How Supabase is taking on the Goliath of Backend-as-a-Service

Feb 1, 2022
min read

The database wars of the '80s were an intense and scrappy affair.

Mike Stonebraker and Ingres were gaining ground on Larry Ellison's Oracle. The end of a long-drawn-out rivalry and in turn the fate of the two companies pivoted on one event in 1985 - the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) declaring SQL as the standard relational database language.

It was a knockout blow for Ingres, who provided QUEL instead of SQL as the user language. But QUEL hadn't lost because SQL was technically better; in fact, many relational experts argue that it was intrinsically superior. QUEL lost because Mike Stonebraker was ideologically opposed to setting technology standards and didn't show up at the ANSI meeting. Wounded, but not defeated, Stonebraker returned to Berkeley and started a post-Ingres project: or, Postgres.

Today, the database wars have taken on a different form. After nearly 30 years of active development, the open-source Postgres has earned a reputation for performance and reliability and has long been the preferred solution for businesses of all sizes. Oracle killing the open-source nature of MySQL and the rise of cloud storage led to Postgres becoming one of the most widely used open-source databases in the world today. This big swing of open-source Davids against proprietary Goliaths is mirrored in the meteoric growth of Supabase: the Postgres-based alternative to Google's Firebase.

Supabase 🀝 Postgres
Supabase 🀝 Postgres



🎢 Super bass - the Firebase alternative? πŸ€”

In 2019, the team at office-management tool Nimbus created a Realtime Engine (a server that lets you listen to database changes... realtime) on Github as a part of migrating their backend systems from Google-owned Firebase to an open-source database - PostgreSQL. Stars fell from the sky (Github stars ⭐️) on this repository signaling to Paul Copplestone (the founder/CTO of Nimbus) an opportunity πŸ’‘. Paul roped in his ex-roommate and cohort fellow from Entrepreneur First - Ant Wilson, and together they set out to create an alternative to Google's Backend-as-a-Service Software - Firebase!    

"To be honest, this name wasn't a strong contender, but it served a very important purpose - it was extremely "meme-able" because it sounds similar to Nikki Minaj's Super Bass." Paul on Supabase's name
"To be honest, this name wasn't a strong contender, but it served a very important purpose - it was extremely "meme-able" because it sounds similar to Nikki Minaj's Super Bass." Paul on Supabase's name


A Backend-as-a-Service product combines features like

  1. Authentication
  2. Storage
  3. Database
  4. Functions (coming soon on Supabase)
  5. and other dev friendly features like real-time listening, documentation, and logging,

in a plug-and-play fashion, saving teams massive development hours. So if both Supabase and Firebase offer these features, why would one pick David over Goliath? πŸ€”

Answer : PostgreSQL and Open source!

Supabase is built on top of existing OSS's like PostgreSQL, PostgREST, Elixr and offers scalability that is lost while using proprietary Google techπŸ•΅πŸ»β€β™‚οΈ. Invoking hacker sentiments, rallying a community, and improving access to these tools, Supabase is today a worthy Firebase alternative and much more.

The YC Incubatee is used by 50,000+ developers and has raised $37M+ from marquee investors like Coatue, open-source pioneers Mozilla and a host of tech-first Angels (Dev-Rel and Dev leaders) 🀩

πŸ” Launch… again and again and again

A good product launch generates massive buzz, raises eyebrows, and communicates clearly the why's, what's and how's of your brainchild, generating awareness and immediate sales opportunities. A great product launch does all of this and:

  1. ...becomes a testing ground for ICP's and product communication
  2. ...involves your community
  3. ...becomes a moving goalpost for your entire organization

A great launch, can hence be a very effective growth strategy, one that Supabase has mastered (Launch-led growth?...anyone? πŸ™ˆ).

Supabase getting ready for their next launch πŸš€ πŸ”
Supabase getting ready for their next launch πŸš€ πŸ”


  1. The YC launch (Alpha)

        For a Dev tools startup looking to get a few early adopters and build some brand credits, YC demo day is godsent! Supabase used the YC stage         to launch their Auth feature and their alpha, realizing the value and adrenaline that a good launch brings.

