Founder Interviews: Rishi Singh of Harness

After spending 5 years at Apple, Rishi Singh is now offering Continuous Delivery-as-a-service with Harness.

Davis Baer: What’s your background, and what are you working on?

Rishi Singh: I started my career as an engineer and still am. After several software engineer and analyst roles, I spent five years at Apple, where I led the development of the company’s deployment automation platform. It was a highly scalable solution that centralized devops, supporting thousands of deployments for internal applications teams. This addressed a challenge that wasn’t unique to Apple. All companies are software companies and need a way to deliver an enormous amount of new software to users quickly and with zero margin for error. I’m now co-founder & CTO at Harness, where we’re solving this very problem for businesses across industries.

What motivated you to start Harness?

The idea didn’t come in one day, but it’s one I’ve wanted to pursue for a long time. Delivering rapid changes to apps without causing failures is a constant pain for engineers. I personally have dealt with it throughout my career and wondered why nobody was fixing it. One day I was talking with my long-time friend, Jyoti Bansal, about the problem, and he got excited because he’d had similar experiences. Together, we launched Harness to make life better for engineers and engineering leaders.

What went into building the initial product?

Since I had been working on solving this problem for awhile at Apple, the early days of Harness were like building the next generation of a project I had already started. Our platform uses machine learning, so we spent most of our initial time training the data to support real-time development processes. We encountered a few obstacles and lessons learned along the way, but they each contributed to making Harness what it is today. When building Harness, we first had to understand the industry norm at that point in time. We knew Harness would be critical to our future users, and our technology would need to work with 100% accuracy. Most of our time and energy went toward trial and error as we built a complex architecture that could be used across many different applications.

What’s your business model, and how have you grown your revenue?

Since we are still new and generating momentum, we have been reaching out to both the DevOps engineer “doing the work” of continuous delivery and the higher-level executive in charge of the entire application environment to tell them about Harness. In the near future, we will release a freemium version of our product that enables prospective customers to “try before they buy” — a go-to-market strategy that worked extremely successfully for the team at AppDynamics.

How did you get your first 10 users?

When we started making sales calls and emails last summer, the response was immediate. Companies wanted to start using our product right away. By the time we launched out of stealth in October, we had already signed on some big customers. We knew that any potential customer was looking at not only the product but the team behind it. Is the team capable of evolving and continuing to perform? It’s a long-term investment.

What are the biggest challenges you’ve faced and obstacles you’ve overcome?

While we were still in stealth, our biggest challenge was recruitment. The Bay Area is a hard place to hire top talent, especially if nobody knows who you are. You’re competing against companies like Google and Facebook. Early on, culture was easy because we had very few people. We could break for lunch every day and stay on the same page. As the team grew, we need to make sure we preserve our culture and philosophies. I learned from Steve Jobs that it’s important to constantly talk about what you believe in and build your company off of those philosophies.

If you weren’t building Harness, what would you be doing?

I love solving problems that help make other people’s lives better. I would still be an engineer in some capacity, solving some sort of technical problem — probably one that is similar to Harness!

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