Founders on Fire: Grace Waters, Co-Founder, Codastra

Today we’re catching up with Codastra, our winner of the 2020 Firestarter Trailblazers Award and also runner-up in the Developer category. We talk with Grace Waters, Co-Founder of the firm, who was a runner-up in the Female CxO category. Chief Trailblazer Rose Ross quizzes her to find out what’s been happening since winning the award.

Grace tells us about the rapid development of what is still an early-stage startup, including the challenges they’ve faced in terms of being pulled in many directions whilst finding their way forward to launch the world’s first microservice migration solution. She also touches upon the FFWD pre-accelerator programme and how useful that was for Codastra’s development.

She lets us in on the upcoming path for the company and in particular how their microservices migration tool is likely to be one of a suite of available tools. Listen to the full podcast here:

You can also listen to the podcast on YouTube or Anchor FM.

Interview transcript

Rose Ross: Welcome everybody to the Tech Trailblazers Founders on Fire podcast. I’m here with Grace Waters from Codastra, one of our multiple winners from last year. Hello, Grace, how are you?

Grace Waters: I’m good, good thank you.

Rose Ross: Fantastic. Well thank you for joining us, I’m looking forward to spending a bit of time getting an update from you. But first of all congratulations, you guys picked up multiple awards, including yourself as runner-up in the female CxO Tech Trailblazer, and also in the Firestarter (winner) and Developer (runner-up) sections of the awards, so congratulations on that.

It’s been an interesting year, obviously for everybody, with the situation that we’re facing but tell us a little bit about yourself and about Codastra.

Grace Waters: For sure. Of course, as you mentioned, I am a co-founder of Codastra, and we’re an early stage startup offering the world’s first microservice migration solution. In the smallest of nutshells, Codastra uses cutting-edge AI-driven code analytics to break down monolithic applications into microservices, providing developers essentially with everything they need to build robust, optimally-designed microservices. It’s our mission really to make what is traditionally a very arduous time-consuming process, significantly quicker, easier, and therefore cheaper. So we are currently a two-man band, we’ve been working on Codastra for about a year now and that time has really flown! My co-founder is the engineering brain behind the operation, whilst I’m must more of a startup Jill-of-all-trades, so I’ve been juggling everything else.

So my personal background, my career background, is very much a mixed tapestry of various experiments. I’ve been at various times a writer, a documentary maker, and now an entrepreneur. I spent most of my career working with a range of startups in very different sectors. I suppose how I came to be working with Codastra is again an interesting synchronicity mix of events. One of my real passions is language or linguistics, and that’s what I studied at university, looking at the subtleties, structures, and psychology of a language, whether or not that’s visual, verbal, or other forms of language.

The interesting thing about Codastra to me is the visual mapping of code that’s part of the tool, and that was really interesting to me because to see code in that way briefly mapped out and completely transform how it can be experienced, and how development teams and professionals can interact with that. Code fundamentally is just a kind of symbolic language, so there’s a lot of fascinating ways that we can play around with how we interface with that, and potentially completely disrupt the way we work with it.

Rose Ross: Fantastic.

Grace Waters: So, that’s me, in again a bit of a nutshell.

Rose Ross: Great. Tell us a little bit about what’s been happening recently, because obviously the awards recognised you back in December of 2020, what’s been happening in Q1 of 2021?

Grace Waters: Again for a start I can’t believe it’s been three months! Time definitely moves very strangely in the lockdown continuum. So really, since winning, our main focus has been on internal product developments. We’ve been making some changes to the product, experimenting with some new features, and also working on rebranding. So, unfortunately, we realised that there is another company with the Codastra name, there’s been a little bit of confusion between us, so my focus right now is rebranding, finding a new name and a new identity. We’re also focusing on working on splitting Codastra up into a suite of different tools with more targeted outcomes, rather than the Swiss Army knife it’s been up until now.

The main flagship tool will still be microservice migration, and in the next few months we’re hoping to have our free release up and running, most likely available for public code on GitHub. Yeah, so that’s really the main focus right now, alongside establishing our case studies with larger companies who are wanting to move their monolithic applications to microservices. So that’s where we are right now.

We spent the tail end of 2020 looking at investments, but we’ve held back on that a bit. Moving forward we’re still not quite sure if that’s the route we want to go down, if that’s the route we want to go down right now. It’s always been very important to both myself and my co-founder that we can maintain, I suppose, creative control with our vision and what we want Codastra to be. So that’s something we might come back to a bit further down the line.

