3..2..1.. Taking Off With LaunchDarkly!
by Josh Stein, DFJ Partner
I’m extremely excited to announce that DFJ has led a ~$8.7m Series A financing for LaunchDarkly, the leading feature flag management and continuous delivery platform, and a company we think you’ll be hearing a lot more about in the years to come.
Just two years into their journey, LaunchDarkly has emerged as a core part of the continuous integration and delivery stack and one of the most innovative solutions for teams looking to develop and deploy software faster. The LaunchDarkly team is just getting started, yet they’re already serving billions of flags per day via their platform for some very large customers.
One of DFJ’s core investment themes is rooted in the profound changes we’ve seen in how software is developed, tested, and deployed. Traditional waterfall development models, oriented around the classic “Release to Manufacturing” approach with quarterly or even annual Version X.0 releases, have been made obsolete by agile processes based on the principles of continuous integration, delivery, and deployment. Nearly all of our portfolio companies have embraced these methodologies internally, and we’ve been active investors in directly enabling platforms like Chef, CircleCI, and Twilio.
LaunchDarkly’s specific magic is in feature flagging, a concept which was invented by the dev team at Flickr in 2009. It has since become widely adopted by an increasing majority of forward thinking development teams. The team at LaunchDarkly has written an excellent and comprehensive guide to Feature Flagging, but the basic concept is deceptively simple: by wrapping segments of code with conditional IF/ELSE toggles, you can determine whether a given feature will be visible or hidden.
You might, for example, choose to show one version of an application to customers in your beta program, while showing another version of a page to your other customers. Note that the application is running from a single code base in production, but you’re able to control how it presents to each user depending on how you set your flags and toggles.
This is a simple example, but feature flags have enabled developers to do something quite profound: separate how and when code is written and deployed from how it is presented to each end user, whereby enabling agile teams to do a whole range of really interesting things. For example:
- Opt In: run beta programs on your live application, designating which user will have access to new features.
- Kill Switch: quickly turn off a poorly performing feature.
- Scalable Roll Outs: conduct phased rollouts to incremental percentages of users to verify there are no scalability issues.
- Selectively Block Users: protect features from users by excluding them from ever seeing them — for example, excluding anyone from TechCrunch from seeing new functionality. :)
- Newbie vs Power User: show expert users and beginner users different features entirely.
- Subscription Management: manage feature entitlements in different plans.
- Maintenance Mode & Sunsetting: put portions (or your entire application) into maintenance mode to cleanly sunset old, unused features.
Interestingly, feature flags don’t just help developers do their job better — they also enable engineering to write, test, and deploy code on their schedule and then hand the controls for actually launching those features to the product/marketing team who can align a launch with their timing and business objectives. This solves one of the bigger pain points at most software companies, a pain that any product or program manager knows well. By separating business logic from code, both the coders and business users can do their jobs better.
With this investment, I’m particularly excited to be working with LaunchDarkly’s two amazing founders: John Kodumal, a software engineer from Atlassian and an accomplished rock climber, and Edith Harbaugh, a veteran product manager and an ultra-marathon runner (who has been known to run 100 miles at a time!) We’re also excited to be partnering, once again, with our friends at SoftTechVC, 500 Startups, Cervin Ventures, and Bloomberg Beta, all of whom had the good sense to invest in the seed round, and have done an exceptional job guiding the company so far.
If you haven’t yet checked out LaunchDarkly or feature flags for your business, give it a look — I guarantee you’ll be blown away by how much they can increase the agility in your software development process!
Josh Stein is a partner at DFJ