Go, go, Gadget: ex-Shopify employees’ new venture secures $8.5M VC investment

Gadget founders
Gadget founders

Inspired by their former workplace’s rapid growth, ex-Shopify employees Harry Brundage and Mohammad Hashemi set out a few years ago to build world-beating companies of their own.

Little did they realize then that one of their greatest sources of frustration would lead to their biggest entrepreneurial breakthrough.

Gadget – the startup they launched 18 months ago to solve a pain point that’s caused countless headaches for app developers – has closed an $8.5-million funding round led by U.S. venture capital firms Sequoia Capital and Bessemer Venture Partners.   

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A bevy of other high-profile investors, including Shopify head of data science and engineering Solmaz Shahalizadeh and the firm’s director of product acceleration, Anna Lambert, have also jumped on board. 

Brundage says it’s an encouraging sign as he and Hashemi strive to be at the forefront of a new generation of made-in-Ottawa tech titans led by what he calls the “Shopify mafia” – former employees of the e-commerce darling who hatch a new generation of successful software enterprises in much the same way Nortel alumni spearheaded the capital’s hardware boom two decades ago.

“I really want to see the Canadian tech ecosystem thrive. I’m hoping this is the beginning of many (more) of those companies.”

“I really want to see the Canadian tech ecosystem thrive,” he says. “I’m hoping this is the beginning of many (more) of those companies.”

Gadget aims to take the tedium out of app development by providing programmers with a software stack that includes features such as ready-made search widgets and tools that allow apps to talk to each other. 

The platform is designed to eliminate the grunt work from the app-building process, freeing up coding wizards to do what they do best – creating the unique programs that form the meat of applications.

Brundage and Hashemi – Shopify’s former director of product management who helped develop tools such as Shopify Pay – hit on the idea after working on a number of projects, including quality-assurance software for Shopify merchants.

They quickly realized they were devoting a demoralizing amount of time and energy to mundane tasks such as setting up content management infrastructure – “technical mumbo-jumbo,” as Brundage refers to it – instead of the fun stuff of actually creating something new. 

Big time savings

“We had gone through this cycle a few times … and recognized we were doing the same stuff over and over (that’s been) done a thousand times,” says Brundage, who spent more than six years as a developer and engineer at Shopify before leaving the company in 2017. “You shouldn’t have to do all of this stuff over and over and over.”

The 12-person startup is still in the pre-revenue stage as the platform undergoes beta testing. Initially, it’s being targeted at Shopify merchants and other e-commerce developers who want to quickly and painlessly add elements such as tagging features that streamline product searches. 

Brundage says Gadget’s offering can potentially shave the time it typically takes to build key elements of a new e-commerce app from weeks to just a few hours. Investors are buying in, saying they see huge upside in the firm’s potential to “supercharge” the app-creation process. 

“Gadget’s platform delivers on the promise of helping e-commerce developers build scalable software, incredibly fast,” Mike Vernal, a partner at Sequoia, said in a statement. “We’re excited to see the team bring this vision to Shopify app developers and beyond.”

Bessemer partner Jeremy Levine, whose firm was also an early investor in Shopify, agrees the technology could be a game-changer for the app development industry, saying it paves the way for “vastly improved” productivity.

With millions of dollars in funding now in their back pocket, the Gadget team is gearing up to pounce on that market opportunity. Brundage says he expects the firm’s headcount to triple by the end of next year as it looks to “build like demons” to flesh out the product.

“Any vertical software developers are tackling right now, we want to be a part of that,” he says, adding he’s not losing any sleep over competing with the big boys of Ottawa tech, including his old shop, for skilled software talent.

‘Fun Rubik’s Cube’

“It’s problem candy for developers,” Brundage says of building Gadget’s solutions. “It’s the most fun Rubik’s Cube to mess around with.”

While his former employer now refers to its home base as “the internet, everywhere” and firmly embraces the remote-work philosophy, Brundage and his crew are taking more of an old-school approach as they prepare to move to a new office in Chinatown early next year.

“It’s so nice to be able to get everyone in a room and figure something out super quickly around a whiteboard,” he explains. “We just believe that this product is a challenging one to build and most features are going to require an awful lot of collaboration.”

While at Shopify, Brundage and Hashemi had a front-row seat to observe how a global software colossus is built. Armed with that intelligence, they’re ready to embark on what they hope will be another successful Ottawa software scaleup project.

And like their old boss, Shopify co-founder and CEO Tobi Lütke, Gadget’s leaders aren’t afraid to dream big.

“We saw the amazing journey that Tobi and Co. got to go on, and we want to do it again our own way,” Brundage says. “I’d love to be talking again 10 years from now about an IPO, but we have a lot of proving ourselves and a lot of hurdles to clear before that’s on anyone’s mind.”

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