Posted on January 6, 2020 by staff

Meet California company powering UK’s fastest-growing tech firms


Continuous integration, or ‘CI’, is a term rarely spoken outside the walls of fast-growing tech start-ups, but it’s a straightforward concept.

When two or more brains begin tackling a single project, mistakes, misunderstandings and miscommunication are inevitable.

Vast, ever-growing machines like Spotify and Facebook are powered by many tech brains, each working on a single cog which has to fit perfectly.

When the gears do grind, it costs these machines time, money, and the threat of global outcry from millions of users.

The modern CI process, used by these very tech giants, is a set of tools for checking the cogs – or in this case code – to ensure things keep spinning.

Put another way, a CI platform “automates all of the compute requirements that you have from a build, test and release perspective,” explains Jim Rose, CEO of CircleCI.

Launched eight years ago in California, the firm made its first venture into the EMEA region with the launch of a London base at the end of last year.

Their second international hub after Japan, this new Shoreditch base is designed to be a closer option for clients other than its Silicon Valley headliners Facebook, Spotify and Kickstarter.

London equivalents Transferwise, Monzo and Deliveroo are also customers, and have experienced the ‘good problem’ of fast growth, which leaves them financially stable, but time-poor.

“They’re trying to figure out how to get platforms and processes and standards in place to help them manage their growth,” CEO Jim Rose tells BusinessCloud of Deliveroo.

“Every company is trying to figure out how to be more agile from a software development perspective, and we’re just one of those tools. So regardless of whether you’re delivering a banking product, or a new eCommerce experience, or trying to launch a rocket, it’s basically the same underlying process.”

Among the 30 million jobs per month CircleCI runs for more than 600,000 developers across 30,000 organisations, it is now starting to see adoption in self-driving, electric cars.

Rose said the platform itself has parallels with electricity.

“It’s like electricity – it’s that thing that you absolutely need, and you don’t want to think about it, you just want it to work,” he explains.

“If something breaks, we want to alert you immediately, and then you can go fix it, so that you can get back to your day and do the thing that makes you special.”

Rose’ previous venture, CI firm Distiller, was bought after only eight months by CircleCI, and he was appointed to COO.

Now CEO, he has welcomed tech veteran Nick Mills (below) to drive adoption and business growth within the EMEA region.

On London’s tech scene, Mills added: “They all seem to use integration and continuous delivery as the critical enabler to help them rapidly accelerate the speed with which their engineers can work and ultimately products they can create and the value that they create.”

About 10 per cent of CircleCI employees are now based in the new office, serving the region which accounts for around 20 per cent of its business, but the majority of its workforce is remote.

“They are working from somewhere, their home, a cafe, the beach, wherever they happen to be,” said Rose.

Rose points to one of the company’s now departed founders, Paul Biggar, who is from Dublin, when talking about its roots in Europe.

“We’ve always had a strong footprint on the engineering side and on the product side, in the broader European market,” he said.

“We’re now investing in those areas to help customers that already have the platform to grow by having local resources, local support, people inside of the country, and really help feed their growth over time.”

Getting in on the ground floor is CircleCI’s business strategy.

By targeting promising start-ups with the good problem of being busy, the firm hopes to help developers to embed the product into their projects early, and to bring CircleCI along as they grow.

Rose, talking at once about his younger self and future potential clients, said timing is crucial and mistakes are inevitable, but repeating mistakes is something to avoid.

“When you start out as a 24-year-old CEO you have a vision, but not a lot of intelligence or experience in terms of what to pay attention to.

“Even if you’re the greatest entrepreneur with the greatest entrepreneurial team, there’s still an element of timing and luck involved with all great businesses.

“Over the course of your career, you just get better at identifying patterns and not making the same mistakes.”

And that is the pair’s pitch: the introduction of automation helps to avoid tripping up over the same mistakes again and again.

“The average cost of a developer minutes in Silicon Valley is about $1.42, and that’s just every minute that a developer has in a seat and the meter is running. Whereas the average cost for a machine on the CircleCI platform is six tenths of a penny, so it’s 237 times less expensive,” said Rose.

“If there’s any tasks that you do more than twice, those are great opportunities to basically outsource and put them on a platform so that you don’t have to think about it. That is an incredibly powerful concept – and it’s the thing that really propelled this business in the beginning.”

In the EMEA region, this pitch is now Mills’ responsibility.

“There’s obviously been some challenges in Europe over the last few years from a perception perspective, but I haven’t seen anything changing in terms of the amount of companies launching and talent in the market here,” he said.

“There’s a lot of talent, and there’s obviously a fantastic ecosystem here including accelerators, incubators, VC firms, as well as M&A, banking specialists and legal specialists.”

In fact, Rose adds, every business is a software business and potential client.

“Most companies are realising that they’re in a software business at this point,” he said.

“The primary channel between themselves and the customer is usually mediated by some kind of screen which is running software. Companies are really wrestling with that reality at different rates.”

As the agile approach to business grows beyond the likes of eCommerce, gaming, and FinTech, so too does their client base widen.