A startup that started under the radar in Vienna, Austria – a hit with developers for the technology that underpins the user experience for some of the world’s most popular apps – doubles momentum and announces its first outside investment, under the form a great financing cycle for growth.
PSPDFkit – which provides APIs and an SDK that developers use to power document processing functionality such as electronic signing, document viewing and editing, collaboration, and more – has raised $ 100 million ($ 116 million). Funding comes from a single investor, Insight Partners.
PSPDFkit is already profitable, and has been for some time, so this investment aims to accelerate its growth rate. He plans to use the investment to create more development tools, make strategic acquisitions (co-founder and CEO Jonathan Rhyne doesn’t know what, except to say that it will be about expanding the suite of ‘useful tools it provides); and, for the first time, to make a concerted effort in the areas of sales and marketing.
Much of PSPDFkit’s growth to date, in fact, has been through word of mouth, a strategy that has taken it very far so far. His clients include Dropbox, DocuSign, SAP, IBM, Volkswagen, Fabasoft, Wolters Kluwer Deutschland and the European Patent Office, among a number of others he works with under NDA.
In many cases, not all companies are happy to admit how much their user experience and technology has been built by third parties, and this is also the situation with where and how PSPDFkit is used, but the fact remains. it’s pretty huge: In total, PSPDFkit’s technology, via its APIs and SDKs, is now approaching 1 billion users in 150 countries.
Unsurprisingly, this traction has also meant that PSPDFkit has had a lot of acquisition interest over the years. The big tech companies that build productivity tools, already work with developers, and are already very active in mobile apps and cloud services have all knocked on PSPDFkit’s door. While the startup is not disclosing its valuation, you can guess that given its size and profitable status, with this latest round it has definitely become a more expensive buy. (And if all goes according to plan, it will become even more so.)
The history of PSPDFkit is an interesting one and largely reflects how mobile development itself has developed over the years.
Originally, the company started around 2011 as a framework and toolset created by Austrian engineer Peter Steinberger, who was already involved in the iOS developer community and could see a need in the market for a number of applications for document handling functions such as electronic signatures. , document editing and document viewing. Apps allowed us to turn a lot of things into virtual experiences, and paper was shaping up to be one of the first things to do.
This need turned out to be a classic use case to create this functionality and make it something that many others could access through SDKs and APIs: document manipulation tools – even something as basic as previewing a file contained in a cloud folder – are very difficult to build from scratch, are not necessarily part of the core business of companies, but are nonetheless at the heart of how they operate.
The Steinberger framework thus became one of the earliest examples of how SDKs and APIs could be used to integrate different services and features into other applications – a basic principle has now been applied to a whole host of applications. ‘other functionalities: integrated financial services, for example, those used to build neobanks, neobrokers, insuretechs; integrated payments, for example the payment APIs of Stripe and others; integrated communications, for example, messaging, voice or email API of Twilio, Sinch, etc. ; etc.
(The name PSPDFkit was a reference to Peter Steinberger’s initials; PDF because PDFs were, and largely remain, the company’s original focus; and “kit” in reference to the SDK it was.)
As the creation and use of mobile apps started to take off, so did Steinberger’s framework, and soon Martin Schürrer joined in building it. During this time, Rhyne was working in the United States as an attorney representing developers, and he became their attorney after meeting them at a developer event.
Soon in this relationship, the three realized that there was not only a suitable and growing business to run, but that Steinberger and Schürrer had little interest in doing so. In 2014, Rhyne left the practice of law and became the third co-founder, with Steinberger and Schürrer in Vienna, and Rhyne based in North Carolina in the United States.
With this turn, Steinberger and Schürrer move away from full-time positions but remain “heavily invested” in the company, while Rhyne remains CEO.
Things moved quickly from there for PSPDFkit, in keeping with the meteoric rise of the apps themselves.
Starting with iOS, PSPDFkit today provides tools that can be used to build apps on Android and the web, using Flutter and React Native. The strategy is to work on creating a bigger platform to handle several related features that developers might want to use in relation to documents, and perhaps the larger world of productivity.
Rhyne’s basic description of what PSPDFkit and its customers are doing today is “stale paper.” But over time, much as Stripe has shifted from its core functionality, providing APIs to power payments, to a broader suite of transaction-related services, PSPDFkit sees an opportunity to do more, not least because the world’s expectations have also changed.
For example, Rhyne recalled how PSPDFkit set up a real-time collaboration platform in 2015, “but we were like, ‘Dude, it’s not working, people don’t really want the use. Then Covid-19 came along, he continued, “Now every customer says, ‘Sounds awesome. Yeah, we want to use that…’ I think we’re seeing a change in the way people interact with documents.
This speaks of a lot of opportunities for both the startup and its investors.
“Software developers and engineers are at the forefront of the job simply by the nature of their business,” said Ryan Hinkle, MD at Insight Partners, in a statement. “The way they work and collaborate must also be state of the art. With PSPDFKit’s software development kits and hosted solutions, the company is revolutionizing document processing for businesses and the developers they commission to keep the business at the forefront of innovation. Insight is excited to play a role in the company’s growth journey. Hinkle joins the board with this round.
Yet for all this, for PSPDFkit itself, expectations will change a little less: the business is run as a “distributed” operation as it has been since long before the Covid-19 pandemic, with a main base R&D in Vienna, but employees in many parts of the world. He is now hiring more on the same model.