Ask Alan Shreve why he founded Ngrok, a service that helps developers share sites and apps running on their local machines or servers, and he’ll tell you it was to solve a tough-to-grok (pun fully intended) infrastructure problem he encountered while at Twilio. As an engineer there, Shreve was developing on webhooks — automated messages sent from apps when something happens — without an appropriately-tailored development environment, which slowed the deployment process.
Ngrok was his solution. An open source package that grew into a distributed platform, Ngrok aims to collapse various networking technologies into a unified layer, letting developers deliver apps the same way regardless of whether they’re deployed to the public cloud, serverless platforms, their own data center or internet of things devices.
After being bootstrapped for seven years, Ngrok today announced that it raised $50 million in a Series A round led by Lightspeed Venture Partners with participation from Coatue. Shreve tells TechCrunch that, with the fresh capital, Ngrok will grow operations and “make continued investments” to improve its core product offering.
“Developers tape together various open source projects, home-grown proxy layers and combine them with disparate services from cloud-specific vendors like Amazon Web Services, Microsoft Azure and Google Cloud Platform and content delivery networks like Cloudflare. Developers are required to configure unnecessarily low-layer networking resources like IPs, DNS, VPNs and firewalls to deliver their applications,” Shreve told TechCrunch in an email interview. “Ngrok allows developers to avoid that complexity.”
Ngrok acts as a “reverse proxy” for services and apps, fronting web services running in clouds or private networks or on a local dev machine. It gives developers internet access to private systems normally hidden behind a firewall, providing an internet-accessible address anyone can get to and linking the other side of the “tunnel” to functionality running locally.
Effectively, Ngrok adds connectivity, security and observability features to existing apps without requiring any code changes, including features like load balancing and encryption. With Ngrok, developers can deploy or test apps against a development backend, building demo websites without having to deploy them. Or they can access internet of things devices in the field, connecting to private-cloud software remotely.
“When developers build applications and APIs, they need to deliver them to customers on the internet. Ingress is the service that provides application delivery and makes your service available securely to its customers. Ngrok’s ingress is [an] application’s front door,” Shreve said. “The way developers build applications has fundamentally changed. Microservice architectures, serverless platforms and other shifts in the industry have led to a proliferation of new APIs and apps which need their own ingress in different environments.”
Indeed, Shreve appears to have grokked it (I’ll see myself out), growing Ngrok’s user base to five million developers — 30,000 of which are paying customers. Shreve wouldn’t disclose revenue figures, but he said that revenue “doubled” year-over-year thanks in part to well-paying clients like Databricks, Zendesk, Copado, Klaviyo and SonarSource.
Ngrok competes to a degree with startups like Tailscale, ZeroTier, Netmaker and Defined Networking’s Nebula — some of them are well funded. In May, Tailscale raised $100 million for its mesh networking technology that can be installed on a single server and used as a way to share software services.
But if Shreve is concerned, he wasn’t obvious about it.
“Most organizations manage 200 to 1,000 apps. At that scale, delivering apps more quickly moves the needle by keeping developers focused on solving real business problems and not dealing with networking complexities,” Shreve continued. “Ngrok’s API-first ingress-as-a-service platform enables developers to deliver faster by building on top of a single solution across all of these platforms.”
Lightspeed Venture Partners’ Guru Chahal added: “More developers are entering the industry and building more applications, most of which will be delivered over the internet as software-as-a-service services. Today, this involves a complex mix of networking and security technologies that is expensive, time-consuming to manage, and, quite frankly, does not scale … We invested in Ngrok because it is solving this challenge. Ngrok dramatically simplifies how apps are delivered over the internet to users. A developer can deliver their app to users in a secure and scalable manner with one click or a single line of code.”
Ngrok employs 59 people currently across its offices in San Francisco and Seattle and remotely. It’s actively hiring.