The Stack

CloudBees appoints new CEO, eyes IPO, as it continues a pivot from Jenkins to cloud-based SaaS.

Nevermind Jeff Bezos: The CEO move we’re concentrating on today is at software delivery specialist CloudBees, where founder and longstanding CEO Sacha Labourey is stepping sideways into a new Chief Strategy Officer role, to lead product direction and strategic alliances, as the company focuses on an integrated SaaS proposition.

Stephen DeWitt – an experienced chief executive who was until recently chief strategy officer at RPA specialist Automation Anywhere – takes over as CEO at the DevOps and CI/CD firm, as CloudBees eyes aggressive expansion and a possible IPO after hitting $100 million in annual recurring revenue during 2020.

New CloudBees CEO Stephen DeWitt.

The move comes as CloudBees focusses on building out its SaaS offering amid a longer term shift away from a historical focus that was predominantly on enterprise support for open source Jenkins; a server-based system for building, testing, and deploying software.

DeWitt, an experienced CEO who has taken several companies public including Linux server provider Cobalt Networks back in 1999 (and sold others, including workforce software startup WorkMarket in 2018), told The Stack that CloudBees would be aggressively expanding: “Look for us to continue to be more acquisitive” he said, pointing to plans for inorganic as well as organic growth.

He confirmed the company would be raising more money, possibly before a move to go public: “Yes, we will be raising more money in 2021. How will be based on lots of variables. Going public? That depends a lot on the markets. Being a private company gives you a degree of flexibility…”

In a joint call with Labourey — a former JBoss CTO who helped with the headhunting process — the two sounded upbeat about CloudBees’ outlook after a year in which it passed $100m in recurring revenue. Labourey said he was “very bullish”.

CloudBees founder Sacha Labourey.

He told The Stack: “2020 was a year of absorbing a lot of acquisitions [Electric Cloud and Rollout]. Now we’re starting with a new offering, more integrated; more SaaS. Our customers are big complex companies, going through crazy times, and we are also in a major state of evolution after breaking through the $100m ARR mark.”

CloudBees’ tools let enterprises connect, automate and orchestrate tools across development, operations and shared service teams to optimise software delivery. The idea is to have all of its software delivery automation tools available as a single unified product under a “software delivery management” rubrik: from continuous integration (CI) to continuous development (CD) via application release orchestration (ARO).

Labourey contextualises it nicely: “What we’re solving is the fact that today organisations that have been producing software at an extremely low pace no longer have the luxury to measure and understand what’s happening, by using some ancient technique.

“As organisations go faster and start pushing changes every day, every every hour, you need a ‘brain’ of software delivery, that’s able to capture all of the signals that are taking place, in your Jira, in your Git and your Jenkins, in production, and so on; to capture all of that.

“You’re then able to then ask questions or get insights in real time as to what’s taking place within your organisation; it can be around compliance, it can be around performance, it can be around anything, but if you don’t have that [visibility and control], you just don’t know what’s happening.”

What does this mean for Jenkins?

CloudBees has been a major contributor to Jenkins (an open source tool with close to two million users that lets users orchestrate the software delivery pipeline). Jenkins creator and long-term CloudBees CTO Kohsuke Kawaguchi left the company in 2019, but before doing so, lucidly laid out some of the challenges around the broader open source Jenkins community, which has spawned thousands of plugins, with associated bugs, as well as its need to keep up with a world that has moved from one in which “Java was the winning server application platform in the early 2000s, today, Kubernetes is the dominant, winning platform”.

CloudBees’s James Strachan introduced Jenkins X to the community in 2018 as an open source opinionated way to do continuous delivery with Kubernetes, that supports all major cloud platforms including AWS Azure, Google, IBM Cloud, OpenShift and Pivotal. It is a sub-project of Jenkins and uses automation, tooling and DevOps best practices to improve CI/CD, and forms part of CloudBees’ proposition, but the company appears to be moving firmly and decisively away from being an old school provider of enterprise support for OSS.

Jenkins X project remains a vibrant “innovation lab” Labourey says and the company intends to stay an active part of the community, but commercially it is building out a broader-reaching SaaS platform on its own toolings, those brought in via acquisitions, and some open core components. It’s an intriguing strategic challenge, as it’s a real shift away from a community-led product development approach to practioner-led investment in SaaS that — commercially — doesn’t rely on an existing Jenkins install base to build on.

Few companies have quite the depth of engineering talent however to make it work, however.

With GitHub having been snapped up by Microsoft and just GitLab and JFrog left as independent vendors in the increasingly strategic space CloudBees that roughly inhabits, whether it gets to an IPO before someone like Google Cloud comes knocking with a buyout offer remains an open question. Watch this space.

See also: Puppet CEO Yvonne Wassenaar is gearing up to take the company public. Here’s where she’s focussing attention.

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