CodeSandbox’s Bas Buursma explains how the startup made web development collaborative

“I don’t code at all anymore,” Linus Torvalds, the creator of Linux, told Dirk Hohndel, VMware vice president and director of open source at the 2019 Open Source Summit in Europe. While it may have come as a shock to the entire developer community, coding has never been more interesting or engaging. In the same European context, coding is becoming more collaborative thanks to the rise of a new startup called CodeSandbox.

An idea was born

Bas Buursma, the co-founder of CodeSandbox is an excellent storyteller. He says the idea behind CodeSandbox started with its co-founder Ives van Hoorne while working with a Dutch auction website and on vacation. The story is one that will inspire many web developers. It starts with Ives and his time at Catawiki where he was translating their web page into React.

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While on vacation, Ives was bombarded with code questions from colleagues. To his surprise, his colleagues sent him these codes on Slack. This moment laid the foundation for CodeSandbox. As Ives skimmed through the lines of code on Slack, his mind was already asking this question: “Is there an easier or smarter way to share code?”

As Ives worked at Catawiki between high school and college, this question did not escape him. During college, Ives met Bas and they started toying with the idea. The ingenuity of the idea meant they both started building on it, and Bas says, “it was important [for them] to set him free.” Funnily enough, they originally set April 1, 2017 as the release deadline. However, they changed it to April 3, thinking Fool’s Day isn’t “the best way to release something amazing.”

CodeSandbox got its start as an open source client, and Bas and Ives continued to improve it with user feedback. While building CodeSandbox and studying simultaneously, they also approached two companies. CodeSandbox, which was basically an online code editor for React code at first, was not considered a “viable product for business”.

Bas and Ives figured that while it’s not a viable product, it can be a great open source project. But they had this desire to have their own startup. Instead of backing down, they redoubled their efforts. From collecting feedback to understanding why members of the developer community weren’t using CodeSandbox, they continued to improve and, in fact, continued to develop the product rapidly. It was around this time that they received acquisition offers.

The idea was not only born, but it had grown. This partnership between a programmer and a designer in charge of operations had turned into a viable business model. Bas says they had a low cost as students operating the startup from their student dorm, and even before the pandemic they envisioned CodeSandbox as a remote startup and then hired their first employee from Romania.

Capital raising

For any startup, the greatest moment comes when it raises its first capital. As an open source platform, CodeSandbox initially relied on the donation system. This donation system enabled them to hire their first employee. However, with a viable commercial product, they started looking for that first round in late 2018 and early 2019. CodeSandbox not only found a new partner, but a partner that every tech startup wants to have on their side. – Kleiner Perkins.

Bas says they first got a call from a Kleiner Perkins partner late that evening. While Ives and Bas sat in front of their MacBooks for the roll call, their classmates were playing beer pong on the other side. While another fun story to tell, CodeSandbox raised a $2.4 million seed round after their trip to San Francisco in early 2019, which allowed CodeSandbox to put the team together.

Sharing at heart

Bas says that once the product was ready and the team was in place, they knew CodeSandbox would always be about sharing. To make sure the product stays that way, they focused on speed right from the start. He says the main goal was to make sure CodeSandbox was easy to get started and didn’t require users to configure anything. “If you’re just going to troubleshoot code, you don’t want to wait for anything to download or install, you just have to open it,” he says, citing one use case.

The unique selling point, from its beginnings until today, remains the fact that it is there, just like a website. As soon as someone clicks on the link, the code is right there in front of them, just like a document or a spreadsheet. While they started with React, they have communities like Vue, Angular, and have embraced JavaScript as a whole. Even with container support, Bas is quick to mention that the product remains focused on web development.

The developers made it easier for people to stream movies from their sofa, hail a cab from any street, and even order things from around the world. However, developers have never focused on creating a tool that makes their work collaborative. CodeSandbox’s mission statement is to create a tool that developers will want to use. With Series A behind them, the collaborative tool has succeeded in its mission.

Learn with RISE

Ives and Bas were only 21 when they lifted their first round of Kleiner Perkins head. They had essentially gone from conceptualizing an idea to turning it into a business model to raise their first round. “Our luck was that we knew a lot of startups that were using CodeSandbox, I loved CodeSandbox,” Bas says of that experience. The last step in their journey was to learn, and that happened when they became members of Techleap’s Rise Program Bundle #4.

Bas says that while they found an American investor based in San Francisco and a European investor based in Sweden, they didn’t enjoy a great network with founders from the Netherlands. Even though CodeSandbox is a remote startup, the co-founders wanted to connect and collaborate with other startup founders in the Netherlands. They found Rise and Rise found them and thus began the journey of “learning from other Founders”.

Bas says Rise helped him and Ives understand other founders who were having the same kind of scaling issues. This allowed them to learn from them and adopt their own strategy accordingly. He says Rise was crucial in learning more about the Dutch ecosystem. For him, it not only helped him identify how other founders’ experiences could help them, but also how CodeSandbox could help those founders.

A platform for modern web development

While recounting this trip, Bas makes a very important point. He says CodeSandbox may have started as Google Docs for code development, but it has grown into a platform for modern web development. It says development is not accessible, and earlier you would need to open terminal and run commands even to create “HELLO WORLD”. With CodeSandbox, Bas says they’ve retired that experience, allowing developers to “focus on the code and what’s happening with the code.”

This helped to shorten the feedback cycle. CodeSandbox not only has the code like GitHub, but it also lets you run it like other IDEs. Speaking to Silicon Canals, Bas teased this modern platform which the company plans to share the first glimpse of later this year. With remote development becoming even more important due to the pandemic, CodeSandbox is uniquely positioned to redefine collaborative web development.

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