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Growing in a community - with Colin Sidoti, founder of Clerk.dev Episode 27

Growing in a community - with Colin Sidoti, founder of Clerk.dev

Colin Sidoti is the CEO of Clerk.dev. Clerk helps developers build user management. They provide streamlined user experiences for your users to sign up, sign in, and manage their profile.

· 16:27


Jack: Hi everyone. You're listening to Scaling DevTools, the show that investigates how DevTools go from zero to one. I'm joined today by Colin Sidoti, who is the CEO slash lead clerk of. Clerk do dev, which is an off provider, thanks so much for joining.

Colin: Yeah. Thanks. Thanks for having me. Excited to be.

Jack: Colin, my first question , has to be, Auth is like solved, right? Why? What's happening with clerk?

Colin: Yeah. Yeah. Office solved. I would say, yeah, it's, it's not quite solved, right? I think if you talk to a lot of developers, you'll find that they're pretty unhappy or frustrated around. Their off experience and that, and that was really what led my brother and I to start clerk, Like we're kind of perpetual side project people, like many other developers and you know, we build this great product, and then get to the off step and we pull something off the shelf and it was just like never good, right?

Like there was like, it only had email, password, um, or. Didn't verify emails. There's always just like something wrong. I needed O off, I didn't have it. I didn't have two a. , and it, it was just this like blight on the rest of the application. It wasn't as professional. And maybe you look at tools like, like Stripe and Stripe checkout, um, you know, they're providing a full end user experience that's just great.

And, and our mindset. was Hey, if I go to Google, like they have a great sign up experience, great sign in experience, great user profile experience, like why can't we build a service that does that for everyone? And so that's at this point what we've done at.

Jack: So clearly I, I being sarcastic. Auth definitely not solved. It's been a pain every time I've implemented it. And as you've kind of mentioned developer experience so important. But it is an established category and so I'm really curious about how it's been when you are kind of trying to grow and get new customers when they may have a preferred solution that they've used previously.

Colin: Yeah. I I think that's, definitely the biggest challenge is just like, how do we get developers to try a new tool, when normally there is something that, that they're familiar with. I think one thing that surprises people a lot in this space is like, Auth0 is clearly the big incumbent, but if you talk to them, like, they'll say they only have 10% of the market. And I think in our interviews like that, that holds true, like most developers are really using some open source tool. And so the way we've approached clerk is not so much how can we beat on Auth0 but how can we beat these open source tools? And, you know, competing with free is, not that easy. But that is kind of what my brother and I used when we started our own things. And, and what we found is that like, okay, we should lean into the UI components. So really making these beautiful sign up, sign in, user profile, uh, UIs and to do that well, like it also needs to be. Faster than these open source tools like developers need to be able to get up, get set up faster, because I think what we found more and more is like people would love two FA to be on their application, but they won't set it up if it's gonna delay their launch.

Or they'd love to have a beautiful user profile, but they're not gonna set it up if it's gonna delay the launch. And so I think with what we've pulled off at Clerk Today, They're react components, right? So sign up, sign in, user profile, you mount it on your page, you get everything you need. , that has so much more than a developer would typically have at launch. And that's kind of part of the, the value proposition. Great ui, very complete feature set around user management. And that's, that's really what's helped us, uh, get here.

Jack: Yeah, that sounds amazing. And I think last time I used Firebase Auth and we would've loved to have had these like really nice components out the box cuz I think we ended up doing a ton of coding, just doing our own little, uh, styling and everything.

Colin: it's, it's always surprising how little tends to come with, off tools and there's just so much more to layer on. And yeah, so we, we really just took this mindset of what does it look like if we do it all? Out of the box and as an Auth company, we should have more incentive than a fire base, super base, uh, even in AWS Cognito to like go in depth on off.

Whereas like those are hosting solutions or database solutions.

Jack: And I would consider myself maybe a quite a pragmatic slash lazy. Person, but a lot of my colleagues will lo like have worked with love doing stuff themselves and like doing things from scratch. And I wonder how you, pitch or persuade people to use, clerk instead of doing things themselves.

