Instabase engineering head charts course for building modern biz apps

Instabase has been quietly building a platform that is designed to enable developers to build complex business applications based on pre-packaged discrete building blocks that can, for example, can break a document that has been scanned into a set of components that can be reused across multiple use cases.

VentureBeat caught up with Yee Jiun Song, recently appointed senior vice president of engineering, to gain a better understanding of how the building of traditional business applications is evolving in a way that enables developers to more flexibly create modern business applications that can run anywhere.

Previously, Song was the vice president of engineering at Facebook.

This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.

VentureBeat: What exactly does Instabase do?

Yee Jiun Song: Instabase has been trying to build an operating system, and I think it’s a little hard to understand. It’s a little bit easier if we explain the problem that we’re trying to solve. If you wanted to build an application for the consumer, you typically build for iOS or Android, or if you’re trying to build a desktop app, you build for Windows or MacOS. But if you wanted to build an application to help businesses solve some problem, there’s no platform that allows you to do that. We aim to be the operating system that does that so the application developer can focus on the application and the business problem and not worry so much about the environment that the application would run in. On top of that, we provide a base operating system that provides a set of services and toolkits that allow developers to quickly compose applications together. Then we also provide a marketplace where developers can publish applications.

VentureBeat: That kind of sounds like a universal platform for applications.

Song: If you wanted to automate the software development process, you could hire a team of software engineers to build a custom solution. But this is expensive and it takes a while, and then the custom application needs to be maintained, and it would probably only work for a specific environment. Instabase enables our customers to build something very quickly by composing state-of-the-art modules together while writing very little or no code. They also don’t have to worry about any of the infrastructure systems around this. What Instabase does is abstract away all of those challenges. There’s a bunch of different technologies that have matured to the point where it’s possible to build something that works well enough for developers in a way that allows them to quickly compose applications.

VentureBeat: Does this replace the need for the operating system?

Song: You’re certainly not replacing Windows or Linux. The point here is we’d like customers to not have to think about Windows or Linux. If we have to talk about Linux and Windows, the point has kind of been missed. The pieces that Instabase has built are high-level abstractions. It’s not clear to me people really understand what’s required to build applications that are highly distributed across eight different platforms that they might need to employ at any given time. A lot of the customers that we talk to want to get a solution up and working as quickly as possible and not have to invest too heavily in the underlying technology. Examples of companies that are using [Instabase] include MetLife. One of the nice things about using something like Instabase is that the customers don’t have to keep up with the state of the art of the underlying technology.

VentureBeat: How hard is it to set this up?

Song: If I’m being honest, it sounds like it’s still a little harder than we’d like it to be. Usability is certainly something that we’re working on. We eventually want to get to the place where customers are able to stitch applications together on their own without too much help on our part. We’re also trying to reduce the amount of code that customers need to write in order to put an application together. But a lot of that is still a work in progress.

VentureBeat: What will the biggest hurdle be going forward?

Song: As with any rapidly growing company, I think one of the big challenges that we have is growing our own teams. We’re going through hyper-growth at the moment, One of the reasons Instabase brought me on board is to help grow and scale our teams. On the product side, one of the things that we want is to make sure that we are able to provide our customers with a product that is very stable. We need to build a product that scales and is reliable.

VentureBeat: Why leave Facebook to do this?

Song: That’s a great question. I’ve had a wild and phenomenal ride at Facebook; it’s been a ridiculous amount of fun. But I feel like there is a great team there. I’m not sure that they need me anymore, so I’m looking for something new and challenging. This is a very different domain. It’s the right kind of combination of a wildly ambitious goal. That is exciting to me. In some sense, this is starting over.

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