Connor, it was clear that Suborbital was going to be one of the most exciting infrastructure companies of our decade. When we meet companies like these at Amplify, we race to get involved. It’s with great pleasure that we announce we’re leading Suborbital’s Seed Round.
Historically, open-souce software has given developers the flexibility to customize code to fit their own needs. However, in recent years, companies have started to customize “closed” SaaS platforms & APIs, and most applications have relied on webhooks to do this. For example, companies can run custom logic that says “whenever a new sale is made via Stripe, put the new customer in touch with sales or support staff.” Webhooks are painful because they require spinning up a server, and they sometimes have high latency and questionable security. Connor was sure that there was a better alternative to webooks.
After talking to customers for several months, Connor was certain that serverless extensibility was a much better alternative to webhooks. With serverless extensibility, companies can embed user logic directly into their applications. Imagine you want to use Shopify’s storefront as an ecommerce merchant, but you want to add custom logic to calculate discounts. In this case, you can write a bit of code, and Shopify will run it for you on their servers as an extension of their application. Highly convenient. This is a real example, as Shopify offers this service to their merchants. In addition to Shopify, we also saw that companies like Segment and Twilio had built this extensibility infrastructure in-house. We heard that most companies needed 3-5 engineers to build and manage custom extensibility infrastructure, but Suborbital could remove this need, thus unlocking this capability for the long-tail of companies beyond Shopify, Segment and Twilio.
But even better, Connor was using his own server-side WebAssembly infrastructure to power his extensibility product. WebAssembly provided three important benefits: 1) It provided major speed benefits, 2) It was more secure than containers, which is critical when you’re running untrusted 3rd party code, and 3) It allowed users to write their custom logic in several languages, all of which could easily compile to WebAssembly.
As an added benefit, Connor was positioning himself as the front-runner to design the core infrastructure for WebAssembly applications on the server. We’re huge believers that server-side WebAssembly modules could be a viable alternative to containers, and we see WebAssembly being used in production more with each passing week. But there still needs to be better tooling to build, package, and deploy WebAssembly applications. Suborbital open-sourced, Atmo, which is a framework for building Wasm applications, in addition to a Wasm scheduler (called Reactr), messaging mesh (Grav), and API gateway (Vektor). In Connor’s vision, the initial extensibility product is a wedge to allow developers to get comfortable with Atmo, which is being used under the hood. We believe that Suborbital has the potential to improve both central and edge computing by powering these with Wasm.
Despite the strong market pull for Suborbital, we ultimately bet on teams. Connor is a gifted engineer, and he’s a pragmatic product thinker. Connor understood his customers’ needs, and he built the exact product that they demanded using a powerful new technology. He’s also executed quickly in a short amount of time, including hiring a wildly accomplished team. He’s become a thought leader in the WebAssembly community, speaking at dozens of conferences and co-hosting the new WebAssembly North America Meetup. Suborbital has also joined the Bytecode Alliance. We’re lucky to be working with a founder who is visionary yet practical — and who is driven yet thoughtful.
Our strategy at Amplify is simple: meet the best technical talent early, help them move mountains, and back them when they start the next generation of category-defining businesses. We’re so thrilled to announce our Seed Round in Suborbital alongside a host of amazing angel investors, including Tyler McMullen (CTO of Fastly), Sri Viswanath (CTO of Atlassian), Jason Warner (MD at Redpoint & ex-CTO of Github), Jonathan Beri (CEO of Golioth), and Vijay Gill (SVP of Engineering at RapidAI). More so, welcome Suborbital to the Amplify community!