Every company is now a software company, or so we’re told, meaning they have to employ designers and developers capable of building websites and apps. In tandem, the much-reported software developer shortage means companies across the spectrum are in a constant battle for top talent. This is opening the doors to more automated tools that democratize some of the processes involved in shipping software, while freeing developers to work on other mission-critical tasks.
It’s against this backdrop that Reflect has come to market, serving as an automated, end-to-end testing platform that allows businesses to test web apps from an end user’s perspective, identifying glitches before they go live. Founded out of Philadelphia in 2019, the Y Combinator (YC) alum today announced a $1.8 million seed round of funding led by Battery Ventures and Craft Ventures, as it looks to take on incumbents with a slightly different proposition.
Similar to others in the space, Reflect hooks into the various elements of a browser so it can capture actions the user is taking, including scrolls, taps, clicks, hovers, field entry, and so on. This can be replicated later as part of an automated test to monitor the new user signup flow for a SaaS app, for example. If the test later throws up an error, perhaps due to a change made to the user interface, the quality assurance (QA) team can be notified instantly with a full video reproducing the bug, along with relevant logs.
There are a number of notable players in the automated web testing space, including open source testing framework Selenium and Cypress, which raised a $40 million funding round just last month. And the low-to-no code space has the likes of Testim, which also covers native mobile apps, and GV-backed Mabl, which was launched by two former Googlers back in 2018. But Reflect is setting out to differentiate its offering in a number of ways.
First up, rather than using browser extensions that record actions locally, Reflect records actions via a virtual machine (VM) in its cloud and “screen-shares” it back to the user through the Reflect web app. This helps eliminate the causes of common recording errors, like cookies, VPNs, or extensions — such as ad blockers — that may impact the state of the browser.
In short, Reflect standardizes the testing environment and neutralizes potential inferences, all without requiring any installations.
“This approach lets us completely control the test environment, which means we more accurately capture each action you take when testing your site, even for complex actions like drag-and-drops or file uploads,” Reflect cofounder Todd McNeal told VentureBeat.
McNeal said the company has already amassed more than 80 paying customers who subscribe through a SaaS model that starts at free for three users and 30 minutes of execution time per month. Starter, standard, and enterprise plans offer more features and flexibility.
There are potential downsides to handing full control to a third-party’s cloud. Many businesses, particularly larger enterprises, would be more comfortable with an on-premises Reflect installation, something that offers them more control, which would be pertinent if Reflect ever went bust. An open source route might also make some sense for this reason, affording companies greater freedom in terms of how they deploy Reflect. But that would come with major trade-offs in terms of Reflect’s “no-code” aspirations.
“On-premise installation is something we may add in the future. It has come up with larger enterprises, for sure,” McNeal said. “We’re not considering the open source route though — our goal, and what we think the market is looking for, is something that hides away the complexities, and we think the best way to do that is via the no-code approach.”
Being “truly no-code”, as McNeal puts it — versus “low-code,” which may require some form of coding expertise to script specific actions — could also help it become the go-to tool for non-developers.
“It means that you can truly give our product to anyone in the organization — it doesn’t have to be just developers,” McNeal said. “Also, since we don’t have the crutch of code to fall back to, it ensures that our recorder needs to be accurate in order to allow customers to test these complex actions.”
It’s worth noting that Reflect also offers an API and direct CI/CD integrations, enabling its customers to integrate Reflect deeper into their DevOps processes and schedule tests after every deployment, for example, or even after every pull request.
The broader no-code movement has emerged as a major trend in recent years, with Gartner predicting in a 2019 report that by 2023 “citizen developers” within large enterprises will outnumber professional developers by at least 4 times. This shift is evidenced by a flurry of activity across the space over the past year, with the likes of Amazon’s AWS launching a no-code app development platform called Honeycode, while Google last year snapped up enterprise-focused AppSheet. Earlier this month, no-code development platform Webflow raised $140 million at a $2.1 billion valuation.
It’s clear what benefits automated, no-code platforms could bring to smaller businesses, but why would larger enterprises with plenty of resources be drawn to such tools?
“It comes down to what we consider the biggest problems with automated end-to-end testing tools today — tests take too long to create and they’re too difficult to maintain,” McNeal said. “At an enterprise, you have the resources to make this work. You can afford to have developers working full-time on this, who have expertise in the tool necessary to build and maintain your own custom test framework and a suite of code-based tests. But if you can get the same result — the same peace of mind that your application works — with a lot less time and effort, we think that’s a pretty compelling value proposition.”
Moreover, even the largest companies have to battle to hire — and retain — their top technical talent and ensure their time is optimized. By going “no-code,” they can delegate more QA work to less technically skilled personnel.
“It lets enterprises take full advantage of testers in their organization that aren’t developers,” McNeal added. “Whereas today those testers are doing primarily manual testing, Reflect actually lets a tester with no coding experience build and maintain entire test suites without any developer intervention.”
It is still early days for Reflect. Although it’s showing some promise, it lacks some of the smarts of its rivals, such as AI or machine learning that can adapt and self-improve over time. However, this is on its roadmap.
“Our approach thus far has been to really get the underpinnings of the product correct, and that’s rooted in accurately capturing and replicating the actions the user takes in the browser,” McNeal said. “We’ll be augmenting this with ML in the future.”
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