Before Being Acquired by Facebook: The Early Stages of Parse

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Parse and Facebook

Before being acquired by Facebook for $85mill in order to help developers build apps that span mobile platforms and devices, we had the chance to catch up with Parse cofounder Ilya Sukhar about their early stages and how it all got started. Ilya shares with us where the idea came from, how they prototyped, and what their MVP process looked like. Those who embrace the lean startup methodology might want to read on…. Parse is a 2011 Y Combinator company and is also funded by Google Ventures.

Where Parse came from:

The idea came from my own experience building mobile apps. I was part of a very small startup called Etacts that got acquired by Salesforce in late 2010. I joined Salesforce but I was really itching to start something of my own. So I spent a lot of my free time in early 2011 learning the mobile landscape and building experimental apps. I eventually left Salesforce because I had been accepted into Y Combinator. While I was building these apps, I realized that I wasn’t very passionate about building apps but that there was a huge opportunity in making it much easier for others to do so. As a backend engineer, I had expected to struggle with the UI layer and spend most of my time there. However, in addition to the UI, I found myself rebuilding very common functionality like data storage and user authentication over and over again all the while dealing with the problems that come from developing for different platforms, different devices, different run times.

                                     Ilya
Ycombinator, Prototypes, and MVPs:

I had been accepted to Y Combinator as a solo founder so the first step of validation was finding a cofounder. Luckily, I met Kevin right around the same time that I started considering this idea. We clicked instantly, entered YC together, and began working on a prototype in my apartment.

A few weeks later, we met Tikhon & James. They had been working on a payments company but were looking to switch it up. Kevin & I pitched them on this idea, we felt each other out for a bit, and then combined forces to form an amazing powerhouse team. We had to switch to Tikhon’s larger apartment to accommodate everyone.

While we were coding the prototype, we also put together a landing page that advertised about a dozen features we were considering. It looked completely real but, when you went to sign up, you were asked to fill out a survey to join the private beta. In fact, we had no product ready but we were able to gather requests from hundreds upon hundreds of people. This served as both validation and a roadmap for what to build first.

The four of us were able to put together an MVP in less than a month. I believe it only had basic data storage and retrieval capabilities for iOS. We seeded it to the YC network and our friends and continued to iterate and expand from there based on their feedback.

Beta:

We did but it was a pretty liberal beta. It was open to anyone and we didn’t charge anything. We just wanted to gather as much feedback as we possibly could so we could iterate towards the right product as fast as possible. Some of our highest paying customers are folks that started toying around with Parse during the beta.

Some Advice to Founders:

Build something first. Validate that people want it. Then worry about the long term game plan. There’s no use in planning if you don’t have a shred of evidence that people want what you’re making.

Lessons Learned:

Generally they all boil down to not trusting my gut. I’ve learned to do that more and more.

A massive thank you to Ilya for taking the time out of his busy schedule to put down some awesome answers to our questions. We look forward to catching back up with Parse next year to see how things are going. You can also follow them on twitter!

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