Sid Sijbrandij knows a thing or two about building, scaling and even walking away from companies. His current venture is doing over $100 million in revenue and is valued at over $1 billion.
Originally from the Netherlands, Sid Sijbrandiij is now the founder of one of Silicon Valley’s unicorns that is powering the web through developers worldwide. It’s not his first startup rodeo either.
Sid Sijbrandij recently appeared on the DealMakers podcast. During the exclusive interview, he shared his entrepreneurial journey, the process of finding cofounders, bootstrapping versus raising millions, his addiction to fast-growth startups, and many more topics.
Sid Sijbrandi seems to have always had a gift for spotting business opportunities.
During high school, he studied applied physics and management science. He chose a kind of program that blends the benefits of an M.B.A., with getting good at several engineering disciplines.
In his first year at college, he also started his first company.
The idea came from a fellow Ph.D. student that had made an infrared receiver you could use to skip to the next song on your computer (the only thing that played an MP3 song at the time). He started buying these infrared receivers from him and selling them in the U.S. You’d send him an envelope of dollar bills, and he would then send you a printed circuit board.
Ultimately, his two cofounders didn’t agree on growth plans concerning hiring more people. Sid wanted to hire faster, so he didn’t have to spend as much time on it, while his cofounders wanted to optimize for free cash flow. They ended up parting ways amicably.
The Two Most important Things for Launching with Cofounders
Sid has experienced several startups and says his two big takeaways when it comes to cofounding a company are:
1) To be smart with the shares
2) To be sure you and your cofounders are aligned in vision
For example, automatically making everyone an equal cofounder, even if they come in way later in that process, can be a mistake.
Sid says it is important that shares “are aligned with their contribution to the company. It’s very important if you start a company to have vesting of your shares as well.”
This helps avoid the free rides, because if someone leaves with all the equity, then people that need to invest like VCs are going to be like, “Why am I investing for just 50% remaining of the business.”
In the Netherlands, Sid didn’t find the goal of local companies to grow really fast. If you do want to grow a company really fast, he says it is beneficial to be somewhere like the Bay Area, where everyone just assumes that is the goal.
Not just your cofounder, but also your accounts person and your lawyer, and everybody else requires the growth mindset.
Passion for Growth
After graduation, Sid spent a few months at IBM and could have stayed there. He had an interest in strategy consulting, as well as building a recreational submarine.
He made a balanced scorecard of all the different ways to make that decision. One of the criteria being, “Is this a good story to tell in a bar?” He showed his dad who said it was a ridiculous way to decide on your career but was very supportive either way.
So, he called someone interested in a submarine venture. His pitch was, “Look, you should really hire me because I have a job offer from IBM. Otherwise, I’ll start working there, and we both don’t want that.” He got the job.
He built the first onboard computer for the submarine. Today, U-Boat Worx is one of the biggest builders of recreational submarines. If you go on a cruise, and they have a submarine, it’s likely from U-Boat Worx.
Still, after five years, it just wasn’t growing at a pace that kept Sid interested. He then went on to do a part-time stint on an innovation project with the government as a civil servant.
During this time, he really got to know himself, and how fast-growing companies with a continuous string of problems to be solved were what kept him interested.
Funding Your Startup
After starting and selling app store Appappeal, Sid turned open-source software GitLab into a fast-growing venture that is on its way to an IPO in 2020.
He took the proceeds from his previous venture, doubled it in bitcoin, and began bootstrapping GitLab.com.
Sid got the first few hundred signups through an article posted on Hacker News. Then together with his cofounder applied and got into Y Combinator. The race to demo day, where they would present in front of top tier investors, was on.
Compressing their three-month plan into just two weeks, the GitLab team had a highly successful demo day, landing Ashton Kutcher as an investor.
There was so much interest in their seed round, they rolled right into the Series A financing round. They’ve since followed that up with a B, C and D financing rounds, raising a total of $158 million at $1.1 billion valuation.
Today, some of their investors include Khosla Ventures, Google Ventures, August Capital, ICONIQ Capital, 500 Startups, and Sound Ventures to name a few. It doesn’t get much better than that as a hyper-growth startup.
In order to do this, Sid and his team had to master storytelling. This is being able to capture the essence of the business in 15 to 20 slides. For a winning deck, take a look at the pitch deck template created by Silicon Valley legend, Peter Thiel (see it here) that I recently covered. Thiel was the first angel investor in Facebook with a $500K check that turned into more than $1 billion in cash.
Embracing The Remote Work
Sid states they “don’t do in person.“ At Gitlab they encourage having meetings with webcam. They believe there’s something to see in the other person even if it is via video.
To put this into perspective, every day, employees have a company call, and it’s a thing you do with a limited set of people. In this regard, there are about 20 in each group, and they just hangout.
During the group calls there are all types of topics discussed that vary from movies to magazines. Topics are not necessarily work-related.
Sid and his team very much believe that their company is more than just, “Hey your work…”
As part of Gitlab‘s culture, the social interaction plays a key role and they have a lot of ways in which they facilitate this inside the company. Even if this happens remotely.
M&A Made Simple
Recently Sid and GitLab have been very active when it comes to acquisitions on the buy-side. That includes Gitorious in 2015, Gitter in 2017 and Gemnasium in 2018.
When it comes to acquiring companies, they’ve made the process incredibly simple, and are actively looking for more companies to buy.
In this regard, they like to acquire teams that have built a product before. Preferably a team that made a great product, but didn’t get distribution. Especially because typically they shut their existing product down.
To make things easier, they have an acquisition offer page. It even includes a calculator, so you can go online and calculate how much they’re offering.
Listen in to the full podcast episode to find out more, including:
- When to pull the plug on your startup
- The advantages of SAFE notes for raising money
- How GitLab does meetings and culture around the globe
- Why they pay based on where team members live
- Tips for recruiting top engineers
- Why you should read the GitLab handbook