“Doctors are very, very good at saving people's lives. I don't think doctors are renowned for their software engineering capabilities.”
That’s how Anand Kulkarni, CEO of Bee Partners’ portfolio firm Crowdbotics describes the problem organizations face when they need custom software. “Most of the time, when people start building software, they’re starting from scratch,” he says. “Even if they hire a specialist software firm or outsource the work to an individual consultant, those providers are typically building code from the ground up--and charging their client for the time to do so.”
To stay on top of today’s rapidly evolving business environment, every growing organization, no matter its size, eventually will likely need some kind of customized software to scale its operations and processes. Others need custom software to bring their products or services to market. But software development is generally an expensive proposition. So what’s a healthcare facility-- or, for that matter, a law firm, a branch of the military, or, in Bee Partners’ case, a venture capital firm -- to do when it needs custom software that’s affordable?
Enter Crowdbotics, which automates the building of web and mobile software by providing an on-demand, distributed network of fairly paid coders and software project managers, and a library of common software components to eliminate the reinventing-the-wheel approach that has been prevalent in the industry.
Anand Kulkarni, Crowdbotics’ CEO, is a two-time Bee Partners founder who has focused his career on building companies that provide access to well-paying work for globally distributed freelancers. LeadGenius, which he launched in 2010, uses artificial intelligence and real human workers to gather sales prospect info for clients selling B2B. It was the first crowdsourcing company to offer a minimum wage for its workers, based on where they live.
With LeadGenius successfully underway, Anand then launched Crowdbotics in 2017, with the goal of helping companies get business-ready applications to market faster. The company recently raised its series A. The funds will fuel further investment in product as the company grows.
Here at Bee Partners, we’ve also experienced rapid growth in the last two years. With that growth comes more and more data for our small firm of five to manage. Crowdbotics helped us build a solid, bespoke CRM, starting with something quite basic, and turning it into something we could extend aggressively through an open API.
The system they’ve created for us has allowed us to scale and evaluate more potential deals. It also helps us support our portfolio companies as effectively as any later-stage venture capital firm. Keeping a system like this up and running, with the version updates and code changes in Python or Django that will be required over the years, would be complicated for us, and distract resources from our core mission of supporting Founders. But it’s all handled effortlessly by Crowdbotics and the six-hundred plus quality engineers they can put at our disposal.
I recently spoke with Anand about the Crowdbotics approach and how it is leveling the playing field for both organizations who need custom software, and the people who build it.
Let’s start with the basics. Give the reader an overview of what Crowdbotics does.
We are an app-building platform that allows people to assemble applications using ready-made parts in real code, as well as manage, deploy, and extend those applications over their lifetime.The basic observation we made is that most applications or software products share a lot of the same parts. Things like logins, password resets, charts, connections to third-party APIs, things that process money and data. And a lot of time when people need to create software, they end up starting from scratch, rebuilding all of these things every time. Crowdbotics as a company and as a team had the insight that you could take everything common across all of these software products, pull them out, and put them into a tool that people can use to build software. And we're soup to nuts in the sense that we give users the platform, the prebuilt components, and, whenever they need it, the engineering design and product management expertise to actually extend and implement those software components.
How is the Crowdbotics strategy different from the incumbent and traditional providers Gigster and Toptal?
There have been engineering staffing platforms for a long time whose main purpose was to give you human developers when you needed them. And there's lots of new entrants who are trying to rent you engineering headcount. Those aren't software platforms. At the end of the day, those are places you go to hire engineers. Crowdbotics is making the argument that a lot of engineering activities can be standardized and delivered via modular offerings or standardized services, as opposed to saying “go get a developer and build it” as your best option.
Of course, you're never going to eliminate the human engineer from the process, and we offer lots of connections into human engineering talent pools as well. What we'd love to see is a model where that talent is being used just for the parts where you cannot have software or a machine build something for you, not as the main method you use.
We've heard a lot about low-code and no-code platforms with easy-to-read graphical interfaces, where anyone can make applications without engineering expertise. What is the real story and how would you characterize Crowdbotics?
Our biggest customers are in government, defense, finance, and healthcare, places where you need to have access to the code for security reasons or ownership or extensibility reasons, but where a lot of the domain expertise about what you need to create is in the minds of people who are not software engineers. While Crowdbotics provides a visual builder that is easy to use like some of the low-code no-code platforms, when you make changes on our visual tools, those actually turn into code commits in a GitHub repository that our customers can extend. Crowdbotics is a unique beast in that we allow people to go back and forth between a visual modular set of semantics understandable by people who are not technical, and real code.
Why would a large scale, very capable company consider outsourcing their code?
If you are a company that is already running a large scale engineering product, you might use Crowdbotics to extend what you are doing. But our biggest customers are not the customers who are already running very large engineering teams. If we're looking at the US Air Force, they're very good at flying planes, but they’re only starting to think about how to get better at creating software.
Would it be fair to characterize the business model and the pricing model as lease versus buy?
That's an interesting question. I think you could characterize it in that way if you were comparing it against some of the legacy, low-code players. If you look at platforms like Mendix or Appian, I think there is a question there: do you really own your code? Or do you just lease the right to run it on Appian's cloud or Mendix's cloud? And I think for most of our customers, they need to have IP ownership and that's why they get it from us. With Crowdbotics, you are essentially buying your code in the sense that we bill customers transactionally for code generation and that's outright IP ownership.
About Bee Partners
Founded in 2009, Bee Partners is a pre-Seed venture capital firm that partners with revolutionary Founders working at the forefront of human-machine convergence across technologies that include robotics, AI, voice, i4.0, and synthetic biology. The firm leverages a singular approach to detecting new and emerging patterns of business as well as inside access to fertile but often overlooked entrepreneurial ecosystems to identify early opportunity in large, untapped markets. Bee’s portfolio companies consistently realize growth at levels that outstrip industry averages and secure follow-on capital from the world's top VCs.
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