It's always fascinating to see what a successful startup founder does next, and in particular, what companies they found. For FL0 co-founder and CEO Dale Brett, it was his experiences at previous ventures that inspired a "Canva for engineers" to supercharge a startup's unsung hero: the backend engineer.
Launching just five months ago, it's safe to say FL0 is off to a cracking start, opening its Alpha earlier this year and last week were named Startup of the Year at the Sydney Young Entrepreneur Awards.
Fresh off his recent Wild Hearts interview, we sat down with Dale to discuss how the idea for FL0 first came about, overcoming backend engineers' biggest challenges, and how binaural sounds help him focus.
B: Tell us a bit about how you and (co-founder) Rani first came up with the idea for FL0.
DB: Time has flown by so quickly, Rani and I have been working together for over a decade! We have built some great ventures together including a payments company acquired in 2017 and our more recent success with digital twins startup Willow).
One of the biggest problems Rani and I faced and one that is shared by almost every company globally is the talent shortage for engineers. Demand today far outstrips supply and it is getting extremely difficult to ship quality software in short amounts of time. This has only been exacerbated by with the pandemic, with local markets heating up and competition for talent increasing.
The idea for FL0 was really shaped through our experiences in building high performing engineering teams. For instance, we were working closely with Microsoft to launch a new developer tool and needed to shift everything across to their new infrastructure. The process would take around six months to complete! We figured surely there was a better way to do this: instead of spending time on managing backend infrastructure, teams should focus on solving problems for customers. We wanted to make things easy for them by providing best in class infrastructure which was scalable and flexible. From there we decided to continue solving this problem further up the stack, with aims to do the same for code. We had the idea to create prewritten building blocks of code, that you can link together to build all types of complex logic.
We founded FL0 by re-imagining the future of backend engineering and that’s why we are here today. Our goal is to help engineers build at 20x the speed, and democratise technology for the next generation of creators.
B: What are some of the most common challenges that backend engineers face (for those not in the engineering space) and how does FL0 solve this?
DB: We’ve been dubbed the “Canva of engineering” because we take the complexity out of building backend systems by offering a simple platform for engineers. We provide an abstracted layer above the code, which is like a ‘Lego kit’ of blocks that allows the building of complex applications without the need to write code.
In software engineering and building products, there are so many elements that need to be set up in order to create the foundation for a product. A lot of this is boilerplate where you are reusing the same code over and over again. FL0 makes this easy for engineers by spinning it all up automatically behind the scenes, so engineers can skip straight to building and have a solution live in minutes.
Another challenge is that every engineer has their own way of doing things, resulting in a lack of standardisation for how products are developed. FL0 helps to standardise this process with pre-built coding blocks, a marketplace app store and custom built blocks. This helps to provide a larger talent pool for companies, enabling them to bring on engineers from different coding backgrounds.
As technology has evolved, users have started to expect everything to work together. This means the software you are building needs to connect to other systems. Engineers spend a lot of time trying to understand new systems, figuring out how they can work together and then building a solution. FL0 removes this challenge entirely with a marketplace of prebuilt apps, and technology to rapidly integrate to any third party system so engineers can connect everything in just a few clicks.
B: Some of Australia's top engineering leaders invested in FL0's seed round. Why was it important to you to get individual investors in this space from the beginning and how have they helped you and Rani in building FL0?
DB: Strategic alignment is really important to us. For us it is about having investors who can help accelerate our goal to become one of the best in the world. We want a platform where if you’re thinking about building something, you want to build it on FL0.
Having investors from some of the top global VCs, founders, CEOs and engineering leaders from some of the world’s best tech companies has been extremely helpful in all areas. They’ve helped with strategic introductions, intros to key hires, access to new developer networks and providing feedback and input to our roadmap and product. It’s exciting to have such talented people believe in our vision and product.
B: As a repeat founder, what has each of your previous ventures taught you and how are you applying those learnings at FL0?
DB: How you make decisions is really important. It’s not just about making fast decisions, it’s about empowering your team and backing them in their decisions. Even if we may not agree on something, once a decision is made we all commit to backing that decision.
Focus is another area. When there’s a lot of excitement in what you’re doing and a lot of customers asking you for things, It's easy to get caught up in saying ‘yes’. The problem with that is that you spread yourself too thin very quickly. Saying no is very important. Right now with FL0 there are so many products we could deliver and problems we could solve for customers, but we need to stay focused and be the best at one thing first, before we tackle new product opportunities.
What excites you most about the future of FL0?
DB: We’re excited to empower the next generation of creators. We’re seeing early signs of a thriving developer community being built, with some amazing products being created in record time.
FL0 is emerging as a central platform of building blocks, which has everything you need to rapidly scale a new product, or enhance an existing product with new features and functionality.
As a tool for creators, we are able to be at the forefront of new innovations and this is really exciting. We’re seeing a huge spike in NFT products being built, and FL0 offers huge amounts of flexibility and speed to empower creators to build these next generation products.
A book/video that is worth reading/watching: The Cold Start Problem by Andrew Chen from A16Z. It’s all about launching a company in the early days, with interesting interviews from some of the most iconic and successful global tech founders.
A podcast you never miss: The Flow State podcast with binaural sounds and beats to help focus during work. This is the main soundtrack in our Sydney HQ office (I love it!). If I'm looking to learn from great founders on specific business topics, I listen to A16Z, In Depth, or Wild Hearts!
The last great article you read: An old one but a great one to refer back to; Superhuman CEO Rahul Vohra talks about an interesting way of finding product market fit.
Someone to follow on socials: I’m a big gaming fan, so I follow Jon Lai from A16Z to always get the latest on gaming technology, NFTs and the metaverse.
If you'd like to try out the FL0 platform or become an Alpha Partner, head over to their website here.