SaaS unicorn Retool aims to ease development woes for Indian fintech startups

In a conversation with YourStory, David Hsu, Founder and CEO, Retool, talks about the unicorn’s journey and its India plans.
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In 2017, David Hsu and Anthony Guo, members of Silicon Valley startup accelerator Y Combinator, founded Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) platform Retool

The startup, according to the founders, is entirely a software product built using technologies like React and Node.js. 

Retool’s customers leverage its low-code software solutions to make internal tools specific to their unique needs, prototype applications, or experiment with building things that would otherwise be impossible to build due to lack of resources. 

Customers can use its cloud-hosted offering or host Retool on-premise inside of their own infrastructure - AWS, Azure, Google Cloud, and more.

The startup’s last round was a $20 million round at a $1.75 billion valuation. Its investors include Sequoia Capital, Y Combinator and a list of angels including entrepreneur Elad Gil; Patrick Collison ,Stripe CEO;  John Collison, Stripe President; Nat Friedman, Former GitHub CEO and Jay Simons, Former President of Atlassian. 

In a conversation with YourStory, David talks about the startup’s journey and India plans. 

Edited excerpts:

YourStory (YS): How did you come up with the idea for Retool? 

David Hsu (DH): A few weeks before Y Combinator Demo Day for the Winter 2017 class, I was burning around $1,000 a day while trying to build a UK-based Venmo competitor.

Fintech was a challenging business. We were processing payments for other people and losing money for every payment processed. It was a pretty dire situation. With less than 60 days of runway left, we decided to pivot.

Scouring for ideas hidden in our prior work, we uncovered a hefty list of custom software–tools for fraud, KYC and AML regulation–that we had built trying to keep our fintech startup running.

When you build enough internal tools as an engineer, you realise that all internal tools basically look the same. It’s just a bunch of tables, buttons, drop downs and forms that you have to build from scratch. 

We thought, “What if there was a drag and drop way of building this faster?” Within a few days, we had a functional prototype. A few weeks later, we presented at Demo Day 2017 and announced we had already signed an enterprise customer pilot worth $1.5 million 

Our customers have built around a quarter-million Retool apps to date, saving developers over 13 million engineering hours.

YS: How does Retool solve COVID-19-related fintech challenges? 

DH: Retool sees itself as a way to change how software is built and our core offering caters to internal tools, an area that has seen tremendous growth due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

As companies have moved all their processes to a digital world, the way a company operates has become critical for businesses to function. Retool helps these teams adopt a modern internal tool stack which caters to their custom needs by giving the power to engineers and builders to shape their internal product. 

With Retool, even small companies can benefit from sophisticated internal tools, which were once exclusively available to large enterprises with massive resources.

Retool has seen growing traction across all kinds of businesses, including many of the industries most accelerated by COVID-19 such as virtual events (e.g. Hopin) and COVID testing (e.g. Curative). Many of these companies handle sensitive user data and need to host most of their own software as a result. 

Retool has always offered self-hosting for enterprise customers, but we recently introduced a free self-serve plan to help growing startups build internal apps securely behind their own VPN.

YS: Tell us about the solutions offered by Retool.

DH: Retool is the fastest way to build critical internal software. With Retool, you can visually design apps that interface with any database or API (application programming interface). You can switch to code nearly anywhere to customise how your apps look and work. 

Retool makes it possible to build more custom software with less engineering time, so each team can focus on moving the business forward instead of tedious internal processes. It is unique in our space because we focus on professional developers, and designed Retool with them in mind. Most low-code and all no-code vendors focus on “citizen developers” and hobby projects. 

Retool is primarily built for engineers and a technical audience. We believe that internal tools are still largely built by engineers and technical teams that need a lot more control of the system.

We focus on a host of integrations to allow users to build applications on top of their existing infrastructure by connecting to popular databases like PostgresDB, MySql, Mongo as well as any internal REST APIs or GraphQL. This allows engineers to start building UIs on top of their existing codebase. 

YS: Where is Retool located? And, who are its customers?

DH: We have offices in San Francisco (HQ), New York and Bangalore. We currently have around 125 employees. 

Our international customers include food delivery platform DoorDash, social media company Pinterest, ecommerce giant Amazon and cryptocurrency platform Coinbase, among others 

In India, our customers include fintech company CRED, social media platform ShareChat, B2B fintech startup ClearTax, cryptocurrency startup CoinSwitch, among others. 

YS: Tell us about Retool growth in India and its competition

DH: We have seen 5x growth in India in terms of new accounts created in the last year. Sid Puri, who leads growth in India, was Retool’s first international hire, in January 2021.

Our main competitors are internal tools built in-house. We see Retool competing primarily with technologies like React and Angular (common JS frameworks used to build tools in-house from scratch). As far as low-code competitors, we aren’t often placed head to head with other platforms. 

Much of this is due to our differentiated focus on the developer persona. Most of our customers are evaluating Retool as a force multiplier for efficiency, not comparing it to other platforms.

YS: What are your future plans? 

DH: We’re doubling down on the core product, new product lines, and growing our global footprint.

We plan to use the money raised in our Series C to accelerate investments into expanding our core product, launching new product lines, and growing our global footprint.

Much of our traction in India, which is our fastest-growing foreign market, comes from word of mouth. We saw this growth opportunity early and set up our first international office in Bangalore.

Given our recent fundraise, we are ready to double down on the Indian market. We want to focus on getting Retool in the hands of more developers by offering a new unlimited Free plan, exclusive to India.

We also plan to expand into new product lines. Most of the workforce today does not sit at a desk. Internal software needs for teams that are out in the field, at the warehouse, or in transit are different—and we’ll be investing in solving these use cases over the next year.

Edited by Affirunisa Kankudti

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