Alan Shimel talks with Max Stoiber from GraphCDN, the CDN for GraphQL APIs. GraphCDN is now available to everyone with edge caching, query analytics, error tracking and protection from malicious queries for your GraphQL APIs. A video is below followed by a transcript of the conversation.
Announcer: This is Digital Anarchist.
Alan Shimel: Hey, everyone. Thanks for joining us on another Tech Strong TV segment. My guest for this segment is Max Stoiber—and if I mispronounced that, Max, I apologize. I did my best, but why don’t you say it correctly?
Max Stoiber: Stoiber, but it doesn’t really matter. I’m really excited to be here—thank you for having me.
Shimel: Oh, it’s our pleasure to have you on. But you know what, it does matter—names matter, right? My mom taught me that and somewhere, your mom or dad or both, their name and—they deserve to have it pronounced right, as well.
But anyway, Max, thanks for joining us. Maybe more important than your name is the name of your company, so why don’t you start off with sharing that with our audience?
Stoiber: Absolutely. So, I am the Co-founder of GraphCDN, which we just recently announced is now publicly available for everybody. And so, that’s sort of the reason I’m here is to tell you a little bit about that journey and how we got here.
Shimel: Absolutely. So, GraphCDN—I mean, we’ve seen so much news coming out of kinda graph databases and graph data, and it really gives us a new way of looking at, I guess it’s part of nature, right? Things get more complex and bigger as we go on, and so you need new technologies to help you get your arms wrapped around it. And certainly, graph technology is a real up and comer, if you will, in terms of helping us wrap our heads around stuff like this.
So, you know, why don’t we start with a little bit of background? Like, what does the company do, what’s the problem you’re solving—that kind of thing.
Stoiber: Absolutely. So, GraphCDN is a GraphQL CDN. And GraphQL is a technology, in case you’re not familiar with it, that was invented by Facebook back in, I want to say 2014, maybe ’15. It’s been a while. And they use it—it’s basically like an API framework that lets people build very strongly typed APIs to communicate between their servers and their clients. And Facebook invented that, and open sourced it. And a lot of other companies started adopting it, because it feels very nice to use for developers.
And so, we provide, similar to how other CDNs provide features for websites to make them faster, more secure, think, like, Fastly cloud there, we do the same thing for GraphQL APIs. And we do that for everybody, not just Facebook who has technology like this internally, of course, we do it for all the other companies that aren’t Facebook and don’t really have the time to build all this technology themselves.
And we came to that whole thing because when we built our last status, me and my Co-founder Tim, we were using GraphQL and we had huge scaling problems. We were growing like mad, but we couldn’t just cache our GraphQL API, for example, because none of the existing CDNs support GraphQL. They can’t cache any of the data that goes through it.
And so, we struggled with this and we built terrible solutions internally at our past companies, trying to solve this as best as we can. And then now, we got together and we said, “Hey, we just gotta solve this,” right? It’s almost, excuse my language, stupid that nobody’s done this, because it’s such a clear need.
And so, we sat down, and it turns out it’s quite hard to solve, which is why it took us a while, but we finally got there and now we’ve got GraphCDN, and it does a lot of things for people that have GraphQL APIs. That’s sort of the broad strokes overview, I would say.
Shimel: Absolutely. Max, you know what, you mentioned a little bit here and there, but let’s talk about your background and your history.
Stoiber: Absolutely. So, I am, I would say, most widely known in the engineering community for having invented a bunch of open source projects, particularly in the front-end web development space. About 1 to 1.5 percent of all websites on the planet are powered by technologies that I invented, mainly by styled-components, which is one of the biggest ones.
And so, I’ve sort of amassed a large following of engineers and designers and other tech people following me for my open source work. And then, I’ve previously co-founded a startup with two friends from California where we were building sort of a modern forum, in a way, sort of a mixture between WhatsApp and traditional, you know, the forums of the past where we used to hang out and have friends.
Shimel: Very cool, and congratulations. Very, very impressive.
Stoiber: Thank you.
Shimel: Thank you. You know, look, I’ve worked with enough engineers and software developers to know that nothing is ever truly done, right? There’s always more we could do, right? Why GA now, why kind of emerge from Stealth, if you will—you know, why now?
Stoiber: That’s a great question. It’s funny, because we debated this for a long time internally, because we felt like we were GA ready two or three months ago, right? We sort of had the basic set of features where we thought we could cover common needs, almost all of the common needs that we wanted to cover. We were ready or people, but also, GraphCDN, because it is a CDN, is critical infrastructure. If we’re down, our customers are down. And we take that responsibility incredibly seriously.
Now, we’re based on Fastly’s edge computing technology. So, the infrastructure underlying GraphCDN is actually very solid. But we wanted to make sure that our part of that infrastructure was as solid as it could be. And so, we gradually on boarded early access customers, including the biggest rugby site in Australia and a bunch of others, to make sure that our infrastructure could really handle the load. And after we proved that out for the last two, three months, we said, “Okay, we are confident in our systems, we’ve found all the bugs we’ll find before with GA.” Of course, you can never find all of them. That would be—I think any engineer that says that is lying. But we found most of them, the ones that really mattered, and then we said, “Okay, it’s good enough, let’s have people sign up and really get this into people’s hands.”
Shimel: Excellent. And let’s talk about the model for the company. I mean, with your open source background, I’m gonna assume, is there an open source graph?
Stoiber: There actually isn’t.
