In 2017, shortly after we led Gitlab's $20M Series C, I texted CEO Sid Sijbrandij to ask if the company had hit the metrics he'd presented in the pitch. Weeks had elapsed, and I was eager to hear how the business was tracking.
I was humbled by how quickly Sid responded, but he didn't offer the summary of quarterly milestones I was expecting. Instead he said, "Hey Dave, I'm super excited to team with you on this round! Welcome to the board! Apologies that this may seem unconventional, but because our company is remote-only we try to communicate asynchronously as much as possible given that we're spread across so many time zones. For this request, if you send me an email, I'll get back to you in 24 hours with a detailed response."
Sure enough, the next day Sid sent me an incredibly thoughtful email outlining exactly how the company had vastly exceeded expectations, and what I could expect next as they grew their DevOps platform. I grew to learn that exchanges like this were commonplace in the business. Sid, in the process of responding to my question, taught me about GitLab's values and expectations. He also signaled to me that he held himself (and his investors) to the same high standards he set for his team. It was an early lesson about Sid's thoughtful and deliberate leadership style and about the potential of a remote-only culture that balanced speed with depth, rigor with responsiveness.
We spent a couple years getting to know Sid before investing in GitLab. The company graduated from YC in March 2015 and raised a Series A from Khosla Ventures. Multiple open source and YC founders had connected me to Sid and encouraged me to spend time with him (thank you!), and by mid-2016 we had become closer. At GV, our best relationships tend to grow slowly like this and become focused on the long term.
As we got to know Sid, we saw a uniquely talented leader emerge alongside a business that practiced what it preached. GitLab was different from its competition in almost every single way. The team lived the value of code velocity and iterated on releases faster than we had seen in any other company. They fostered an inclusive community of contribution with external open source contributors. And they pioneered a thriving, transparent remote-only model years before COVID forced the rest of the world to rethink working from home.
We remain grateful that Sid chose GV to lead GitLab's $20m Series C round of funding. By placing our bet on GitLab, we chose the deeply technical team, the truly differentiated bundled product, and the authentic open source approach that we envisioned winning over the long term.
GitLab Co-founder & CEO Sid Sijbrandij
"The Nerdiest Team in VC"
Sid has called GV the "nerdiest team in venture" — which makes the math/CS geek in me extremely proud. My colleagues on the GV Enterprise team and I seek to fund the platforms that power the world's best software developers, and, with its emphasis on open source, collaboration, and speed of iteration, GitLab epitomizes that type of company.
We gravitate toward open source because the software learns from its entire user base, and this learning is both high-velocity and iterative. The code has been battle-tested and incorporates stability and security. These are traits we admire in many of our other open source investments including Cockroach (databases), Snorkel (AI), Snyk (security), Upbound (cloud control plane), and Vectorized (data streaming).
We learned from our early investment in Slack that collaboration platforms drive productivity and velocity in development orgs, and are embraced by organizations seeking opportunities to more effectively team. Slack's unit of collaboration is the conversation ("thread"), GitLab's unit of collaboration is the company's code base ("repository").
And software velocity is critical. GV has long observed that the speed of iteration in startups is correlated with speed of learning, and thereby the chance of finding the best possible approach. Strategic thinking is important — but more often than not getting more and faster iterations in the product-customer feedback loop drives a larger impact. I often reference "the Super Mario effect" with founders: a Super Mario player's performance is better after playing the game for three days (falling into pits!) than it would be if those three days were instead spent planning a route. We prefer founders who optimize for learning — continually engaging outsiders for feedback. We prefer products whose code bases are constantly iterated with customers input. Speed of iteration is directly connected to speed of learning. GitLab delivers software velocity.
Culture Matters. A Lot.
As GitLab prepares to go public, the time and thought Sid and team have invested into building the company's culture shines through, and its core values are a clear and differentiating competitive advantage. Collaboration. Results. Efficiency. Diversity, Inclusion, and Belonging. Iteration. And then there's the final value, Transparency. Transparency at GitLab is taken to an extreme that I'd never witnessed before: The company openly publishes its strategy. The company's employee handbook (over 2,000 webpages of text) essentially codifies the business as a roadmap for other developer-friendly companies to follow. And follow, they do. Every single day we meet with startups who have framed some part of their business around GitLab's open-source employee handbook or participate in board meetings applying GitLab's uniquely effective approach to uplevel the discussion.
Sid lives the values he espouses to the GitLab team. His exceptional leadership style emphasizes a tech-first approach, long-term vision, openness, and transparency. And he places deep value on inclusion: in GitLab's early days when I sent Sid a question about a particular space or company I was looking at, he would quickly create a Google doc with my question and share it with the whole company, asking for opinions. The process would take a day or two, but the responses would be pure engineering gold — and we all had fun learning together about the market.
Sid and his team deeply understand the power of culture to shape a company's trajectory. It's no secret that our GV team spends quite a bit of time thinking about the factors that contribute to long-lasting success of venture-backed companies. We employ large stats, data science, and eng teams looking at any/all data we can about companies to try to spot interesting trends before other firms. In addition to the quantitative signals, we also spend a great deal of time obsessing over the qualitative signals that make founders, teams, and cultures special. Self awareness, audience awareness, and customer empathy are fundamental founder factors that matter — and Sid embodies them all.
The GitLab Team
The Long Term View
In the four years since GV first invested in GitLab, the business has grown nearly 40x in revenue and 10x in team size. As part of the GitLab board since 2017, I've had the honor to help recruit leaders we deeply respect like Godfrey Sullivan (Lead Independent Director) and Craig Mestel (Interim CMO and VP FP&A), and have gotten to know leaders we would jump to partner with again like Sue Bostrom (Independent Director), Merline Saintil (Independent Director), and Michael McBride (CRO).
The striking thing about our most recent board meeting — the last one as a private company — was how little time we spent talking about this day. While other companies see IPOs as some sort of finish line, for GitLab it's just another round of financing on its long journey to ensure that everyone can contribute with GitLab.
At GV we're fortunate to have an LP who uniquely understands that truly category-defining businesses often take longer to materialize while taking the time to get the product right, no matter how simple. It's an ethos that echoes Sid's own long-term thinking, and reminds me of that early text from Sid when he declined to give the easy answer and instead took the time to do things thoroughly, thoughtfully, and with excellence — while educating me about his leadership style and the culture of the massive business he was building.
As GitLab rings the Opening Bell today, I'm absolutely thrilled to be standing alongside the team from whom I have learned so much as we cross this milestone together, taking the long term view. Congratulations to Sid and the entire GitLab team on today's IPO. And thank you.
Photo: NASDAQ / Vanja Savic