Starting And Selling StaticKit

The story behind how the product got started and why I sold it to Formspree

Over the past year, thousands of developers have signed up for StaticKit and used our APIs and front-end libraries for powering dynamic forms on their sites. Now, I’m excited to announce what’s next: Formspree has acquired StaticKit and folded our developer-friendly libraries into their product. So, how did we get here?

After wrapping up my work on Level last year, I returned to my trusty idea notebook for inspiration. I’ve long been a fan of static site generators (since the early days of Jekyll back in 2009), and the idea for a suite of backend services to accompany static sites has been on my radar for about ten years.

Services like this have existed for some time: Disqus for embedding comments on your blog, Algolia for implementing search, Drip for capturing email addresses, Auth0 for authentication, Formspree for form endpoints, etc. These product offerings are compelling, but there’s a problem. Since they each take on relatively narrow responsibilities, it’s easy to end up paying for a bunch of independent services to get your site functioning.

As a result, folks often opt for a more monolithic stack (like WordPress), to the detriment of developer experience. Companies like Netlify and Vercel are continuing to advance the state-of-the-art on the static hosting side. Still, I recognized a gap in developer-centric backend services to come alongside these hosting providers. And so the idea for StaticKit began to take shape.

I chose to start with a simple offering, intending to expand my suite of offerings if things looked promising. Since I was bootstrapping, I decided that I would need to achieve meaningful progress toward “default alive” status (enough revenue to cover expenses, including my salary) within about year.

One of the risks with this business is the relative newness of the JAMstack architecture. I figured I could leverage my development skills to build a compelling set of libraries – but are there enough developers using these technologies in a business context who are willing to pay? Do the developers adopting these technologies have a rational view of the “build versus buy” equation?

Formspree is proof that you can build a successful bootstrapped company in the space, but it takes quite a bit of patience. Although StaticKit has seen quite a bit of adoption and interest over the last year, we are still far from sustainable revenue.

Another challenge is the aggressive use of freemium in this space. The playbook is pretty typical: gain widespread adoption with an expansive free plan and subsidize free users with an enterprise sales strategy. As a result, many developers have come to expect most things to be free. If they can get all their hosting for free, why should they have to pay for their complimentary services?

After toiling away for months without the revenue growth I was hoping to see, my options boiled down to these:

  • Raise additional capital to extend my runway and continue persuing this market,
  • Keep running the product while working on something else in parallel, or
  • Sell StaticKit to a company with enough traction to be in it for the long haul.

Pretty quickly, I eliminated the first option. I didn’t feel confident enough that there was a mature enough market to support the suite of tools I was envisioning, and I wasn’t willing to wait years to find out if that was going to develop.

My decision came down to focus. Some founders thrive with multiple irons in the fire; over time, I’ve learned I’m not one of them. And if I pivoted my attention to something else now, I would likely not need to raise more funding (anytime soon, at least). Thus, the ideal path forward was to find a new home for StaticKit.

Formspree is one of the first form backend-as-a-service providers and is a well-respected member of the ecosystem, so they were naturally at the top of my list.

Fortunately, Formspree’s co-founder Cole and I already had a friendly relationship, and he shared the same vision of building developer-centric libraries. It was a painless negotiation, and we quickly got moving on a transition plan.

I look forward to seeing where Formspree takes things next! If you’re interested in what I’m working on now, check out SavvyCal, a fresh take on personal scheduling software.


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