What Netlify Gets Right

Recently, Netlify raised $12 million in its series B funding round (blog). When I heard this news, I wrote a few tweets congratulating the fine folks there on their new $$. I also explained why I wasn’t surprised at the news.

Netlify will succeed long term if they continue building the product they’re building today.

When a software engineer looks to deploy a site, they have a ridiculous amount of work just to get something working. Forget about search engine optimization, asset obfuscation, and the long list of other bullshit they’ll have to deal with after it’s up; just getting a website from Git to the internet is hard as hell.

My Good Friend Theo Levitt

Let me introduce you to Theodore Levitt. He was an economist who did a lot of great things to (not in) the business world. I admire him. And relevantly, he once said this: “people don’t want to buy a quarter-inch drill, they want a quarter-inch hole.”

This quote explains such an important concept in marketing and selling anything.

Practically nobody goes out to Home Depot saying “I really want to buy a drill today!” Some of us do want to buy the drill because we like our toys, but that’s still not why we go to Home Depot. We go buy the drill because we need to make damn sure we can drill damn good holes in lots of walls.

The product isn’t the drill, it’s the hole in the wall.

(Credit Jason Fried for explaining this in this interview)

Drills and Websites

Websites are not simple to make, and even less simple to actually deploy.

No web designer/engineer likes sorting through a bunch of “top 10” lists for web hosts, site generators, or CMS products. But we have to.

None of us really care that Wordpress just got faster in the previous release.

We’re just looking to get from our HTML to a website as fast as we can.

And plus, those top 10 lists basically come down to guessing based on who has the best logo.

Along Comes Netlify

Here’s what Netlify tells you it can do, right on the front page:

Write frontend code. Push it. We handle the rest.

They handle the rest, huh? What does “the rest” mean? Roughly speaking, here’s what we’d otherwise have to do to get an HTML page on the internet:

  • Write my HTML (duh)
  • Sign up for a host (Linode, DreamHost, or maybe S3 if I’m feeling adventurous)
  • Somehow upload my page to the host
  • Configure some internal routing
  • Navigate some CLI or web UI to get the IP address or hostname
  • Set up DNS to point to that IP/hostname

Oh, and don’t forget about other assets (favicon, scripts, CSS, …), SSL certs, repeatable deployments, storing the code, and so on.

Maddening.

Everything on that list is a barrier. A barrier for a web designer to get from idea to website, and a barrier for a web engineer to get from client-who-hasn’t-paid to client-who-has-paid. Plus, that list makes me want to get out of the website-making business.

And Netlify does it all for me. Now my list is this:

  • Write my HTML

No longer do I have to go to the Website Depot store and pick up one of those big flatbed carts and go shopping for a bunch of shit I don’t want just so I can build my website.

Without Netlify, I need one of these to pick up all the things I need to build my website

With Netlify, it’s crystal clear that I can get from my HTML to a working website in a fast, simple and maintainable way. And that’s all I want.

So, if Netlify keeps on their current tack, they’re gonna do well.

Any engineer worth their salt understands why they should use the product.

That same engineer can tell their boss, in financial terms, why the company should use Netlify.

And any boss worth their salt will make the call to switch.

By the way, I’m not affiliated with Netlify in any way, except for being a customer who digs the product.