Matthew O’Riordan (CEO) and Paddy Byers (CTO) launched Ably in 2016 with the aim of providing a performant and reliable real time communication platform. The duo spent three years developing the platform prior to launch, and, as noted in the company’s seed round press release, invested in developer experience from the start:
Ably was born in 2013 when co-founding software engineers Matthew O’Riordan and Dr. Paddy Byers saw a gap in the market to provide developers with an ‘infrastructure-as-a-service’ offering for realtime data transport. To be truly developer-friendly the service needed to be deterministically reliable and provide world-class documentation, service and support.
The API-driven platform is centred around scalable publish/subscribe (or pub/sub) messaging, translating between protocols including WebSockets, MQTT, and Server-Sent Events (SSE). The platform can integrate into stream processing services like AWS Kinesis, AWS SQS, RabbitMQ, and AQMP. The event-driven platform can be triggered by serverless functions and webhooks. It’s basically an absurdly high scale message bus offered as a managed service.
The London-based company has built out an impressive customer list, which highlights that more and more businesses, from EdTech to transportation to online conference and event platforms rely on reliable low-latency communication between devices and cloud to provide end-user experiences essential for growing their business. Speed and reliability have become ever more essential as end user attention spans (and impatience with outages) increasingly put businesses at risk of losing customers to competitors that can quickly and seamlessly deliver information and services across a variety of devices.
The Ably elevator pitch (from the company itself):
Ably is an enterprise-grade realtime communication platform. We make it easy to efficiently design, quickly ship, and seamlessly scale critical realtime functionality delivered directly to end-users.
500+ customers globally with a focus on the USA, Europe, and Asia-Pacific
Ably estimates that experiences powered by its platform reach 250 million devices per month.
$70 million Series B in June 2021 co-led by Insight Partners and Dawn Capital
$7 million Series A in July 2020 led by MMC Ventures
$1 million seed round in July 2017 led by Forward Partners
Primary competitors include PubNub, Pusher and cloud services including SignalR, Firebase, AWS AppSync. Also open source competitors such as Socket.io.
Ably primarily focuses on scale as its competitive differentiator – based on dependability, performance, data integrity and reliability and greater than 5-nines availability.
Go to market
Ably is targeting specific high scale use cases such as – online gaming, online learning, mobility/automotive, eSports, and asset tracking with a bottoms up approach, targeting developers and engineers tasked with building out innovative real time apps and services.
Increasingly, real time is finding a role in next generation collaboration platforms – where data synchronization is critical. For example, helping students work together in real time with collaborative whiteboards, or data driven apps at sports stadia, driven by real world game play.
One nice customer example is the feature flag management system Split Software – Ably is used to manage tens of millions of client apps and more than a trillion events per month. Feature flag changes need to propagate through the network with sub second response times, enabling progressive delivery of features, and rollbacks where necessary. Split Software’s previous polling infrastructure was not scaling effectively, and so was replaced by an event-driven system based on Ably. For more detail see the case study.
Real time is growing in importance, and developer to developer businesses are seeing significant market traction and valuations at the moment – the Developer Experience Multiple. That’s the world Ably is positioning for.
Disclosure: Ably is a RedMonk client but this is an uncommissioned piece of research. AWS and Google Cloud (Firebase) are also RedMonk clients.