Rose Ross: Great, because obviously you were introduced to the Tech Trailblazers when you were on the pre-accelerator programme, FastForward ( So, I don’t know if you want to talk a little bit about your experiences there as well? And thanks also to the team there for introducing us to some of their cohort, including yourselves.

Grace Waters: Yeah, FastForward was a really great experience for us. We were on their June 2020 programme and back then we were really quite early-on in the process, so it was incredibly valuable to have a team of mentors and experts to bounce ideas off and get initial feedback. Again especially in the pandemic situation where face-to-face networking events were off the cards, that was a really valuable experience and it saved space for us to iterate ideas and experiment with various messaging points. So yes, it’s definitely-definitely an experience, a programme I would recommend to early-stage tech startups.

Rose Ross: So what would you say was one of the most important things that you learned in that 10-week programme?

Grace Waters: Wow, that’s a great question. I’d say the interesting thing about the programme is, it’s a cohort programme so you’re going along on it with other startups who are maybe a bit further along, or less far along, and you hear everyone else’s pitches and presentations all the time, and it really, really hammers home the really, really simple things like, making sure that you are able to communicate your products, like what it is and why it’s valuable, and why it’s different – and if you can’t do that then you really need to go back to the drawing board. For us, we thought we were pretty good at it! And then you realise over time that it’s a constantly evolving process to really get those messages across clearly, and to communicate value clearly, so I think that was really just a very valuable lesson in pitching.

Rose Ross: So, you’ve talked a little bit about moving away from the Swiss Army knife approach that you’ve had and creating a portfolio of products which people can then, I guess, choose what is the best fit for them at any particular time, and also a little bit of a challenge with the name with that. So, I guess watch this space to find out what Codastra becomes.

Is there anything you can share about what you’ve learned so far? Obviously, Codastra is very young at the moment and it’s still forming; what would you say have been your valuable lessons so far?

Grace Waters: That’s a great question. I think tying very much into this Swiss Army knife dilemma that we’ve been going through, one of the biggest lessons that we’ve had is about how you work with feedback, because part of the reason we’ve reached this Swiss Army knife situation, this feature creep situation is we’d demo the tool we had, and people being like, ‘Oh this is great, but what if you could do this?’ And then we add that in. If you show a tool to 100 people, you’ll get 100 difference insights about what is interesting and what could be done with it. So, for us I think we wasted quite… I wouldn’t say wasted, we spent a lot of time listening to people, what they wanted, building it into the tool, but sometimes losing sight of what the initial purpose of the tool was, which for Codastra was very much microservices. But then at the same time we had very, very cool technology like the code mapping, the new approach to code analytics, and we reached a point where we lobbed it all into one thing and that was a difficult thing to push uphill, which is why we’re trying to break it down now into probably a more modular approach.

Rose Ross: What are the key products that will be the separate standalone offerings, has that been finalised yet?

Grace Waters: Yes. So, fundamentally the main flagship tool will still be microservice migration, that will take as an input a large application, and then Codastra identifies I suppose what we’re calling ideal microservice candidates that we found from analysing your code base, and there’s also an option for users to identify their own microservices, build their own microservices according to different business logic or functionality that they want to draw out. And then you get what I like to call the flat pack, the IKEA flatpack of microservices, so that then developers can put it together themselves with all the various interdependencies taken care of.

And then beyond that we’ve got our code mapping functionality that I think we’re going to… the plan currently is to put that more into more of a code audit/code quality tool, so looking very much at the same types of metrics that other code quality tools look at; so code quality, technical debt, maintainability, those sorts of things but through a completely visually-driven interface. So you can see in a heat map where you have areas of high complexity or low complexity, and so it would work with code that way.

Then we’ve also got our sister project, Fortifai, which is our cybersecurity tool which fundamentally is driven by the same kind of code analytics that we’re using. We’re also trying to work out maybe if we bring everything under that one central umbrella.

So that’s how we’re imagining it right now as a three-pronged enterprise that, that again is still in development.

Rose Ross: And what’s your timescale for finalising that at the moment? Have you imagined where that will take you when you’ll be able to say, ‘Right, that’s it, this is exactly what we’re offering’?

Grace Waters: In that sense not so much, I think the timeline that we have right now is really to focus on just getting Codastra the microservice tool out there, and that will be the focus. Then we’ll look at launching those other modules and trying to work out actually which of them can be launched in the first instance as a free tool, with an upsell premium model.

Rose Ross: Brilliant. And how valuable have you found getting recognition in an international awards programme, like the Tech Trailblazers, been for you?

