Thanks to the explosion of low- and no-code development tools, building web apps from the get-go has become easier—and cheaper—than it ever was. But advanced search and navigation features can complicate the process. A recent study by IT research firm GoodFirms estimates the cost of a complex app between $91,550 and $211,000. That’s before any debugging, marketing, and publishing costs.
James Evans, Richard Freling and Vinay Ayyala encountered the problem themselves when they prototyped a web-based grading tool – CodePost – for computer science assignments. They ran into a classic user interface challenge: new users didn’t know how to use the tool, while existing users found it slow and difficult to navigate.
The trio were inspired by other developers who built “command palettes” – essentially menu bars with shortcuts – to create their own custom solution. The result, CommandBar, aims to give users a way to search in their own words for what they’re trying to accomplish instead of struggling with buttons and menus.
CommandBar quickly evolved from a tool to a growing business, with clients like ClickUp, HashiCorp, Gusto, Netlify, and LaunchDarkly. In a vote of confidence from investors, CommandBar has raised $19 million in Series A funding co-led by Insight Partners and Lightrights Co-Founder Itai Tsiddon with the Participation of Existing Investors Thrive Capital and BoxGroup.
To date, CommandBar has raised $23.8 million.
“It’s such a natural idea to extend a pattern that we always use – search – to software. Every app wants to make it easier for users to go from intent to action. But we also understood that it was difficult to build it properly to take full advantage of this pattern, and was not something every company had to start from scratch,” Evans told MovieUpdates via email. “We collected our seed to validate that CommandBar can be broadly deployed across different types of software and for different types of users. We are now confident that all apps will soon have an interface like CommandBar, so we are now scaling up to take that opportunity and get CommandBar in as many apps as possible and for as many users as possible.”
CommandBar lives in apps and serves as a search bar with results containing commands such as opening a page, inviting a teammate, or displaying content in the help center. In addition to commands, CommandBar can provide onboarding steps or highlight new features, and personalize the experience based on where users are and what they’ve been doing in the app recently.
Developers copy a code snippet to install CommandBar and set or edit commands with a low-code editor. An analytics dashboard on the backend shows the most popular searches and synonyms for commonly used terms, which developers can use to identify and add missing commands.
“First order, we improve the user experience without much work for our customers. Once installed, which normally takes a few hours, CommandBar makes features easier to find and use, and the entire in-app experience faster,” said Evans. “Second order, the removal of friction in the user experience flows through to the unit economy of our customers. Making it easier for a new user to find a feature they care about converts the user into a paying customer. By providing loyal users with a fast in-app experience, they are more likely to renew the software for their networks, increase their usage and be enthusiastic about the software. Those are revenue benefits we’ve seen, but on the cost side, we also see customers spending less on support to answer questions like ‘How do I do X.’”
CommandBar, which currently has 15 employees and plans to hire another 20 to 25 by the end of the year, claims to reach three million end users through its customers’ apps — an increase of “a few hundred thousand” in Fall 2021. , Evans says, the focus will be both on bringing CommandBar to mobile apps and building recommendation features that help users navigate and figure out what kinds of tasks an app can do.
“Today, companies need to … make explicit recommendations: You may want to help new users in large teams invite the rest of their colleagues. But soon we’ll be providing those recommendations automatically, based on what previous users have done — kind of like a Netflix recommendation algorithm, but for in-product actions,” Evans added. “We expect to hit a tipping point where this… becomes a user expectation.”