First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID19 times?
Marko Anastasov: We’re all healthy and in good spirits, thanks! I hope the same for everyone reading this. Growing up in the former Yugoslavia during its breakup, I’ve lived through empty shelves, lengthy power outages, and bombs flying above my head.
But a global pandemic is something new. Knowing that every fellow human I see is potentially carrying a dangerous virus is very disturbing. It got a lot easier after I’ve decided to stop trying to “solve” the virus by reading the news and going on with my life.
Tell us about you, your career, how you founded or joined Semaphore
Marko Anastasov: Half-way through university, my friend Darko and I had a Web 2.0 startup that was a lot of fun but failed to make money. Then we co-founded Rendered Text, initially as a development consultancy. As our team grew, we needed to standardize the processes of software testing and delivery. Developers refer to it as “CI/CD”, short for continuous integration and delivery.
We were surprised that there were no simple web-based services for that. You had to install and maintain a complicated piece of software called Jenkins and supply the computers where it should run. Testing your app was hard to implement, so most people didn’t bother. We set on a path to create an alternative that any developer can start using in a few minutes. That’s how Semaphore was born.
How does Semaphore innovate?
Marko Anastasov: We’re always thinking about what we can do to make developers more productive. Semaphore is a technical product, and in the early days, the challenge was to make the process of code testing simpler. For example, instead of spending three days setting up Jenkins, a developer could set up Semaphore in 30 minutes. To do that, we had to narrow the scope to serving small teams like ours.
Lately, our goals have expanded to power software delivery of teams of any size. We’re focused on finding the right balance between power and ease of use. No matter the industry, everybody likes products that are easy to use.
How the coronavirus pandemic affects your business and how are you coping?
Marko Anastasov: The cloud computing industry is one of the few that experienced growth during the pandemic as businesses world-wide shift even more of their activities online. Semaphore is riding the same wave. We haven’t seen a decrease in demand. Semaphore team has been fully remote for several years now. So operationally, we’ve been well-prepared.
However, the first few months of the pandemic were naturally stressful for everyone. Volatile lockdown policies, having children at home, and taking care of the elderly made life more complicated. We said if you need to do something for your family during the day, just do it and not worry about making 100% of the work hours. You have to accept that it’s normal not to be always as productive as before.
Did you have to make difficult choices and what are the lessons learned?
Marko Anastasov: Fortunately, not due to coronavirus so I’ll give you another example.
To realize our vision of being the world’s best CI/CD platform, we built and launched a whole new version of Semaphore. We closed the 1.0 version of the product for new signups but continued to support it for our customers. When you do that, you have to validate everything from scratch: the on boarding experience, design, pricing model, marketing, and sales. And nothing speaks truth like metrics.
Metrics also require iteration. Since we changed many variables in the product offering, it took us several iterations to implement the right metrics-based feedback loops. Wrong or missing metrics always lead to wrong decisions. But it’s all part of the journey, and I’m proud that the new Semaphore is already making more revenue than the old one.
How do you deal with stress and anxiety, how do you project yourself and Semaphore in the future?
Marko Anastasov: I accept occasional hardship as a part of the job that I love. Our company motto is “We optimize for happiness”. A part of that is organizing work to support, not consume your private life. I think the usual advice works for both founders running a company and employees: I try not to overwork myself, be with family and friends, sleep well, maintain physical health.
As for the future, we intend to remain a company where you get to work with great people making a product that brings meaningful value to customers. We’ll keep raising the bar to keep it challenging.
Who are your competitors? And how do you plan to stay in the game?
Marko Anastasov: There’s a lot of competition in our space, including some of the world’s biggest tech companies. But if you’re able to build something that adds value and stay focused on delivering value for your customers, you’ll always be in good shape.
We’ve been in this market for eight years now, and most of our original competitors have gone extinct. Many have raised venture capital; we didn’t. We chose to live on the money that our customers pay us. It can sometimes be limiting, but it’s a healthy constraint that benefits both our customers and us. The freedom to shape the company our way and have work and life in harmony is priceless.