Google and Stackdriver Vets Get $10M for Software Testing Tool, Mabl

When we last caught up with Dan Belcher and Izzy Azeri, they were selling their cloud-management company, Stackdriver, to Google. That Boston startup was on a fast track to acquisition, getting scooped up in 2014 after just two years and about $15 million in venture capital raised. (The purchase price wasn’t disclosed.)

Now, Belcher and Azeri have emerged with a new startup called Mabl. It’s a different animal, but has elements of the same culture. Boston-based Mabl (like the name “Mabel”) is developing an automated tool for engineers doing software testing. The company said today it has raised a $10 million Series A round from CRV and Amplify Partners. Those investors were not involved with Stackdriver.

Mabl fits into a couple of major tech themes. The first is tools designed to help speed up software development and testing, as companies move to a “continuous integration and delivery” model in which they are constantly iterating and shipping new code. The second is automation of engineering tasks using machine-learning techniques.

The company’s service is what it calls a “virtual QA engineer” (for quality assurance).

“Think of Mabl as an extension to your QA team, like you hired a new QA person,” Belcher says. “Just as you’d train the person about your app, you train Mabl, and expect [it] to write new tests, new test cases, run tests automatically, and find defects based on an understanding of how the application works.” When it finds a bug or problem, it sends an e-mail or Slack message with the details.

Belcher says the service uses machine learning to find and even predict bugs such as JavaScript errors, broken links, and slow page loading. Part of the approach boils down to learning what “normal” behavior looks like for an app, and then flagging up potential problems in new code.

At this point, you might be wondering if this is some sort of advanced chatbot that could eventually automate away certain software-testing jobs. To which the Mabl team says: au contraire, mon frère.

“I wouldn’t say it’s a chatbot,” Belcher says. “You can’t tell Mabl what to do in chat. It’s a notification channel. … The key is we don’t go overboard. It doesn’t say, ‘Hi, how are you?’”

He adds, “The main impact will be not on jobs, but on the pace of innovation and quality of software that goes out the door. QA engineers are totally overwhelmed by how much work they need to do to make sure there aren’t bugs. Companies haven’t been able to efficiently scale up those activities.”

In other words, Mabl is trying to be a tool that “empowers” software development teams, Azeri says, by helping them speed up their testing and identify bugs faster. And, as Belcher emphasizes, “We’re not replacing QA with bots.”

Still, automation in software development and testing is a burgeoning field. Some recent examples in startup deal-land include sizable funding rounds for CircleCI and XebiaLabs, and private-equity acquisitions of SmartBear Software and Applause.

Belcher and Azeri have an interesting mix of experience at big companies such as Microsoft, VMware, and Google. After Stackdriver’s acquisition, they both worked on the Google Cloud platform for about two-and-a-half years before leaving to start Mabl.

“The last company, we focused on moving as quickly as possible, and that hasn’t changed at all,” Belcher says. “But some things we’re doing a little differently—we hired more senior this time around.” He adds that Mabl is “competing against Google, Amazon, and Facebook for [job] candidates. We’re more aggressive about hiring really great people.” The startup has grown to 20 employees, about half of whom are engineers.

Azeri points out that Mabl has focused on its brand and marketing earlier than Stackdriver did. That includes hiring writers to publish blog posts for a software engineering audience.

It’s obviously still early days, but the company already has some customers, including Runkeeper (which is owned by Asics), Codeship (just acquired by CloudBees), and marketing firm 24G. As of today, other companies will be able to sign up for early access to the Mabl beta product, the startup says.

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