This tool could make anyone an app developer
MAPT wants to transform backend app development with a no-code approach
I’ve never understood the level of excitement around ‘web3’ in recent years.
Bitcoin aside, I’ve never seen a problem that blockchains don’t complicate while offering benefits that are often more ideological than tangible. Beyond the opportunity for a much faster exit, investor interest in web3 and crypto has always seemed too great for the stage the tech is at.
Maybe it will turn out to be something substantial eventually, but it needs a lot more time in the oven to reach maturity. The real next big leap forward we’ve been waiting for since the smartphone is far more likely to be generative A.I.
Spend five minutes with DALL-E or ChatGPT and you can see the fundamental shifts in work and creativity these kinds of services can usher in.
There will be plenty of technical and societal problems to navigate along the way, but the changes it can bring about are real and relatively close at hand.
I expect PreSeed Now will feature startups exploring this field in the coming year.
One big opportunity for generative A.I. is in massively lowering the barrier to entry for software creation. Today’s startup isn’t based around generative A.I., but its approach is certainly complementary. Scroll down to discover MAPT.
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We’re nearly at that stage where most investment activity closes down for Christmas, but I’ll have one more startup for you on Thursday before then.
MAPT could make anyone an app developer
Whether it’s thanks to easier-to-use tools, A.I., or most likely a combination of the two, it seems likely that many aspects of app development will become trivially easy in the years to come.
Here’s a case in point: MAPT is a new startup simplifying the way developers build their backend systems.
To understand what this means in practice, you have to know what microservices are. Think of them as the building blocks for the backend of an app; a collection of pieces of code maintained by dedicated teams that conduct specific tasks. When microservices are chained together, they can be a powerful and efficient way of getting things done.
But as MAPT’s Manchester-based founder David Fox explains, connecting all those microservices together with code isn’t necessarily ideal.
“It's quite difficult to understand, visualise, collaborate, and maintain those connections when they're all written as code. So ‘microservice A needs to trigger microservice B, then microservice C…’ Currently, that's just little bits of code that live with each microservice, and there's no way of scaling that process to keep it visual, keep it collaborative, keep it understandable.”
MAPT provides that visualisation by allowing microservices to be chained together in a simple, drag-and-drop way. It maps out the connections between microservices and highlights potential problems that any changes might cause.
“It’s a no-code tool to help developers build their backend systems in such a way that they can build them big, build them distributed, and still retain control,” as Fox puts it.
Fox says that MAPT can not only make backend developers’ lives easier, it also lowers the barrier to entry for working on this stuff. This means junior developers can move on to building distributed systems much faster. Also, the no-code approach could in time allow a much wider range of app builders without coding experience to construct richer backend functionality.
Eventually, Fox aims for MAPT to offer an ‘app store’ of microservices that users can simply activate and drop into their flows.
“Hopefully, in the not too distant future you can build a fully fledged, mature backend application that does basically whatever you want it to do from an app perspective. [We’ll be able to say] anyone can build tech. If you have an idea, we're going to be part of that no-code solution, and take that as far as we can go.”
MAPT has launched with the ability for anyone to connect and map their microservices for free. How much you then make use of these maps dictates how much you pay for it. “It's going to be volume-based on how many events you put through the system,” says Fox. “We're basically turning drag-and-drop event flows into rules in a database that we then use when we receive your events.”
The startup is also testing an alternative go-to-market strategy where it provides a more hands-on approach, working directly with a number of companies to develop apps for them using MAPT’s technology.
The scale-friendly SaaS approach is undoubtedly better for making an impact in the long run, but there’s plenty that can be learned from close working relationships with early users. Startups that don’t at least talk in detail with their most engaged early customers are really missing out.
Fox is MAPT’s sole founder, and he comes to the startup from a background in machine learning and data science. After obtaining a PhD in machine learning from Manchester University, he worked at various companies in data science and machine learning roles, while getting increasingly involved in coding.
“Because I'd come from a big data background doing machine learning, everything had to be state of the art from a cloud perspective. And so I got more and more into the world of distributed systems.”
Fox eventually took what he’d learned and co-founded no-code ‘build your own bank’ startup Orenda in 2020.
As CTO, he saw the pain points of microservices first-hand, and he began to stew on a solution to stop distributed systems from “becoming basically spaghetti code and not knowing if we change something here, what's going to break there. And having a nightmare of trying to get new people to understand the flows of events through microservices, which are becoming more and more sprawling as the days go by.”
Earlier this year, Fox left Orenda and began to work on that solution. It’s a one-person startup at present, although he says he has “part-time business, accounting assistance and general go-to-market strategy assistance.
“The plan is to start getting some traction and user feedback. We will then look to scale the team accordingly.”
The bigger picture
MAPT has now soft launched, allowing users to sign up and try the product. But the obvious question has to be why hasn’t anyone already built this?
Fox speculates that people building developer tools often don’t think about the bigger picture of how ease of use could open up new markets and opportunities.
MAPT is built on Amazon Web Services, and the closest thing AWS offers is the more complex EventBridge. But even if Amazon launched a visual tool like MAPT tomorrow, Fox says his startup’s vision is much bigger than that.
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