Brad Feld Q&A on DevOps and SaaS
With the recent announcement of DevOps.com, there isn’t a doubt that the DevOps category is hot. SaaS has been hot for a long time now, and when you combine it with DevOps, there are so many interesting opportunities for companies — from startups to enterprise level – to leverage this technology and methodology. In fact, one opportunity – that to build a cloud-based directory service – is the one that JumpCloud has chosen. Our vision at JumpCloud is to enable IT admins to securely manage and connect user identities to the systems, applications, and networks they need. To that end, JumpCloud pioneered its platform called Directory-as-a-Service®.
As such, we wanted to ask one of the foremost experts in investing in early-stage businesses and trends, Brad Feld from Foundry Group, to share his perspectives on the market. [Full disclosure: Brad is an investor and board member of JumpCloud, and he’s been actively involved in the creation of our company, and DevOps.com, from inception. We get to hear his wisdom all of the time, so we wanted to share!]
Brad was kind enough to answer a number of questions we posed on DevOps, SaaS, startups and more. Transcript of the conversation follows:
JumpCloud: Foundry is ahead of the curve in terms of investing in the DevOps space. What do you know that others don’t?
Brad Feld: As VCs, we have the unique opportunity to be immersed in a set of themes, and as such we are able to pick up on key elements that are driving the success of the companies we have invested in. Of course, we still have to figure out whether those trends are relevant to the broader market or whether they are contained within a few companies, but we have a nice starting point from our experience.
Today, between the Foundry Group portfolio and TechStars advisors, we are living and breathing all things DevOps with connections to hundreds of companies in the space. Literally every board meeting that I go to has some element of DevOps embedded into the conversation. We may not call it DevOps all the time in the conversation, but we are talking about the overall DevOps concept.
All of the companies that I work with are trying to push the envelope in terms of new functionality while scaling their infrastructures. Add to that the need for constant customer communication and testing, and DevOps is the wiring that enables all of it to happen.
JC: Where do you see the DevOps industry heading over the five years?
BF: DevOps feels to me a lot like Agile did back in the early 2000s. Our portfolio company Rally Software was one of the pioneers in that space, so we’ve seen and been a part of a similar transformative methodology – in this case Agile – change the IT landscape. We believe we’ll see the same adoption curve with DevOps as we have with Agile, but I think it’ll have a steeper slope. As with Agile early on, there is a great deal of evolution of what DevOps means and how companies implement it. But in a decade, there won’t be a discussion any more about what DevOps is and whether it’s important; it’ll just be ubiquitous, as Agile is today.
JC: What does the startup working environment look like to you in five years?
BF: We see it happening today – people in the startup world are better prepared, smarter, more knowledgeable about the process of creating companies than ever before. I’ve talked about being the CEO of your job and you see that every day across all of the people in the companies I work with. The world isn’t going to be hierarchical as it has been in the past. The network has taken over and it crosses organizational boundaries while reaching all levels of a hierarchy. Some companies are even experimenting with no hierarchy at all, or with new organizational structures like Holocracies. I think we’ll see a lot more experimentation in this area and a lot of innovations in organizational development will come out of them. When I went to school, there was a very defined way organizations developed with a top down, layered management structure. That’s completely been blown up today. I see it in how our companies work internally and I see it in how they work with each other and with how they work with me. People who are able to work collaboratively, learn new areas, and execute quickly are going to have a lot of success.
JC: Why do you think that startups are turning the tables on big companies so regularly these days?
BF: Entrepreneurs are getting better every day. In fact, programs like Techstars dramatically accelerate the entrepreneurship process, especially for entrepreneurs focused on building their startup muscles. Startup communities are being built in cities all across the world. The passion and energy required to start a company is now being combined with more sophistication on how to build successful companies which translates to a higher success rate. Combine the next wave of innovation together with really smart, passionate people and a much greater understanding of how to create a startup and it’s easy to see how startups are changing the world.
JC: What’s your advice to DevOps and IT folks as they think about where the industry is headed and consequently their careers?
BF: Learn. Study. Experience. Go to work on the industry on the new exciting developments going on. Roll your sleeves up and learn everything you can in an area that interests you. The world’s changing fast and will continue to change. The pace of innovation is speeding up, not slowing down, so the best thing you can do is embrace that and have a mindset that you will be constantly learning. What you learned in school won’t be relevant over time, but if you learned how to problem solve and think critically that will carry you forever. Your jobs will change as will you industry, and understanding that will happen will be hugely helpful. Don’t resist change. Instead, embrace it and help drive it.
JC: How likely are you to invest in a startup that embraces DevOps (automation, collaboration) over one that doesn’t? Is a non-Agile shop a deal breaker for you?
BF: We don’t like to dictate how companies should operate and leave that decision to the founders and management team. Our view is that they should embrace whatever makes them most productive. However, we happen to believe approaches like Agile, DevOps, and others can make for better companies, and the speed that these approaches create will show up in their results. If a company isn’t able to iterate quickly or move fast, they aren’t going to be able to attract — and keep — their customer base, which makes it harder for us to get excited about their business. However, if a company can generate traction without using these techniques, that’s great. We’ll get just as excited and want to dig in and learn more about their processes and successful scaling process. Certain approaches work with certain companies and we are always open to new and interesting ways of getting the job done best.