Elixir businesses doing well2020-12-09
I generally don’t track startup news and financing rounds closely but it filters in because I enjoy tech. And these two Elixir-based companies made a blip on my radar recently with their successful rounds. So why not. Let’s be a little bit business.
So I don’t particularly love the VC-backed model of building businesses. It sort of makes sense for some types of endeavors but generally I’m an organic growth and small teams kind of person. I’ve been in a fast-growing small startup and have the scars to prove it. I’ve also seen good and bad examples of how these kinds of startups can work. Startups that can work at a sustainable pace basically mostly feel like any other company and are fine. Startups that are under fire or in financial panic are generally rough to work inside of. Not my type of business to run and own these days but highly relevant to our sector and Elixir is quite popular in the startup space, as it took on the mantle of Ruby’s successor.
I don’t know either of these companies intimately. I basically just found out about Boulevard, I might have heard the name before but not sure. Discord I know as an occasional gamer and community participant, they’re huge of course. These companies are at different scales and with different levels of name recognition I dare say. But they both build on Elixir and have done so since fairly early on. They both also seem to be killing it as they say in the biz. I think, I’m only tangentially in any biz.
Both of these are serious money. Different levels of serious but either way, quite serious. I’ve written a little bit about Elixir as a competitive advantage and this just adds some good sauce on top of that.
And I do believe the technology choice has given these companies a genuine advantage. Let’s pontificate.
Discord’s use-case is so very closely mapped to telecom needs that it’s almost absurd. They do calls and chat, presence and soft real-time. So building on something with the backing of Erlang and the BEAM, straight out of Ericsson, probably fit pretty much perfectly.
Boulevard’s case isn’t as clear to me. I think they are closer to the startup that would have defaulted to Rails a bunch of years back. So what this tells me (my sample size is like 6+) is that whatever Rails brought to the table Elixir seems to be matching. They actually had a Sean Stavropoulos on the Elixir Talk podcast that just resurfaced to talk. And he called out the lower memory usage on Heroku and a bunch of other sweet stuff. Good listen I thought. Their use-case is not as clear because they aren’t necessarily connecting calls and sending audio, doing lots of real-time stuff and all that. They might be but their business model would likely not demand it. To me this strengthens the image of Phoenix and Elixir covering the 80-90% use-case. Which is even more important.
As I’ve been prone to claiming. I think Elixir allows you to build better solutions. It gives you an exceedingly powerful baseline if you treat it like any other high-level language with a web framework. But you have enormous headroom to build systems that are a nightmare to build in languages with a similar expressiveness. The trade-offs you currently make with Elixir are things that place the language and runtime squarely in the space of building distributed services. I wouldn’t use it for a CLI application because of startup time (though Lumen might fix that), I wouldn’t use it for a mobile app because it doesn’t really fit (Lumen might help there, but I don’t expect it to). But I mostly build services. And there it just allows me to do more with less. Less hardware, less dependencies, less complexity. And it gives more. More guarantees, more clarity, more consistency and more reliability.
If you have thoughts, feel free to reach out at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @lawik. If you want more of my writing I have a newsletter where I write on similar topics but perhaps more ephemerally and more experimental stuff. You’ll find a signup thing in the footer.