An Interview with Job van der Voort, VP of Product at GitLab
It sounds like an elusive Holy Grail – a single integrated application that will guide and support software development through every stage of the development lifecycle. That means starting with ideas and going all the way through to production and user feedback. But that is exactly what GitLab is out to achieve.
Job van der Voort explains to us how they are achieving this, where they see the market going in the coming years, and how GitLab manages to accomplish all of this with every one of their 100+ employees working remotely.
HostAdvice: Let’s start by discussing what exactly GitLab is. Can you clarify for us the difference and relationship between Git, GitHub, and GitLab?
Git is an established open-source version control system that was started by Linus Torvalds– the creator of Linux. Git has only a command-line interface, which lead to numerous efforts to build tools and interfaces on top of it.
GitHub is a Git repository hosting service, which also adds many of its own features. The most obvious addition is a browser-based graphical user interface, but it also provides basic task management and several collaboration features such as access control and wikis.
GitLab is also based on the Git version control system, but goes much, much further. Our goal is to create a single application that guides you through the entire development process – from idea to production. It is currently used primarily for software development, but it is also being used for developing other forms of digital media. The reason for this is that many of the features necessary for developing software, such as versioning, collaboration, and merging files/documents are applicable to other forms of media as well.
We have identified the ten stages of the development lifecycle and want to offer a fully integrated and unified suite of tools for each stage. You should not have to juggle different tools for each stage. In fact, you should barely feel like you are going through different stages.
For example, we recently released our Issue Board. This feature allows you to follow issues through your own workflow, while the changes will be visible in the rest of the lifecycle.
HostAdvice: How do you define your market? Who is your specific target audience within that market?
Our target market is actually rather broad. It is any organization that builds software, regardless of whether their development teams are large or small. We don’t really have a specific audience, because GitLab is a build tool that is good for everyone. On the one hand, it is simple enough that it works right out of the box. On the other hand, it is robust enough that we have clients using it with 1,000+ developers.
HostAdvice: Who do you see as your biggest competitors?
I see us having two main competitors – GitHub and BitBucket. GitHub is really only a source code repository. It does have a basic issue tracker, but that is about it. Beyond that, you need to turn to other tools, especially for things like continuous integration and deployment.
BitBucket does offer a suite of tools, but they are all separate applications. There is no integration of the tools out of the box and each of the additional tools is priced separately and must be integrated by the customer.
HostAdvice: How do you see GitLab tools different and/or better than them?
Very simply, Gitlab is a single application that covers every phase of the software development lifecycle and works right out of the box.
HostAdvice: Please explain your pricing model and options.
We currently offer three options:
- GitLab.com - Sign up for an account on GitLab.com and get free usage of GitLab with Enterprise Edition features, hosted on our servers.
- Community Edition – Install GitLab on your own server for free.
- Enterprise Edition - GitLab Enterprise Edition includes features to support large (> 100) development teams, including administration features such as integrated authentication and server management. It is installed on your own server and the cost is $39/year for each user.
HostAdvice: It seems like you offer quite a lot for free.
Yes, we do. Most of our revenues come from enterprise customers, which allow us to offer the options that we think should be available for free. This is a business model that has been working well for us so far.
HostAdvice: How many active customers do you have today? Where are they mainly located?
We have customers located all over the world, although the majority of them are currently located in North America. Our free Community Edition is used by hundreds of thousands of organizations worldwide, while the number of enterprise edition users is a small percentage of that.
HostAdvice: How would you describe your typical customer?
Our paying customers are usually large enterprises with 1000’s of developers. We also have a lot of startups using GitLab, but they usually start with the free Community Edition.
HostAdvice: How do you see this market evolving in the coming years?
I see a few different forces at work. On the one hand, software development environments are becoming more complex and more difficult to setup and configure. One the other hand, or perhaps because of that complexity, we see more and more elements converging into a single place.
This is resulting in development environments in the cloud, where you simply define various environment parameters in a single file – the definition of your entire development stack will be in a single place and converge into a single entity. This will eliminate the need to individually configure and manage local development environments.
We have just taken a major step in this direction, with the recent announcement of our partnership with Koding. This integration between GitLab and Koding will allow developers to instantly launch a properly configured development environment right from the GitLab repository itself.
HostAdvice: Tell me about your experience with the Y Combinator incubator.
At the beginning of 2015, we were 9 people (all men) and moved into a single house in Mountain View, California. We didn’t have very much there – just a lot of desks and our laptops – but we worked very, very hard.
HostAdvice: What were your main take-aways from that experience?
At the Y Combinator they set very challenging, difficult goals and review our progress against those goals every week. We went into it realizing that we knew very little about sales. We decided together with them that what we really needed to be focusing on downloads of our product and we were constantly updating our plans based on our progress. We feel that this extreme focus and great mentorship really paid off.
HostAdvice: In many ways, you are a startup selling tools to startups – right?
Yes, that is true to the degree that we have a lot of startups using our tools. But in terms of “selling” – the vast majority of our revenues comes from large enterprises.
HostAdvice: How do you see the world of startups changing in the next few years?
I see more and more startups that are focused on improving people’s lives, rather than just trying to make money from some gimmicks. That’s why you see many startups in areas such as drones, healthcare, and bio care.
HostAdvice: How many employees do you have today? Where are they located?
We now have over 100 people working at GitLab. However, we are very unique in the fact that we do not have an office – everyone works remotely from their home. So we literally have employees located all around the world.
HostAdvice: Wow! How do you manage your remote teams? How do you attract new employees?
We’ve developed a Remote Manifesto which outlines GitLab's eight principles for modern teams working remotely:
- Work from anywhere you want
- Communicate asynchronously
- Recognize that the future is unknown
- Have face-to-face meetings online
- Daily stand-up meetings are for bonding, blockers and the future
- Estimate workload on a need-to-know basis
- Bond in real life
- Give credit where it's due and remember to say thank you
We also have a more general and extensive GitLab Handbook which is a central repository for how we run the company.
A key element of keeping everyone in sync is our daily video call with the entire company. This call is scheduled for 8:30 AM Pacific Time, which we found to be doable for everyone regardless of where they are located – either at the start or at the end of their day. However, as the company continues to grow, we may have to consider having two calls a day.
Attracting new employees is actually a lot easier than you might think. On our web site we have information about our current employees and our open positions. Moreover, we often get emails from people who love our product and say “I want to work with you!”
HostAdvice: What are GitLab’s plans for the next few years?
We already a lot of great ideas and plans for producing and enhancing more modules in the development work flow.
HostAdvice: How many hours a day do you normally work? What do you like to do when you are not working?
I don’t keep track of hours. I normally start my day by working for a few hours in the morning. In the afternoon I do other, personal, things and then work a few more hours in the evening. This kind of schedule is one of the benefits of not having to work in a physical office.
When I am not working, I like to hang out with my wife and my dog. We are currently living in Portugal, so we try to take advantage of that.
HostAdvice: Is there anything else you’d like to share with our readers?
I would just like to mention that we have a new release of GitLab every 22nd of the month. I am always very, very proud on the 22nd of the month.