Famo.us raises $25M in Series B funding

Steve Newcomb
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I am very proud to announce that Famo.us has raised $25M, with Insight Ventures and Javelin Venture Partners taking the lead. Joining our board of directors will be Jerry Murdock, founding General Partner of Insight Ventures. We’ve come a long way and now we can truly build out Famo.us into the first-class development platform we envisioned from the start.

I still remember three years ago, when it was just me and Mark working in an old chapel above the YWCA at UC Berkeley. Our startup wasn’t called Famo.us back then, it was called Benchrank. We were attempting to build a Pinterest-meets-About.me app using HTML5. Like many developers at the time, we were struggling with HTML5, its poor performance, its lack of basic features, the esoteric inconsistencies between browsers, and performance “solutions” that turned out to be hacks that didn’t scale.

At first, we thought it was just us. But every time we went to an HTML5 meetup, we found that everyone else was experiencing the same gut-wrenching pains we were. Then, in a moment that took the wind out of the entire HTML5 industry, Facebook announced it was pulling out of HTML5. For everyone that had bet on HTML5, it was our “oh shit” moment.

As a result, we discussed all our options, from giving our seed money back to moving our development to native. But none of these options felt right.

Mark and I both enjoyed the freedom of being founders and the joy of working on something really hard, really complex, and really valuable. We realized if we could solve these problems and build a first-class JavaScript development platform, we’d be doing something that was important not only to us, but to everyone we knew as well. And we knew it was a more than a pivot. It was a new beginning.

When we told our investors what we wanted to do, they knew it was going to be a tough road. But one VC stood up: Jed Katz at Javelin Venture Partners. He not only had our backs, but gave us $3M more and helped us get an additional $1M from Samsung to make sure we could do it right. I think the reason he backed us was that he knew we had the most important thing that any startup could have: a match between our life experiences, our passion, and our mission. He also saw that we were solving a major pain point that almost every mobile and web developer was experiencing. With Jed’s support, we started the long walk of our new mission. That’s when we truly became Famo.us.

With our experience guiding our thinking, we broke down the core problem into two areas:

  • The layout engine in a browser is a black box designed to render a text document with links. It’s not accessible and it’s not designed to render apps or games. If you’re not creating a document, it’s the wrong tool for the job.
  • The CSS3 animation engine is both a black box and woefully underpowered. Compared to modern console games, which use a 3D physics engine, CSS3 was not sufficient to produce natural or complex animations.  In CSS3, Transitions can only have single Bezier curve segments, animations cannot be intercepted, and most importantly, there was no way to extend these features. Again, it was the wrong tool for the job.

Then, we asked ourselves two questions: Can JavaScript be used to build a 3D layout and physics engine? And, can we run this in a browser, circumventing the browser’s layout and animation engine, and do this all without requiring an install, plugin, or any dependency on the browsers? We knew that if we could answer yes to those two questions, we’d be solving the root problem that was holding back an entire industry.

At first, it seemed like the answer should have been “no way, JavaScript can’t possibly be fast enough.” But JavaScript, which used to be hundreds of times slower than compiled C, is actually now comparable to native code when running inside modern engines, such as V8. So we got to work.

After much trial and error, we had our first legit experimental version of Famo.us. I’ll never forget Mark running the numbers to see how we compared to the performance of WebKitCSSMatrix in Chrome. We were 14x faster! After more than a year of failing, we had succeeded, and not just for us—for everyone. We felt like the weight of the world had been lifted, that JavaScript was back, and that we could get to work on building the first-class JavaScript platform we had always wanted for ourselves.

Within three weeks, we had our periodic table demo => periodic.famo.us. It became our main website for the next year and a half. It was just a signup form and not much other information. As word got out and people experienced the periodic table’s performance on desktop and mobile, the buzz began to take effect. 83,000 developers signed up at pace that shocked all of us. We knew we had struck a chord with the JavaScript community and we knew that we were now stewards of an effort that would affect many people.

During this time, Mark and I had many long discussions about what was the right thing to do with Famo.us. We decided that to make Famo.us accessible to as many people as possible, we wanted it to be free and open source—and we wanted to build a free online university not only to teach Famo.us, but to teach JavaScript itself. We knew that a mission like this would take perhaps as long as a decade and we knew we needed a lot of funding and we new we needed a solid business plan that would allow us to generate money while enabling us to provide Famo.us and Famo.us University for free.

Rather than convince investors of our vision, we decided that we needed to find a really big VC with same vision we had. One that could help us build a business model to support our mission and company goals.

In our very first meeting with Jerry Murdock and Jeff Horing, the founding General Partners of Insight Venture Partners, I knew they were the right investors for us. We only talked vision and how to create a legacy for all JavaScript developers. It was the immediate and powerful connection that all founders look for—we could speak each others’ language and we knew this was important to do right. So we shook hands and began the process of raising our Series B round and began crafting the long term vision for the company.

We’ve come a long way from our humble beginnings. The HTML5 industry is coming back to life and the wind is once again at our backs and blowing strong. With the funding and support of Javelin Venture Partners and our new partner Insight Ventures, we now begin a long journey of pure passion for all of us. We will focus on maintaining the power of Famo.us while constantly making it easier to use. You’ll see us put lots of effort into making the APIs to the core platform easier, building lots of tools, widgets, and templates, as well as building out Famo.us University so anyone can learn both JavaScript and Famo.us. We will continue driving toward our vision: a world where apps deliver fast performance and beautiful animations, with one version of code, across all platforms.

I truly want us all to experience this success together. Look for future posts on what we are doing with the money and how we plan to make money to support our mission.

If anyone has questions, comments, or wants to help us be the good stewards we need to be for this project, please feel free to contact me. My email is steve@famo.us.

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Comments ( 1 )
  • Yoav says:

    Congratulations on completing your round B!
    You did not say which business model you eventually have arrived at as the basis for this round. ..

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