Stoiber: The open source part of it is the GraphQL part, the framework that Facebook open sourced. But our infrastructure is fully proprietary. There’s actually—there’s sort of two schools of thought, right? You have companies like Sentry doing all of their core work in the open source and then providing hosting or other services on top. And I think that model can work quite well, but for us, because we’re critical infrastructure, we knew that we needed to be in people’s critical path and we knew we needed to be reliable, and that just takes a team, right? There’s no way that you can just run this on the side, you know, have it running in the background and not worry about it. It needs to be maintained. Somebody needs to sit there 24/7 on call and pay attention that this thing keeps running, just to make sure nothing goes wrong.
And so, open source just didn’t feel like the right fit for that, because honestly, we’re gonna sit there 24/7 and make sure that our infrastructure stays up and doesn’t have any down time. And so, we did not go open source and instead have—we have a very generous fee plan, but beyond that, believe it or not, people pay us for the thing we provide. Which, of course, sounds ridiculous, because that’s what businesses do, but as an open source developer, that’s actually less natural to me than you might think. But it feels very nice, I have to say. We’re very appreciative of our customers for helping them scale and secure their GraphQL APIs. And so far, over the past months that we’ve had customers, everybody has been very happy that they have us and that’s very gratifying to see from our side, of course.
Shimel: Agreed, agreed. When you say GA, I’m assuming GA, people can go buy and use this right now.
Stoiber: Correct. Absolutely.
Shimel: But is there a free trial, is there—
Shimel: You know, because you know how software is consumed today, right? You gotta get it in people’s hands and deliver delight, right?
Shimel: And if it’s good and they like it, they buy it.
Stoiber: Absolutely. That’s the exact model we follow. We have a very, I would say, generous free plan. You can use us for free for up to, I think, 5,000,000 requests per month, which covers a lot of early stage startups, we’ve realized, maybe even more than we would’ve liked. It’s definitely a very generous free plan, is what we’ve learned, which is a good thing, because we wanna provide that value, particularly to those growing companies. And then eventually, when they hit the scale where they have more than 5,000,000 requests, it starts costing $10.00 per 1,000,000 requests. And so, it’s sort of, the pricing scales with your usage.
In theory, you can throw as many requests as you want at us, since we’re based on Fastly and they handle a lot of traffic, I’m not very worried about not being able to handle scale. And we have—it was actually funny, after we GA’d and we announced that this is now available to everybody, of course, people signed up and then suddenly started deploying this thing to production and our traffic just 10X’d overnight, and we didn’t even notice. Like, we just looked at our graph, like, we woke up the next morning, we looked at our graphs, at our internal dashboards and we realized, “Hey, a site just enabled us overnight and 10X’d our traffic, and we didn’t even realize,” right? And they’re just—they were just like, “Yeah, this works, we’ll use it—perfectly fine.” And that just kind of keeps happening and it’s very, very interesting to see. I love it, I have to say.
Shimel: You know, that’s one of the—so, I’ve been in the Internet business since ’96, ’95, and that truly is one of the remarkable things about the Internet is yeah, people, you know, if you put your shop out there, you put yourself out there, people come by. And they could be from anywhere, whether they’re from Australia, Japan, Korea, you know, Amsterdam, London, or next door, it makes no difference, they’re on the Internet. And all of a sudden—boom, you know, it lights up and it’s like, “My goodness, you know? We were hoping for this, but who”—you know, you never know. That’s fantastic.
So, what are plans going forward? Have you guys announced fundraising, is that in the works, or—you know, where’s the continuing journey, here?
Stoiber: We raised a round of funding a couple months ago from some well-known industry people, mostly friends of ours, like Guillaume ________, the CEO of Versel; Tom Preston-Warner, one of the Founders of GitHub; Jason Warner, the current CTO of GitHub. A bunch of friends that we knew from the industry that we also knew loved GraphQL and that they knew what it was about and they immediately got what we were working on.
And so, we raised enough funding to sustain us for a couple years, and now we’re gonna use that funding to build a small team to help us maintain this, because right now, it’s just me and Tim—or has been just me and Tim for the past months, and now we’re starting to hire and on board the first people to help us really take this to the next level. Because it’s a lot of work, it turns out. [Laughter]
Shimel: Yeah, I know, yeah.
Stoiber: Building a great product is a lot of work.
Shimel: Well, you know what they say, Max, if it was easy, everyone would do it.
Stoiber: Exactly right. [Laughter] Absolutely.
Shimel: But it’s fun work, right? There are people who really work for a living versus people who love what they do.
Stoiber: Yeah, absolutely.
Shimel: You know what we didn’t do, though, Max, we never gave anyone, like, the URL, where could they get more information, where can they download it? Where can they go?
Stoiber: The URL and the home page is at GraphCDN.io, and it just has—as any website, it has a massive sign up button that you can click, and then you’ll be redirected to GitHub and you can sign up and just try it out. You don’t even need a GraphQL API, we have this sort of flow where we’ll give you a demographical API, just so you can get a feel for what it does and how it works. So, yeah, go to GraphCDN.io and try it out.
Shimel: That sounds like a plan. Hey, man, you gotta come back and keep us posted of progress here, okay?
Stoiber: I will absolutely do that. Thank you so much for having me.
Shimel: Oh, it’s our pleasure. Max Stoiber, Co-founder, GraphCDN, it’s at GraphCDN.io—right, Max?
Stoiber: That’s it. That’s the one.
Shimel: Yeah. Go check it out. Seems pretty cool. This is Alan Shimel for Tech Strong TV, we’re gonna take a break and we’ll be right back with our next guest.[End of Audio]