Interview with LinearB Co-Founders Ori Keren & Dan Lines
Efficiency is always the name of the game, particularly for development teams that don’t like distractions or interruptions. That’s why co-founders Ori Keren and Dan Lines have created LinearB, a project management tool aimed at improving workflow for dev teams without distracting meetings, standups and reporting tools.
In the latest edition of the Silicon Valley Momentum Podcast, Roland Siebelink spoke with Ori and Dan. They discuss how LinearB is empowering dev teams to work asynchronously as well as Ori and Dan’s journey as startup founders:
Roland Siebelink: Hello and welcome to the Silicon Valley Momentum Podcast. My name is Roland Siebelink. I'm a scaleup ally for tech founders. And I'm so excited this week because I've got two co-founders here of LinearB, Ori Kaeren, who's the CEO, and Dan Lines, who is the COO. Welcome, guys! So, linearB, tell me what it's all about. Let's hear the elevator pitch. Ori, that's probably what you do all day, right?
Ori Keren: Yeah, I'll try my best and Dan will probably help. So LinearB, we're building a home for dev teams. That's our goal and mission in life. Basically, what we do, we integrate with all your F-pipeline, Git project management, like JIRA collaboration tools like Slack and more. And then what the solution does is it analyzes, produces insights, and not less important, sending them to dev teams where they are. That's a very important part of what we're doing. In order to help execute better, that's a simple mission but yet very complex that linearB have. Our target audience is dev leaders. And so dev leaders can be team leaders, VPs of engineering or VPs of R&D, product owners, they're really like our product lately. And very interestingly, also developers, mostly senior developers usually. You know, on top of their day-to-day work, they also say: "Okay, how can we help this team get better? And how can we help the team improve?" So that's our audience. And I think, you know, we always want to improve, but we're doing a pretty good job in doing all of this without changing the way people work, helping them improve without changing the way they work, which is an important ingredient of what we do.
Roland Siebelink: Okay. That sounds really exciting. So, Dan, what would you say is the core pain points that you're addressing here? Like, why is this more than just a vitamin for dev teams and dev leaders?
Dan Lines: Yeah. So one of the problems that dev teams have, or one of the biggest pain points that they have, is that you'll go and you'll start planning what you want to work on. So you go and you start planning what you want to work on. We call them stories. You might see a JIRA story or ticket in your project management system. And this usually happens between maybe the team leader, maybe the entire or team, and maybe with the product owner. It takes a little bit of time. Maybe it takes 10% of your total time. And then once you start working and you start building and you start creating, which probably takes 90% of your time, where there's no tool out there that really helps development teams actually deliver on their iteration. So these are things like automatically letting everybody know the status of a project ticket or giving a data intelligence alert saying, "Hey, this work is stopper. Can someone work on this PR?" A lot of dev teams are kind of left in the dust. So that's where LinearB comes in and really empowers these teams to work asynchronously.
Roland Siebelink: So, I read on your website that really the current practices, let's say before LinearB, are forcing developers out of their flow and into meetings, into status updates, all that stuff that makes them really inefficient, right? Can you expand on that a little bit, Ori?
Ori Keren: Yeah, sure. So this was actually an interesting trend that we saw. It started before the pandemic that unfortunately hit the world lately. But you know, I am a developer. I started as a developer. We like to stay focused on what we're doing. And to be honest, you know, I think agile movement really helped bring us closer to the business, but somewhere along the line, it also kind of was misinterpreted and brought out a lot of, you know, extra meetings, extra services that weren't always efficient. Where we talked to a lot of dev teams and we hear this over and over again. So we believe in, again, it's based on a lot of interactions with dev teams that there's a different way to work. Like exactly like you said, we call this asking development. Development where we acknowledge that asynchronous communication is the default form of communication, right? So we'll jump on meetings because there's still some magic that happens when you collaborate in meetings like this, where we interact face-to-face synchronously. But we have to choose those. We can't say, "Hey. you know, let's keep all the, you know, the routine as it is. And we can leave, you know, some of the daily meetings can become asynchronous things. The updates definitely that are more geared towards management and less helping each other can be more of asynchronous thing. You don't have to stop what you're doing and go in and do this meeting right now.
Dan Lines: What LinearB actually allows you to do is it shows in this nice visualization, what everybody worked on yesterday. It shows it immediately. You don't have to ask that question anymore. Well, now when I come into the standup and, you know, let's say I have eight developers on my team, I can ask a more interesting question or I can say something more interesting, like, "Hey team, I'm really stuck on this item here." LinearB will actually even show you here's the item that I'm stuck on. Can I get help? That's a quick update, right? Opposed to like, here's the 50 things that I did yesterday. You know, everybody should automatically know that at all times.
Roland Siebelink: Very good, okay. Ori, can you tell us a little bit about the history of LinearB? Like, how did you start? Where was it founded? And how's the team currently set up?
