LogDNA: A Happy Accident

Like many of the world’s great tech companies — Twitter and YouTube, to name two — LogDNA was born of an entirely different idea for an entirely different company.

It was August 2015. Chris Nguyen and his business partner, Lee Liu, had just begun work at Y Combinator, the Silicon Valley startup accelerator. They were accepted to the program for an idea that would help ecommerce companies optimize sales using big data. But when they built an internal tool to diagnose one of their own problems, a light bulb went off.

“We decided to pivot,” Chris says. “We realized that what we’d built internally was much more powerful than the original idea we had as a startup.”

He says he was ashamed, at first, to tell his mentors at Y Combinator that he was abandoning the idea that brought him to the incubator. But pivoting, he realized, is the norm in Silicon Valley, especially at YC, where phrases like “keep moving forward,” “iterate quickly,” and “move fast and break things” are oft-repeated mantras.

Data Logging Made Easy

The result of their shift is LogDNA, a cloud-logging company that harnesses the power of machine learning to consolidate server logs into one repository. The data is easy to access and easy to analyze, allowing engineers to eliminate the painstaking process of working on multiple servers to review log files.

“One of the companies we work with is Branch Metrics,” Lee, LogDNA’s chief technology officer, says. “They have dozens of machines running one of their apps. Their engineers used to physically log into machines and manually look at the log files. With LogDNA, they’re able to aggregate that data into one place. That’s been a game-changer for them.”

From the start, it was obvious they had stumbled upon something big. To test their idea, Chris and Lee launched LogDNA on Product Hunt. It quickly rose to number three of 20 other companies featured on the site that day. “Dev-ops tools don’t land third,” Chris says. “So we thought, ‘This is interesting.’ We went on Hacker News, the Sports Illustrated of dev news, and we were number one within four hours. It was an ah-ha moment.”

Bringing on a New Partner

Their quickfire success caught the attention of Microsoft, who offered to write a Windows agent for the team and provide Azure as a solution to LogDNA’s complex infrastructure problems. At the time, they were using AWS and worried that switching to Azure would be a daunting task.

“It actually ended up being fairly simple,” Lee says. “The team at Microsoft really helped us along with that transition and answered our questions about how things translate between AWS and Azure. We switched to Azure mainly because of the tremendous support we’d been receiving from Microsoft.”

The two-man team says it was a critical component of their growth, allowing them to deploy hundreds of servers, link them together, and build clusters out of them. It also enabled them to expand globally: By running servers around the world, they were able to be closer to their clients’ servers.

But, Chris says, the San Francisco–based Microsoft team offered more than just a platform and technical support. “Microsoft said, ‘Where do you want to go, and how can we help?’” Chris says.

Over the past year and a half, he’s tapped Microsoft for help navigating a number of hurdles, from pitching companies on his product to understanding best practices. The Microsoft team has advised him on which products to build and has even put him in contact with potential customers. “Jim has been amazing in setting up those introductory calls,” he says. “And picking Lauren’s brain on machine learning has been great.”

Realizing the Future

Perhaps most important right now, however, is growing his team of 10. It hasn’t been an easy task, Chris says. “You wanna make sure to hire the right people.” As for the long term, he dreams big. He sees LogDNA being the household logging system of choice for companies around the world. Then again, to Chris, that vision doesn’t seem so far off.

“We are the Android or iPhone of logging,” he says. “Everyone else is Blackberry.”