Grace Waters: Oh definitely, definitely hugely valuable. I think more than anything else it’s been really helpful for us in validating that what we’re working on has value, that we’re on the right track with what we’re doing. As an early-stage startup it’s so easy to get caught up in an echo chamber of your own thoughts about the market and about your consumers. So that external validation is really important. It’s also been a really big selling point when we’ve spoken with investors, or potential partners, or pilot customers – winning an award really helps prove again that we have a product that stands out and that resonates with people in the industry.

Rose Ross: Brilliant, that’s what it’s all about, recognition in that way and help open doors and allowing stuff through them.

Grace Waters: Exactly.

Rose Ross: So, we’ve talked a lot about the future, things are happening for you guys, decisions on whether there will be investment made into the company, or whether you will be looking at organic growth; anything else that you’d like to share with our Founders on Fire podcast listeners, what you learnt and what you think would be valuable, particularly under the circumstances, the pandemic’s been quite challenging, well, very challenging for a lot of people in different ways. As an entrepreneur I’m sure it’s brought out perhaps opportunities and also challenges along the way.

Grace Waters: Yeah, I suppose compared to a lot of businesses, ours is entirely technology and so we’ve not suffered too greatly from the pandemic situation in that sense. But I suppose, as best I understand it and I’m not an expert, but the gut feel has been that there has been a big dip in startup investment in the past year, which perhaps you probably know better than I do. It seems that investors have been focusing more on the existing ventures in their portfolios, rather than making new investments in newcomers. So, whether or not that’s something we’ve come up against, that might potentially have been a problem and it might be a problem for other newcomers, but at the same time I’ve seen some data suggest that the investment scene is picking up in 2021.

I very much come from a bootstrapping school entrepreneurship, that’s kind of where I cut my teeth, so more of an approach where you try to grow organically, and you build the company incrementally with the early sales that come in. I suppose you have the benefit of that being a more derisked approach, and where you can limit costs as far as possible, and you also have a lot of time to get to know your market and adapt to feedback when it comes in. But, of course, this potentially comes at the expense of rapid growth and scaling, if that’s what you’re after.

I suppose in some sense, this past year has been an interesting experience for me to sit back and observe the changes that are happening in startup culture, if we’re going back to that bootstrapping model, which I think was the prime culture a few years ago, and then the primacy of VC came through. So yeah, I think that’s definitely an interesting potentially wider cultural change that will happen in the startup space.

I think other than that, it’s been interesting to see over the past year which companies have survived or even thrived, and then which ones have not at all. It seems that adaptation or adaptability is a really important thing for businesses to embrace right now, in the midst of the current economic climate but also the wider shifts that are happening in the world with the pandemic, the way consumer behaviour is changing, businesses are changing, infrastructure is changing. So that’s been quite interesting to observe, and obviously some companies are a lot better positioned to adapt to those changes than others.

So moving forward it looks like flexibility will be key. Also I think at the same time there’s a lot of exciting opportunities for companies to build something for this transformed world, looking at the new challenges that have come up, but also maybe new markets that emerge; I suppose companies like Hopin and Zoom have done really, really well, and whether or not there are other avenues that can open up. I think I read something early on in the pandemic about actually recessions tend to be really great for startups. Historically, if you look at it, that’s where a lot of great businesses came out, I think social media – initial social media golden age was during the 2008 recession. So it’s a tough one because the world is definitely in flux and it’s been hugely difficult, but maybe fingers-crossed as we’re coming out of it there are a lot of exciting avenues as well.

Rose Ross: It’s certainly very different from when we would have spoken over a year ago, with regards to these things.

Grace Waters: Yeah, I don’t think we really knew how long a term it was going to be.

Rose Ross: Absolutely, absolutely. Anything else that you’d like to share before we close off the podcast and our conversation?

Grace Waters: No, I think that’s everything. As always, we’re very keen to hear from people who are interested in what we’re doing, interested in working with us or have any questions, but other than that, watch this space!

Rose Ross: Fantastic, and thank you so much for joining me Grace, and congratulations again on your recognition.

Grace Waters: Thank you.

Rose Ross: Your hat-trick in fact.

Grace Waters: Yeah, amazing. We were so happy.

Rose Ross: Great achievement, great achievement, so well done to you and your co-founder. And thanks again for joining us.

And thank you everyone for listening. That was Grace Waters who is the co-founder of Codastra one of our winners from 2020. And if you’d like to find out more, do visit the Tech website, follow us on Twitter @techtrailblaze, or find us on LinkedIn.

Thank you very much.