Nodejitsu Has Competition from Y Combinator Darling Heroku

It sounds like a Mortal Kombat match-up: Heroku vs. Nodejitsu! The former, one of Y Combinator’s biggest exits, recently launched support for node.js app hosting–the gold rush that New York-based Nodejitsu jumped in on a year ago.

Nodejitsu knew this was coming, it was just a matter of when. But node.js is still relatively unknown, and the highly-visible Heroku could end up sucking up the air before the younger start-up can get its own lesser-known, albeit catchy, name out. We asked CEO Charlie Robbins how he plans to handle competition from the Silicon Alley giant.

Is Heroku’s product a direct competitor to Nodejitsu?

Yes, Heroku’s offering directly competes with our personal and small business node.js cloud hosting offers. I have used Heroku in the past when I did some Ruby development, and their workflow doesn’t change switching over to node.js. I’ve heard feedback from some of their customers in the IRC room(s) that it is still somewhat rough around the edges, but clearly their new stack is a big step forward for them. On the lower-level, the work they’ve done with LXC process virtualization is very interesting when one considers trying to fully utilize available resources.

Did you guys expect Heroku to come out with node.js support?

Heroku’s experimental Node.js support came out in April 2010, and their first beta support was released at Node Knockout last year. We’ve known about it from the beginning thanks to our friends in the community.

Are you worried about it? Scale of 1 to 10?

Putting something on a scale of one to ten suggests that it is a one-dimensional problem and our considerations around the market are far from that.

Does this change anything for Nodejitsu’s strategy?

We always had a diverse strategy with a strong focus on a public PaaS offering. In other words, the breadth of our product scope has always exceeded that of Heroku. I’m not really at liberty to talk about the specifics right now, but we’ve got some tricks up our sleeves that (among other things) really harness the power of building a cloud platform on top of node.js and upcoming releases will demonstrate this to the public more clearly.

Does Heroku’s size and visibility give them a leg up on you guys? Or does Nodejitsu’s laser-focus on just node give you guys the advantage?

That’s what being a start-up is all about right? To put it another way: do you think that the size and visibility of Microsoft Azure gives them a leg up on the AppHarbor guys? Cloud infrastructure is a very competitive market and the fact that we’re still here has nothing to do with our competition and everything to do with us, the team we’ve built, and the community we’ve help support over the last 18 months.

On their blog, Heroku says they “must balance the goals of being a curated, erosion-resistant platform against keeping pace with extremely active developer communities such as Ruby, Ruby/Rails, and Node.js.”

At its core, that statement is something that a lot of companies struggle with. That is, how to balance and prioritize the time and resources of the business between its core product and any open source efforts it may have. Open source moves extremely fast, and it can be difficult to find the diamond in the rough so to speak.

Nodejitsu is a company that couldn’t have existed without the amazing open-source community around node.js, and we knew it would continue to be a big driver for us which is why we’ve made so many core components of our production stack open source. If I had to put a number on it, I would say that over 75 percent of our production stack is open-source software that we have built, maintain, or someway contributed to.

Releasing so much of our stack as open-source software makes building the core product and supporting the open source community one in the same; win-win for everyone. On one side, the node.js community is enriched because there are more battle-hardened, actively maintained libraries to use and on the other side Nodejitsu gets the benefits of all the feedback and diverse usage scenarios of the open-source community at large. A great example of this is haibu, our open-source node.js application server that runs on every one of our drone instances. It’s core to our business, but it’s also open source. Win-win.

What kind of awareness/penetration does node have at this point? I’m still seeing ‘what is node.js’ blog posts in various places. Is it still growing at the same rate? Does Heroku’s node move mean more exposure for node (seems like a good thing for Nodejitsu).

Node.js has continued to onward and upward: year over year growth in all of the relevant community metrics (mailing list, IRC, Github) is well over 100 percent, sometimes exceeding 500 percent. There are over 2,600 open source modules on npm, the node package manager (think Ruby gems). Companies like Microsoft are stepping up and supporting the project instead of trying to reinvent it on the CLR. Libraries are starting to mature, and I think in the next 6-8 months some kill tools will be released that will cannibalize more developers from other communities.

Is there anyone else you consider a competitor at this point?

I don’t think that there is anyone else who is both focused on building cloud infrastructure for node.js and supporting the user space (or as we affectionately call it “user land”) through open-source contributions like Nodejitsu. “User land” is everything that is not shipped with node.js core, which is an exceptionally large area of applications, libraries, and frameworks that we love building out and supporting.

What’s the status of Nodejitsu right now?

Nodejitsu has been growing steadily since we last spoke. We’ve made some really great hires from both inside and outside the Node.js community. We’re really excited about having Saadiq Rodgers-King as our new COO, his last company’s successful exit to Facebook last year really rounds out the executive-level skill set.

We have continued our maelstrom of open source projects; across the entire team we have almost 100 projects and more than 60 just between the founding team: Marak, Paolo and myself. Three of our team members (Marak, myself, and Dominic Tarr) are on the top 10 list for most npm modules. That’s not to say that we haven’t grown and gotten the same feedback on our core product (which has been great), but there is an extremely strong focus on open source software at Nodejitsu. Honestly, what I enjoy most is the random “thank you” emails and GitHub messages I get from developers using our open source software. Nodejitsu Has Competition from Y Combinator Darling Heroku