Colin: There is something interesting here, especially as it applies to a scaling podcast. The number one thing we did is focus on React and and Jams stack for whatever reason, I don't really know what it is, but React developers tend to be very happy, just like dropping in the component, getting the solution. And the questions about, you know, why shouldn't I build this? And how they kind of melted away when we did that. The other, you know, I'd say, the way I answer that question, when we do get someone that raises it, cuz it still happens, right? Like obviously that's, that's still something that's on people's minds.

Like, do I really wanna outsource off? It's such a core piece of my app. And like, they're very reasonable concern. I think the first thing noticed that, that like if you look at an auth zero and their customer base, it's actually the top of the market, the top 10% that they have. And so the trend is as you get bigger, you get more likely to go to all zero.

And you know, that's. Not without merit. I think it's very easy to convince yourself that Auth is a small problem, but as you grow and your customers have more demands, there's more you want to do. You really don't normally want to like handle all of that depth in house. There's this great document called, uh, N 863 B, and. If you wanna look it up, it's like , the whole specification for how you should handle passwords, how you should handle, like sending people six digit codes, like for every different kind of off factor, they tell you how it should be configured and. When you're a small startup, no one's gonna ask you if you're missed compliant, when you grow, that's gonna happen and, and you're gonna need to like audit yourself.

And it just gets to be this huge authority or problem over time. And that, that leads to this tendency as you grow to outsource it. Our mindset is that it makes sense to do it earlier because we're able to provide just so much more depth than you'd be able to on, on user manage. Quickly.

Jack: And actually Colin, I think you mentioned briefly there and like the kind of react. Community , and also the Jams stack kind of broad community. I know that you're doing really well in that community and I wondered , how you got to that place.

Colin: First and foremost, it's, it's just been. Developer experience. I think we are really the only off provider that you drop a click provider component, you drop a sign in component and you, you get a sign in screen, right? There's no backend setup required, uh, which is very unique to us. And that's because basically we, built an API that faces the front end instead of faces the back end.

And so, Every other tool. It's like you need to have your backend developer talk to the api, whereas us, like our React components talk directly to our front end facing api. Just a, you know, technical implementation detail that enables the dx right click provider sign in, click provider sign up, click provider user profile.

That's all you need to get going. And I think that is just. It's a magical experience, or at least we, we try to make it a magical experience. And I, and I feel like it's, coming across well with the audience.

Jack: So it might be that they go, they look up a tutorial, implement off zero, and it's like three pages long and, and yours is gonna be like way shorter.

Colin: yeah, yeah. , it is hours versus minutes, and I think. The reason in my mind why an odd zero has struggled kind of with the lower 90% of the market is because if you're looking at the time to set up an open source solution versus the time to set up odd zero, it's not that different. Like you're not winning, on time spent by using on zero. , and then you're also gonna end. Paying a lot. And so it, it, is just like the trade offs isn't there. They also, like, they don't have a user profile component. Right. I think like clerk's, user profile actually goes a really long way, right? Like you can go, users can, you know, set their name. Update their password.

They can go, they can actually see their like active devices, so other devices they're signed in on, they can remotely sign out of them. We've really invested a ton into our user profile and like Auth zero just doesn't have that. Like open source tools just don't have it. And so I think you're just getting so much, more of a.

Jack: Wow, that's really cool. So it's like, you've got the whole journey around going to settings and that's just done for you.

Colin: Yeah. And I, I haven't mentioned it, but we also have the user button, so that's our fourth component. Uh, so sign up, sign in. User profile. User button. User button is, that thing that goes in the upper right where you click it and there's like a manage account button and a sign out button.

Yeah. So we, we provide that little UI too.

It's just so, it's just super easy to, to get everything going really quick.

Jack: You'll be telling us you have avatars next to me.

Colin: We do.

Jack: Ah, you got avatars as well.

Colin: Yeah, yeah. People can go in, they can upload a new one. Yeah. Like every, everything we could think of associated with user profiles. Is there, I think like we're still adding more, so it's not everything we can think of like we wanna. Like mailing addresses in there and shipping addresses and just to be able to support more use cases.

But as of right now, people are able to layer that on. But we'd like to provide more out of the box, like background checks that sign up we want to do, We don't do that yet. There's a really broad service area of kind of how people manage their user life cycles and So many tools are scoped just to the login box and not to the broader user management problem. And that's, also a very critical part.

