We’re all living in realtime - we just don’t know it
Our digital lives, of work and play, are increasingly a shared experience. We are attending events, playing games, working collaboratively, getting alerted to things around us and consuming media virtually and together, all in realtime.
Such interactions depend on immediacy. We want to see when someone is typing a message or editing a document, to know when they have unmuted their microphone, or to discover how a game’s leaderboard is changing, in each case quickly and reliably enough that it feels natural. Our ability to communicate and collaborate virtually relies on these digital ‘pushes’ being transmitted seamlessly, creating a shared virtual experience - otherwise the illusion disappears.
Powered by Ably
Meeting that need is Ably, whose platform helps its customers to build applications and products that facilitate reliable, realtime, at-scale interactivity for their users. We’re excited to be participating in its $70 million Series B funding round, and to be welcoming Insight Partners and Dawn Capital to the journey. At MMC we have more than doubled our investment in Ably after leading its Series A two years ago.
Ably provides the complex data architecture needed to power the engagingly simple, synchronised experiences that make the virtual world move. It enables customers to offer their users the closest virtual equivalent of being in the same room together. One example is Hopin, whose virtual events platform has developed well beyond video chat and messaging to offer a rich experience based on the same interactions as a traditional conference: break-out sessions, an exhibition hall and one-on-one video and chat networking. In the process, it has become the fastest-ever European startup to reach a $5bn valuation.
Ably is scaling up rapidly too, to meet the needs of its most demanding customers. We’ve seen its usage soar as remote work and play become ubiquitous: by the start of this year, it was facilitating 400 billion messages per month, thirteen times higher than a year previously. Its cloud platform is used by customers in over 80 markets to build applications and services that perform at scale – with use cases spanning online classrooms, collaboration among distributed teams, richer experiences for fans streaming sports events, super low-latency financial data, and up-to-the-minute pricing and inventory information in ecommerce.
Building the infrastructure for next-gen digital experiences
The world is quietly shifting to realtime data – which will amount to almost a third of the global total by 2025, from a small fraction today. We’re betting on specialists like Ably to underpin this shift, much like we’re backing Tyk to power how modern software products talk to each other and Snowplow to be the single source of truth for how users are interacting with digital products.
That bet is premised on deep technical expertise. CEO Matt O'Riordan is a proven, second-time entrepreneur and CTO Paddy Byers, his co-founder, has been grappling with the challenges of realtime data for 20 years. Since first investing, we have helped the team to add an excellent chairman in the form of Keith Wallington, formerly COO of Mimecast.
Matt and Paddy’s obsessive focus on a singular problem – immersed in the granular detail of realtime’s product requirements, customer problems and emerging use cases – positions them to become the leader in a critical niche, able to provide the full range of functionality that customers will increasingly demand. Unusually for a software platform, Ably was architected right from the start to be bulletproof - designed for global scale, super low latency and ‘zero downtime’.
Our bet on the future of realtime
The beauty of realtime is that its adoption becomes self-fulfilling. As software companies offer increasingly realtime, immersive and collaborative experiences, all of us as users come to expect it - and the companies themselves broaden their perception of what else they could create. This breeds an upward spiral of new products and features, higher user engagement and more users - resulting in exponential growth.
We believe that in the coming years realtime will enter a new stage of maturity – disappearing into infrastructure. We’ll stop talking about it and it’ll become a utility and a default, just like ‘cloud’ and ‘mobile-friendly’.
In realtime, specialist providers like Ably will be critical to getting there. It won’t be good enough for software companies to hack together their own workaround, or rely on a generic solution from one of the cloud giants. Utilities must scale, perform, integrate with other platforms and deal with faults elegantly. That’s why we believe Ably will win: offering the maximum level of control, customisation, analytics and reporting, based on the best infrastructure in the market.
In recent years we’ve seen companies like Twilio go down this path - making a simple need (sending text messages on demand, by API) easy for developers to implement, and building a company with an enterprise value running into tens of billions.
As the need for realtime interactivity grows and grows, we’re thrilled to be doubling down on a company with such a strong vision. Software’s journey to realtime is just getting started, and we’re backing Ably to pave the way forward.
Cloud infrastructure is an area we're particularly excited about and we're proud to have backed the likes of Ably, Tyk, Snowplow, MindsDB and Cloudsmith. If you are building something in this space, we'd love to hear from you.