by Ali Rowghani10/14/2021
We want to congratulate Sid Sijbrandij, Dmitriy Zaporozhets, and the entire GitLab Inc. team on today’s IPO! GitLab Inc., from YC’s Winter 2015 batch, is YC’s first open-source company to go public, the first alum of the YC Growth Program to go public, and one of the earliest investments made by the YC Continuity Fund. GitLab Inc. is one of the most innovative companies to participate in YC’s programs. Beyond building an enormously successful business, they have broken the mold of how startups themselves are built.
As a commenter on Hacker News put it:
“Gitlab is one of the pioneers of ‘remote-first’ and ‘building in public,’ to the extent of sometimes even live-streaming CEO meetings and sales pitches. Gitlab, I believe, informs the common strategy behind most other source-available Y Combinator enterprise startups: the buyer-based open-core model. Congratulations Gitlab. You’re far from a copycat and deserve all the success for relentless execution and radical transparency, if nothing else.”
Relentless execution, radical transparency, and true innovation are also apt descriptions of GitLab Inc.’s co-founder and CEO Sid Sijbrandij. Sid has always wanted to build the company in a way that is consistent with the values of his product. Open-source communities are distributed, with contributions coming from developers all over the world. So Sid built GitLab Inc. as a distributed company with no offices and employees all over the world. He used to joke that his home office was the biggest GitLab Inc. office in the world because his EA would work there as well. GitLab source code is open and visible to the world. So, Sid built a company with a central online repository for how the company is run — a handbook that he invited the world to read and contribute to through submitting merge requests.
GitLab Inc. built the world’s first integrated devops platform with unprecedented openness about its roadmap, bug fixes, and strategic priorities. Sid worked very hard to make everything transparent, inside and outside his company. The company posted an extraordinary amount of information online, about its roadmap, bug fixes, internal operations, and even strategic priorities. Sid once said that only performance reviews and employee compensation data wasn’t shared with outsiders. He brought the open source community into his company in a novel way.
By building his company in the light of day, Sid has taught countless other founders and entrepreneurs about company-building. As a guest at YC’s Growth Program, Sid has dazzled other YC founders with this dedication to his principles of openness and transparency. GitLab Inc. was a remote company prior to the pandemic, before remote-first was commonplace or cool. In fact, few people believed that Sid could take a remote-only company all the way to an IPO. We remember when Ali interviewed Sid in 2017 and he mentioned how many VCs passed on their Series A because they didn’t believe a successful company could be built with an entirely distributed workforce.
Though GitLab Inc.’s approach to remote and open-core seem prescient today, very few examples existed when they joined the winter 2015 batch. Playbooks had not been written yet and only a few YC founders at the time had begun mastering what is now a pervasive operating model across the startup community. True to form, GitLab Inc. shared how to run a remote company successfully with the world. YC itself has learned a great deal from them as our team and batch founders all adapted to remote working in recent years. GitLab Inc.’s contributions to global innovation go beyond the software it makes to the very essence of company-building.
As their batchmate Jose Mejia Oneto of Shasqi recalls:
“Sid and Dmitriy were entrepreneurial among entrepreneurs. They had real clarity of vision: They recognized the opportunity to become leaders in the dev tools space, and they realized the amazing potential to build a fully remote company, years before investors and the rest of the world would see it as a viable and appealing option. During Demo Day, many investors committed to investing, and a couple large investors ended up backing out because of perceived conflicts with competitors. But they didn’t get upset. They used it as fuel for their vision, which they knew was distinct from the beginning. They were relentless.”
GitLab Inc.’s YC group partners, Kevin Hale and Qasar Younis, recall the team’s hunger to improve every day. At YC, group office hours are a time when founders in the same batch come together and learn from each other’s struggles and victories. The great founders are the ones that write copious notes, take the feedback to heart, and come back to the next session having put those lessons in motion. Whether it was something as simple as how to provide weekly updates or as complex as selling to large enterprises, the team’s rate of learning astonished both Kevin and Qasar during those office hours.
The second thing they’ll tell you is about how firmly the team held their views in several areas that were non-conventional for software companies at the time: focusing on on-prem customers (while the world was enamored with SaaS), offering subscriptions to an open-source offering (vs. closed-source or by monetizing support), offering an all-in-one single application (rather than integrating several point solutions), and, of course, operating all-remote with no offices. To build a company like this in the open, the founders had to stay true to their beliefs and yet involve the community in every step of their journey.
After the batch, Sid participated in the inaugural YC Growth Program. In the years since, Sid has taught us more about innovative methods to build a company than perhaps any other founder. We were so impressed that YC Continuity made a major investment in GitLab Inc. subsequent to the program.
An IPO isn’t the end of the road for a company. It’s a milestone, among many. And we believe that the relentless execution, radical transparency, and true innovation that got GitLab Inc. to this point will continue to serve them well. The team at GitLab Inc. is an embodiment of the open-source mindset, not just in technology, but in culture and spirit.
Ali is Managing Director of YC Continuity, where he invests in & advises growth-stage startups. Ali directly contributed to the growth of 2 great companies — as CFO / COO at Twitter and COO at Pixar.