Patient capital from CIC gives ‘time travelling’ company Undo space to pivot
It started in a shed in Greg Law’s garden as a neat debugger that would help developers ‘turn back time’ to find where errors had occurred in their code. Now international players such as Cadence, Mentor Graphics and SAP are using Undo’s technology to improve the quality of enterprise software and to solve business challenges.
How to support tech companies to scale-up and grow has been an Achilles’ Heel’ for Cambridge for too many decades. But now this looks to be changing, with the introduction of a form of funding – patient capital – which gives organisations like Undo time to evolve.
Victor Christou, CEO of Cambridge Innovation Capital, explains: “Undo will transform the world of software debugging with its unique program execution capture and replay technology – it is just the type of category leader that CIC was established to support.
“Disruptive technology creates radical change in the market and it is sometimes difficult to predict how this will play out. Early stage tech companies often need space to pivot, in order to explore the opportunities that arise, and this is where patient capital can make all the difference.
“As a large minority shareholder we don’t control the business, but instead try to identify the talent that can. We provide strategic advice and assist growth by introducing the business to global customers and large global corporates.”
Companies such as Undo, which was born out of frustration by two developers with a lack of good debugging tools, have benefited from CIC’s approach. Almost 50 per cent of a developer’s time is spent fixing bugs and this is particularly problematic if the issues occur after the software is released and operational on a customer’s site.
Undo’s core technology is a ‘black box’ that allows an application to record itself as it runs, saving a copy of that recording. If the program crashes the recording can be replayed to see where the error occurred.
Greg Law, CEO and co-founder of Undo, explains that the company has evolved considerably from the early days: “Our focus today is on B2B enterprise software sales, with an emphasis on the database, electronic design automation (EDA) and networking segments.
“The original reverse-debugger product that launched Undo back in the day is still a core technology, but our focus has shifted from supporting individual Linux and Android developers to large enterprise software vendors.
“There was clearly a need for our technology in the enterprise software space and we realised that we could pivot the focus of the company to meet that requirement.
“This agility is absolutely a benefit of patient capital funding. Without the support of our investors, it is unlikely that Undo would have had the flexibility to try a new approach.”
The company had initial seed funding that helped establish it as an industry leader in debugging software, followed by a Series A funding round in 2016, led by CIC, to help consolidate the product offering.
Undo now has three products – the original reverse-debugger and two spin-off products, Live Recorder for Automated Test and Live Recorder for Production – which are designed to help companies building complex applications to capture sporadic failures (i.e. really hard to find bugs) in their test suite and when their product has been released.
Law continues: “Our record, rewind and replay technology still offers productivity benefits for developers, but Undo’s technology is now primarily used for improving the quality of enterprise software.
“This is a massive challenge for software vendors writing ever more complex code in restrictive time frames, and for companies whose software has failed in the field and who must quickly fix issues before they lose a $10 million client.”
CIC was created following a recognition that there were brilliant, cutting-edge businesses emerging from the Cambridge Cluster but they were very, very early stage – in some cases they have just come out of the lab and would take longer to grow than most funds have time for.
Christou resumes: “Spotting disruptive technology is our job and we have in our team a broad range of experienced people who work hard to understand business sectors.
“We are not really thematic but we do have areas we think will be transformational and a number of businesses in our portfolio are category leaders. These include Prowler.io, which I believe is a world leader in artificial intelligence; Congenica, which is built on category-defining research in genomics; and PragmatIC, which will provide the cheapest tagging RFID solution for the Internet of Things.”
Although Undo has pioneered enterprise scale record and replay debugging software, the world is certainly not standing still.
Law adds: “From large corporates such as Microsoft to various open source projects, reverse debugging is becoming more known throughout the development community and is constantly improving.
“It’s fair to say this is a technology and technique whose time has come. Access to patient capital has been vital in keeping us at the forefront, as Undo can plan long-term projects to expand its offering that may have been unfeasible otherwise.”
However, building a successful technology business also takes time because you are asking people to do things that are not in their comfort zone. Alongside the funding, CIC has supported Undo in moving towards a more structured organisation. Since 2012, Undo has grown from five to over 40 employees and has relocated to upmarket offices in the new CB1 business district beside Cambridge railway station.
Law says: “As a startup, our employees (especially those on the commercial end) wore many hats but we’ve become more ‘traditional’ in the sense of establishing proper functions with distinct responsibilities, including sales, product, operations, marketing, engineering and sales engineering.
“Although many old faces remain, including my co-founder, Julian Smith (CTO), our roles with the company have changed and the senior management team has expanded.”
So will Undo stay in Cambridge? Law smiles: “Our eyes have increasingly turned towards Northern America, where the bulk of our customers are located, so we can expect to make further in-roads into the States in the next few years. However, Cambridge remains at the heart of the UK tech industry so we will not be moving the company away from Cambridge.”
• PHOTOGRAPH SHOWS: Victor Christou, CIC CEO, with Greg Law – CEO and co-founder of Undo