In April, we welcomed Cack Wilhelm, a partner at venture capital firm IVP, to the CircleCI board of directors. Cack is our first female board member and previously worked with CircleCI during our Series B while at Scale Venture Partners. At IVP, Cack focuses on investing in growth-stage technology companies.
Our CEO, Jim Rose, recently sat down with Cack on IVP’s Hypergrowth podcast to discuss the rise of software delivery as a competitive differentiator, and what it’s like achieving hypergrowth and adjusting CircleCI as an organization. Jim and Cack also covered how continuous integration and deployment have become key in achieving success for businesses, the decision-making power of developers, and what makes CircleCI a leader in the CI/CD space.
Cack Wilhelm: I’d love to hear about the secular trends behind CircleCI. What do you see in the industry right now that’s continuing to drive demand for a solution like CircleCI?
Jim Rose: Back in 2011 and 2012, when CircleCI was started, this idea of being able to ship code as quickly as you made changes was pretty new. Over the last nine years, instead of being a really fringe idea, continuous deployment has become the aspirational North Star for pretty much every software delivery team out there.
The minute COVID hit, for example, and everyone became not just remote-first, but remote-only, you realized you could no longer rely on a build machine sitting underneath somebody’s desk.
This idea of automation, of being able to move quickly and to move reliably, has become not just a ‘nice to have.’ It’s become core to what you have to do as a software delivery team.
CW: What we’re really talking about here is developers — this idea of developers as first-class individuals within an organization that have a budget and decision power.
You know I haven’t been in venture that long, maybe six or seven years, and I still remember talking about the IT buyer. It was very much about the IT and the security buyer, and never did we discuss the developer buyer. But given your go-to-market strategy and your emphasis on the developer, how has that buyer of system software evolved in the past six or seven years?
JR: For the longest time, developers were just expected to build things. They were given a set of tools, told what to build, and seen as a cost center as opposed to an opportunity and an investment. As more companies have become software-driven, that perspective has really shifted. Instead of seeing your development team as this cost center that you’re trying to control, you’re really thinking about how you can maximize the capabilities and productivity of these very expensive folks who are difficult to hire.
The value of speed is very clear to an IT organization. It’s no longer about control. It’s about trying to create carrots or incentives to use the same toolset. It’s about building tools on behalf of all the software development teams inside of an enterprise.
You find more often than not that developers like to pick and choose the best tool for the job, whatever that particular job is, and then put the onus on the company to figure out how to work with everything else they have inside of their toolbox.
CW: I want to talk about the idea of bundling and unbundling. Mobile and Linux, for example, providing the same thing, seems like software used to really go through cycles. There was this great push for bundled and then, a push for the opposite. Where do you think we are in the cycle right now? What gives you confidence that being a best-in-breed platform, one that provides a big chunk of the software delivery lifecycle, is the right approach?
JR: There’s been a lot of movement in the market recently of folks trying to build end-to-end platforms in the development space. But if you look at the companies who’ve built those platforms, more often than not, 80 to 90 percent of their revenue still comes from their core product.
What we’ve heard from customers is that they’re going to implement the best tool they can find for that particular problem at that particular time. Our position, our goal, and our mantra as a company is: we stay close to the customer. We make sure that we’re addressing their particular requirements and needs, and everything else will kind of work itself out.
CW: I’d love to switch gears and talk more specifically about CircleCI, especially the phase of hypergrowth that you’re experiencing right now. I have the good fortune of seeing CircleCI’s series B phase and then getting reinvolved with the series E from IVP. I must admit, it was kind of fun to take a break and come back to a massively scaled, mature organization without seeing all the increments along the way.
Can you share more about the growth phase coming into this recent fundraising round, and what it’s like hitting hypergrowth and adjusting the organization? I’m sure there are some differences between go-to-market functions versus engineering, and what about mundane stuff like hiring, onboarding, and office space?
JR: The way you scale is by making the mundane highly leverageable. The first requirement I have for everyone on our exec team is they have to be a great recruiter. It’s not about hiring the first person — you’re going to have to hire 15 more in the next six months. How do you make that scalable and repeatable over time? It’s the same thing with infrastructure, whether it’s office space, tools, or having a globally managed set of HR policies in place.
As a founder, you’re trying to get all of that in place and make it scalable, make it effective, and make it resilient to change. It’s a marathon, not a sprint, but you’re going really fast. You have to make sure you do whatever you can to pace yourself as you continue to grow.
CW: Amazon, Microsoft and Alphabet certainly have a large part of their businesses that are pegged to cloud infrastructure spend, just as CircleCI does. A large part of Amazon, Microsoft, Alphabet, and Google’s businesses are akin to cloud infrastructure — a lot of what CircleCI does. If you also include DataDog and Atlassian, these companies are showing really strong growth, really strong public performance. From where you’re sitting, what do you make of the public markets as they relate to CircleCI and your next move?
JR: I think the understanding of the public market investor has really evolved. When we had conversations with public market investors in 2015 and 2016, they had absolutely no idea what we did. They didn’t understand software development as a key differentiator for companies, not just software companies, but for companies overall. I think about companies like Amazon, Google, Netflix, Facebook, and others — their ability to build software quickly is how they generate value inside their businesses.
Increasingly, too, if you look at more traditional industries that have made real investments in technology over the last four or five years, they’re reaping those gains today. Target and Wal-Mart have made tremendous gains over the last six months since COVID started because they have a pretty robust technical platform at this point.
When you compare that to more traditional retailers who haven’t made that investment, you can start to see the value of software and the value of agile processes in creating corporate value. The market has definitely woken up to the competitive differentiator that software, and being a well-oiled software delivery machine, provides.
CW: What are you looking forward to as you move into this next phase of growth in the next year or two years? What’s exciting?
JR: It’s exciting to watch companies that we may have talked to back in 2015 and weren’t ready for us, who are now leaning in and ready to adopt continuous delivery, and ready to deploy CircleCI as a foundation to that change.
Some of the brands we work with are doing incredibly interesting things from autonomous vehicles to space vehicles to machine learning to everyday mobile applications, and everything in between.
When I talk to folks we’re trying to hire, I always say we’re in the engine room of the internet. We’re the company helping build all of those experiences that you consume each and every day, in a way that’s exciting and interesting and new. And whether you’re building a small open-source library or something for the U.S. Government, you can use CircleCI to support that.