Jack: That's really exciting to hear. You're not a React influencer.

Colin: I wish I was, or I wish I had more working with us. Uh,

Jack: Yeah. You've just built something that really solves a problem for a specific user group really well. Yeah.

Colin: Yeah. You know, I think like, uh, Neti has, has kind of taken notice we're in their Jams Stack Innovation fund, Giermo tweets about us occasionally. It's like little things like that I think have, helped elevate us in the Jams Stack community. But yeah, no, I, I did not come in as an influencer and, and really I would say the first year, this is probably surprising to a lot of people, like we started as a Rails Gym.

Jack: Really.

Colin: It was a, a very long path to realizing that like the Jams Stack audience is better suited to building and, and growing a business in all. Yeah. It never, it never saw the light of day. But the first, when we joined South Park Commons, they were like, our proceeds. They're like another Y Combinator, better than, better than Y Combinator. You should go to South Park and stuff. But anyway, yeah the thing we demoed them in our, like pitch meeting was, uh, it was a rails out. , and that was actually really cool because the dia there he were, he was super early at Facebook, and this is probably gonna go over a lot of people's heads, but he was like, Oh, oh, I like hated working on account. Stop php at Facebook. It was like the worst. Thing and that that was like their user profile url.

Url. And I, I think like, you know, what we bonded over was, was more of that like, this is a hard problem and there's something to solve here than the rail solution. And then it took a lot of just customer research to land on a, a segment and like, we can actually sell.

Jack: I guess the frustration there sounds like it's just boring thing to developers don't want to

Colin: You're, Yeah. Early Facebook, it's like, ah, we're trying to get to a hundred million users. Like is the account profile page really gonna

Jack: Move


Colin: You wanna, you wanna focus on your own thing and, and I think we let developers do that.

Jack: I have one more question, which is somewhat to do with what it's like building something, which is such a mission critical, area.

Colin: It's definitely interesting like the. Concerns that people raise? I'd say, look, the biggest way it's impacted us so far is like we learned that, oh, the jam stack segment makes sense. way back in early 2020 didn't launch until early 2021 and that entire year was spent on. Taking our proof of concept code and bulletproofing it. So from both a security perspective and a reliability perspective. And that was just for our own internal team's comfort, right? Like culturally, internally, we need to be doing so much more, to make sure that, that we stay up. I think from a. Selling to customers' perspective, it actually is quite nice that Zero exists and, and that they, they work for the top end of the market, right? They, there is this dynamic that the more you grow, the more likely you are to use all zero. And so they've kind of established that it's not an inherently bad idea. And I think we're, kind of past that as an industry. But it, definitely needs to impact our team culturally to make sure that, you know, security and reliability in that order are, are really our top concerns and, and we can't compromise on that to offer better dx like , those are kind of the immutables. Yeah, that. I'd say the biggest way.

Jack: I love it. And we were speaking before and I know this is something that you're really passionate about and as someone that's seen many companies doing very. Risky things with with security. I think something like a, force for good like, , clerk is, great , and I'm really excited , for your future.

Thanks so much for joining us, Colin.

Colin: Yeah. Thank you. This was, this was a ton of fun and, great meeting you and a great podcast too. , I loved spotting it on Twitter and, uh, you know, I, I just love dev tools generally, so thanks for hosting it.

Jack: Yeah. Thank you very much. And if people wanna learn more about Clerk Dev, , and Colin, where can they learn more?

Colin: On Twitter, we're at clerk dev. Our website is clerk.dev and then me on Twitter. I'm, I believe I'm Tweets by Colin. I should know that. Yeah, I'm uh, this is why I'm not a React social media influencer, working our way to getting better at it still, but, follow us. We, we have this like weekly change log, and I think that's kind of a big thing that helps us stay in touch with the community. But basically every week we're launching new features. We wanna share 'em and. It's a great way to, to stay in touch.

Jack: Thanks everyone for listening, and we'll see you again next week.

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Creators and Guests

Colin | Clerk.dev
Colin | Clerk.dev
Building drop-in authentication components @ClerkDev
Lydia Melvin
Lydia Melvin
Editor of Scaling DevTools


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