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Posted Wednesday, February 03, 2016 by Richard Harris, Executive Editor
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Matthew Baier, COO of Built.io, reached out to us to discuss his thoughts into the recent announcement by Facebook that they are shutting down the Parse development platform. Matthew has 15 years of experience launching and growing a wide range of successful products at Sun Microsystems, Oracle and Salesforce. He co-founded KurbKarma, a TechCrunch Disrupt 2012 Startup Battlefield Finalist. Matthew holds an M.A. in Astrophysics from the University of Cambridge.
ADM: What do you think Facebook’s announcement last week about shutting down Parse really means?
Baier: In some ways, this marks the end of an era, since Parse was a prominent and respected MBaaS player that innovated quickly (at least prior to the acquisition by Facebook). It also means that the clock is ticking for everyone who built an app relying on Parse’s mobile backend. Millions of apps were built on Parse, sparking tinkering and innovation of the best kind. Between now and next year this community must find a new home for all of its apps.
ADM: Why does Built.io think Facebook made that decision, given that Parse was technologically sound?
Baier: While many vendors invested heavily in marketing, Parse actually invested heavily in technology and built a robust platform that attracted a significant following. They were one of the technology thought leaders and it's sad to see Facebook pull the plug. The Parse news is a reminder that it's hard to make money if you are targeting consumer and gaming market. Building a community centered around a free offering is one thing, turning that community into paying clients is a whole other beast.
ADM: How will the market be impacted?
Baier: Whether Facebook felt financial pressure or not, several of the smaller MBaaS vendors will surely begin to feel it now, as its financiers will be watching ever more closely for that “hockeystick” growth and, ultimately, a business model that’s profitable and sustainable.
This announcement will likely also accelerate what many believe is the inevitable merging of adjacent technology sectors, specifically the closely related Mobile Application Development Platforms (MADP), the rapidly commoditizing Enterprise Mobility Management (EMM) arena as well as the red hot integration Platform-as-a-Service (iPaaS) market.
ADM: How will other Mobile backend-as-a-Service (MBaaS) players be impacted?
Baier: Here’s the dirty little secret that anyone who’s been in mobile for a while knows very well and many of the less experienced MBaaS startups are still learning: businesses don't go looking to buy new platforms. By the time they realize they need one for their mobile app strategy, many have gone down the path of building their own (hairball) mobile stack. Or they’re waiting for their behemoth, legacy technology providers from the 90s to deliver the tech that’s being promised to them on polished marketing slides.
Instead of trying to ram another platform down IT’s throat, a better strategy is to find the solutions to real business problems and sell those. If you can offer mobile innovation in the form of such solutions which in turn embed your company’s platform, everybody wins.
A solution sale sounds like it might take longer, or be more complex, instead of just trying to sell a subscription-based cloud platform. As it turns out, it’s the former that is proving to lead to faster sales cycles and happier, more loyal customers. If your MBaaS vendor doesn’t have professional services or a robust partner network to help customize their platform for your needs, that’s a red flag.
We anticipate more and more players in this space to transition away from what is lovingly called a “technology hit-and-run” sales approach to a more customer-focused, solutions-based sales model.
ADM: Does this decrease the value of MBaaS?
Baier: Analysts and other industry leaders have said for years that the money in mobile is in the enterprise. Businesses that operate profitably in this space are proof that they were right. Not to say that Parse wasn't making money, but Facebook in the enterprise wasn’t ever something that was on the horizon and that is where the budgets and value associated with MBaaS are greatest.
Though we shouldn’t deny the sense of nostalgia that surrounds the Parse shutdown, MBaaS existed before Parse and it will thrive long after any single brand is forgotten. That’s because the value of MBaaS is still fundamentally compelling: fast forward an idea and turn it into a mobile app. No need to find a large team of interdisciplinary experts; instead organizations can leverage a stack that's robust and proven and allows it to focus on what makes their idea unique (hint: it's not your unique oAuth implementation for Facebook login, nor is it your cleverly designed notifications engine).
What will have to change are the business models supporting the mobile backend ecosystem.
ADM: Is open sourcing Parse really the answer?
Baier: Open sourcing Parse softens the blow, but only a little. Who is going to maintain the technology longer term? For open source to thrive, you need an active community that champions and persists in maintaining a project. The reality is that more than 98 percent of all projects on GitHub don’t see any development beyond the first year they were written. So while there are many open source success stories, betting on open source as an enterprise isn’t a guaranteed road to success. And Parse is no different.
ADM: With all the migration tools from Parse and 3rd party vendors, how easy is it really to migrate to an alternate service?
Baier: A migration from Parse will not be trivial, no matter where you take your app. But there are services out there (including Parse’s own migration tools) to help make it as seamless as possible. A solid route is to find an MBaaS company that also has a professional services team and migration expertise to help with a transition. It also helps to migrate to a backend that has a similar feature set.
ADM: What are the longer term technology implications of this news?
Baier: The end of Parse is a sobering reminder that cloud vendors and their offerings can – and do – disappear. Of course there are no guarantees, no matter the size of the company you’re betting your app on. However, there are steps that all of us – customers and vendors – can take to minimize exposure and impact of similar announcements in the future.
First, there is a real need to rethink and evolve the MBaaS architecture. Offering an end-to-end, tightly integrated stack sounds appealing, but leaves everyone vulnerable to a single vendor. Instead, MBaaS needs to move into a more loosely coupled technology stack, which allows developers to plug in best-of-breed microservices. That way, you can spread the risk across multiple vendors, so when your push notifications or analytics provider go under, you can replace the impacted functionality with an alternative.
Second, while public cloud offers the best economies of scale, private cloud deployments don’t necessarily have to break the bank. More importantly, private cloud has the huge advantage that you can keep the servers and software running long past any vendor’s “sunset” period. You might not get any new features, but history shows that systems can run just fine for years if left untouched. You just don’t get that option if the public cloud provider decides to pull the plug. Combined, a more flexible architecture and the greater control of the stack by customers operating it in the private cloud can provide a useful insurance policy and build confidence in your next platform choice.
Finally, bet on companies that have weathered a storm or two and demonstrated financial stability. Choosing a technology provider that’s been around for a decade doesn’t mean they’re innovating any slower than the hot new startup down the road. It does mean that they’ve steered their business successfully through a recession and demonstrated being able to run a sustainable business. It’s moments like this that are a great reminder that stability and innovation actually pair remarkably well.
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