In the Room with Edith Harbaugh
In our 8th and final episode of the seventh season, Claudia and I sit down with Edith Harbaugh, CEO and co-founder of Launch Darkly, today’s industry leading feature flag and management platform. Edith’s story of being a builder really begins in high school where she was a computer science camp counselor in DC teaching younger kids how to code logo and basic. She then moved out to California to attend Harvey Mudd where she studied engineering.
Shortly after, she began her career as a software engineer at Epicentric which ultimately got bought by Vignette. It was really her time at Trippit, starting in 2010, which launched the original idea for LaunchDarkly. After a unique experience deploying a specific sensitive feature, which would scrape a user’s gmail inbox for their travel itinerary, Edith realized the power of toggle management. Interestingly, back in 2014, a development team and product manager really only had two options, don’t toggle or build a homegrown solution to test before production. Edith had a vision for a better future for feature management. This is when she went to John Kodumal, her now co-founder and CTO, with the idea and they left Trippit and Atlassian retrospectively to get started.
Today, LaunchDarkly is valued at over $3 billion dollars by top tier VCs such as Insight, Bessemer, Redpoint, and others. While the original idea was around feature flagging, they unlocked the power of feature management which has led to the platform of launch darkly today. What does this mean, by the numbers? Well, LaunchDarkly deploys peaks of 20 trillion feature flags each day. We can understand why Edith has been named to the Forbes Cloud 100 list and Entrepreneur’s 100 Women of influence list as well.
In today’s episode we explore insights and themes such as, the tradeoffs of building vs buying for developer tools, the need for feature management across startups and enterprise, and how trust drives your go-to-market strategy with early customers.
Let’s open the door.
Key Theme 1: The tradeoffs of building vs buying for developer tools
Edith explained the state of feature flagging when they first started Launch Darkly back in 2014. Teams mostly didn’t manage product releases this way or would build a robust internal system. There were some good reasons for this, such as privacy. But Edith saw a unique opportunity to unlock scaled feature flagging. However, many of their first conversations with customers didn’t understand why they would want to buy a product like this when they could “easily” build it themselves. Edith explained to those customers, and to our listeners, that yes with the right engineering team you could almost always build the platform yourself, but at what cost to your time and resources? In the case of feature flags, Edith saw the opportunity to scale engineers time and entire company’s efficiency with bought products that become platforms.
Key Theme 2: The need for feature management across startups and enterprise
Within the build of the initial feature flag, Edith and the Launchdarkly team realized the importance of feature management across the organization. They set out with a goal of helping businesses Launch, Measure and Control. These three tenants drove and empowered Launchdarkly’s own product-market fit to transform their initial product of serving their customer’s product launches on track. This is a tool suite that can help a range of customers and teams. From early stage start-ups, who are discerning their own product-market fit, to large scale enterprise customers such as IBM, Atlassian, Loom and more, LaunchDarkly serves them all. For more on how Launch Darkly works with its customers check out their case studies here. Edith shared they now manage trillions of features every day, across 3,000 customers world wide. If you’re an early stage entrepreneur, Edith’s story highlights the power of a product that can grow into a platform through solving a specific developer pain point.
Key Theme 3: How trust drives your go-to-market strategy with early customers
When Edith went to market with her early version of the product, she and her co-founder found it takes more than a working piece of technology to get in the door to for many customers. She saw this first hand when they tried an initial go-to-market strategy around self-service. She recounted,
“We built the self-serve to sign up with a credit card, and I made all my spreadsheet models about [if] this many people land on the landing page, as many people sign up for trial, this many people convert, we make this much money, we put the self-serve flow in and absolutely nobody signed up.”
When working through the disconnect, a friend of Ediths shared that the challenge is people wanted to look Edith, personally, in the eyes and know that she, John, and the LaunchDarkly team would be there for them if something went wrong. This was essential because Launch Darkly was integrating into the core of the product release flow. For entrepreneurs trying to navigate how to unlock their go-to-market strategy, Edith’s story suggests spending time getting to know their fears behind the product to establish a trust-first relationship with the buyer. This foundation will scale with the product.
For more on the LaunchDarkly story, and enterprise cloud investing, check out our conversation with one of LaunchDarkly’s investors, Mary D’Onofrio, from earlier this year.
This episode concludes our seventh season of the podcast.
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