  1. The Beta launch

        Inspired by the YC demo day, Supabase created Launch day to announce their beta product. With performance, reliability, and security as an         underlying theme, the team launched multiple features, announced beta pricing, their round from Mozilla, and also their commitment to the OSS         community. What followed was a steep inflection in all growth charts and a consensus that there'll be a lot more launches in the future! πŸ“ˆ

Changing transmission with every launch! 🀩
Changing transmission with every launch! 🀩


  1. The Launch weeks

       "Why settle for a day when you can launch all week?" - Overheard at the Supabase office after the killer beta launch. Well some version of that,        at least. 🀭

       Launch days are now Launch weeks, with installment 1 dropping in March 2021 followed by versions in July and December. The team has a well-        defined playbook that works with the motto - "Fixed deadlines and flexible scope".  Key ingredients behind a good launch week πŸ‘¨πŸ»β€πŸ³:

  1. Planning - High-level discussion to single out priorities and projects for the next launch week.
  2. Kickoff - Let's Go πŸš€
  3. Work - The build phase where the ideas are brought to action
  4. Pre-launch - Final debugging, preparing marketing collaterals, finding a hunter for Producthunt, etc.
  5. Launch - hitting publish buttons, shoutouts, tweets, events... product hunt launches... PR releases... Hackernews etc, etc!
  1. Rest - 😴
  2. Retrospect  - Take stock on the hits and misses and feed them into the next launch!
  3. Repeat!
"[Launch week] a key part of a Product-Led Growth strategy that has enabled us to increase the number of databases we manage 47% month-on-month for the last 18 months."  - Ant Wilson on Launch weeks at Supabase

🏘 Fostering a community

Giving back: Supabase's biggest contribution to the OSS tools that it is built on is the fact that it makes each of them more accessible! Supabase goes one step further in this respect with its free offering, taking a leaf out of PLG playbooks πŸ‘‡πŸ»

Supabase's pricing range starts from a free tier for hobby projects and experiments πŸ‘©β€πŸ”¬
Supabase's pricing range starts from a free tier for hobby projects and experiments πŸ‘©πŸ”¬


In addition, the team actively gives back to the OSS tools in the form of sponsorship, code commits, and feature improvements. Giving back generates goodwill and respect from within the hacker circles, building a strong community around Supabase!

Supabase is also building Supasquad - an online army of maintainers, experts, builders, authors, moderators, and advocates to help maintain and build its own community. Members get direct access to the Supabase team, are offered credits, and are featured on social handles for their contributions.

The official Discord channel and Github discussion forums are very popular within the PostgreSQL communities and have been growing exponentially. Supabase has been one of the fastest-growing startups on GitHub for four consecutive quarters!

Limitless swag on offer for the community courtesy of Supabase
Limitless swag on offer for the community courtesy of Supabase


Other engagement activities include the Supabase hackathon, online courses, the organization Youtube channel, and their notoriously popular Swag game πŸ₯‡! The team generously distributes stickers and t-shirts incentivizing community behavior and triggering word-of-mouth referrals.

Aquib from our engineering team got his Swag πŸ₯³ Supabase getting its ICP right! πŸ™ˆ

🀝 The team

The young Supabase team was born remote and boasts passports in 12+ different countries 🌎! The SDE-dominated team (~60%) brings home previous experience from tech giants like AWS, Google, Palantir, and Stripe and are also active contributors and maintainers of the OSS world.

Steve Chavez is a Supabase engineer and is also a maintainer for PostgRest
Supabase org chart | Source: LinkedIn


The GTM team comprises - Head of Growth Rory Wilding (Entrepreneur First Alumnus and CEO at Onkolyze ), David Wilson in customer success, and celebrity Jon Meyers who is widely appreciated by the community for his course - Build a SaaS product with Next.js, Supabase, and Stripe. The Supabase team also boasts 30%+ ex founders in its workforce with 'Ex-founders' taking the top spot on their open positions page. They are brought in to pick up autonomous objectives and are encouraged to "Create their own role"! ⭐️

⏩ Next steps

As announced at their Series A launch, the product roadmap for Supabase will strive to strengthen PostgreSQL with more tooling (Logflare acquisition is a move in this direction) and a venture into the world of Cloud-native databases. A Cloud-native Postgres will bring more flexibility and scalability, and Supabase is best positioned to build for this future.

Supabase is also hiring for Growth roles and is expected to double down on developer acquisition, enterprise adoption, and monetization. We are very excited for the Singapore-based startup and are super excited for launch weeks 4 and beyond! πŸš€ 🀩


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