Sid Sijbrandij is a visionary leader. As Co-founder & CEO of GitLab, he forged a new way of operating by scaling the company to more than a thousand team members, all working remotely. His pioneering approach to virtual teams might have seemed eccentric before COVID; today it has proven to be a prescient blueprint for the future of work.
I first invested in GitLab in 2017, and have learned an enormous amount from working with Sid and his team since. More than any CEO I've seen, Sid weaves the company's core values into every process and project. As he says, "Most organizations invest the time in defining their values, but not a lot of time reinforcing those values."
I recently invited Sid to join a conversation with GV's Enterprise investing team about the future of open source software platforms and the future of remote work. Sid shared highlights from his comprehensive remote playbook, and outlined how he built GitLab's values, culture, and management practices. He emphasized the value of transparency, the benefits of differentiating synchronous and asynchronous workstreams, and how to strike a balance between consensus-driven and hierarchical management models. "Remote work forces you to do what you should be doing anyway," he says.
Extreme transparency is the cornerstone of Sid's management style, and he believes it's key to virtual teams. Everything at GitLab is shared openly with the entire company, and much of what each employee is working on is visible to the public. Sid has instituted a CEO shadow program, where he invites people from across the company to spend two weeks joining him for every meeting he does. This lets team members at every level see GitLab inside and out, from all angles. As Sid says, "Our mission is that everyone can contribute."
Efficiency is paramount at GitLab. Sid structures meetings to focus on meaningful discussion rather than straightforward updates. For example, he encourages team members to share videos of their updates ahead of a meeting so that others can watch asynchronously, rather than using precious time when everyone is together. This keeps meetings shorter and more collaborative. Every meeting has a live doc agenda, which evolves with the discussion. For our GitLab board meetings, Sid and his team share each quarterly deck several days in advance, and answer questions directly in the live doc well ahead of the meeting. This enables the board meeting discussion to be focused on key strategic topics, rather than getting everyone up to speed. The process works so well that I've encouraged other portfolio companies to adopt it.
Under Sid's leadership, GitLab has forged a delicate balance between an inclusive culture and a decisive management model. After open discussion across the teams where everyone is invited to chime in and contribute data, decisions are made by the person responsible for doing the work. "They don't have to convince anybody, they can just do it," Sid explains. "That's counterintuitive. Most companies are either consensus-driven or hierarchical, but we try to combine both at different stages of the process."
Sid shared the importance of "selecting board members who have a high signal-to-noise ratio", who can stay focused on the long-term vision while contributing meaningfully along each step of the journey. At GV, we similarly have deep respect for founders with a high signal-to-noise ratio. Sid's ability to inspire with his wide-ranging intellectual curiosity, creativity, and big vision is second only to his passion for the meaningful day-to-day work of leadership — listening well, clearly articulating his plans, adjusting to feedback along the way, and driving an inclusive, sustainable, long-lasting culture.