Ori Keren: Yeah, so we actually know each other, we worked together, Dan and myself, in a previous company called CloudLock. It was acquired by Cisco in 2016, and we really connected on a personal level when we worked in so many permutations. I think Dan was reporting to me at the beginning. Then I moved to do more of a CTO type role. And I was kind of more dependent on him to provide resources, so we've seen each other in all the, you know, the situation. I think it's a good recommendation for everybody, know your partner very well before you go into such an important journey with him. But yeah, after, you know, the Cisco journey, we were both very passionate to this slippery thing of like, why at some point, you know, the team was highly engaged, operating, you know, such high throughput and great chemistry and why at some other points we lost it. It doesn't necessarily, you know, with correlation to the growth, like the scale of how big the team was. So it really bothers us and we started talking about it and we decided to, you know, we gotta attack this problem, you know. This problem, we came through a couple of angles. We're both like executives, you know, that we're sitting in board meetings and staff meetings and always jealous that, you know, the slides that the VP sales had, which, you know, such nice dashboard that be able to describe, you know, their departments and where they are. So it started there, but very quickly we saw that it's along every level of the engineering department, we can help, you know, with data. Our setup is unique, you know. I'm based in Tel Aviv. Dan is based in California. Before, you know, when we can fly, we were like flying over and spending every month time together. Right now, it's a little bit more challenging. But, you know, our core businesses is in California and US where the market is. And we have a very strong team of R&D here in product in Israel.
Roland Siebelink: When I talk to founders in your stage, I would say early, mid-stage, right, I hear a lot of confusion about, should I spend all my resources on engineering? Should I spend everything on go-to market? How do you guys think about that? I'll just see who answers first.
Ori Keren: I'll try to answer first, you know, that's a great question because this is what we say at the beginning. We built this company global in the beginning and we built infrastructures in both of these important areas from the beginning. We put the product in the hand of the customers really fast. And we were able to do that because we built both of these platforms. Like, both the go-to market and, of course, in the early stages, it's more about the product. But I think that was a very smart move. It's proven itself. We were able to learn fast, iterate fast. So yeah, my tip, try to get both of these a platform so you can scale both of them.
Roland Siebelink: That's brilliant. I don't hear that very often. Often, it's this hesitation to actually build the go-to-market function, to want to have the product ready, if you would call it that way, right? So you really started it in parallel, maybe a bit more on the product side in the beginning. And as I gather from what you're saying, Ori, you learned a lot right away that you could apply to the product. Is that right, Dan?
Dan Lines: I'll add two things to that I think are important. One thing that we learned really early on, and even in the last company that we work together, is getting something out into the hands of customers as fast as possible and getting feedback is super important. Do that as fast as possible. Learn, do it again, right? So you might start with, you know, making sure that you have a little bit of an engineering organization to start with, so you can do that. But the thing for us is, you know, we're all about the product at our company. You know, product-led-growth style company here. So where does the product actually start? Does the product actually start when they log into the actual application or does it start when they, you know, your user base starts reading some great content about your mission or like the problem you're trying to solve. And then they're coming into the product and it's flowing really nicely and they can solve a problem. So one thing that I think Ori did great as a CEO for us is to have a more balanced team, you know. Have some people in marketing, but not necessarily classic marketing. You know, some of this product-led growth marketing, it's really helped us.
Roland Siebelink: Yeah, that's amazing. And it's a pattern I see a lot, you know. We see, of course, that lots of companies want to be product-led-growth companies. And you're so right, that really then turns on the definition of what do you consider product? Because in a classical company, maybe product is just considered the core technology. But when you start thinking from a user experience point of view, the product is so much broader than that, right?
Dan Lines: Yeah, exactly. All about community and having a great experience from the first time you interact with us into using the application into solving your problem, and then do it again. Ori has a great line that he says that "every line of code is a business decision." So, what does that mean?
Roland Siebelink: Wow. I love that.
Dan Lines: Yeah. Every line of code is a business decision. This is what Ori says. And it's because, you know, the people who are building the product for your customers are making decisions every time they write code. And if you have a situation, you know, we're a big believer that dev teams are the heart of the business. If you have a situation where the business is providing great context, through the developers and the development team. And almost a little bit in exchange, then the development team is providing great transparency of "this is how we work. This is what we need to get better." You know, "These are the resources we need or this is what we don't understand." Then you're in a situation where you can build an unbelievable product.
Roland Siebelink: Okay, so coming back to the product-led growth and, you know, the go-to-market team next to the product team, as you explained, one question I get from almost every founder is "How did they know they had product led growth?" Sorry. "How did they know they had product market fit?" So, do you feel like you have product market fit already? Or is it more like a linear process? Like it goes further and further? Or have you experienced like an explosive growth? What's the situation?
Ori Keren: I love this question because I think that, you know, often founders will try to, you know, you're always fundraising and you always talk to investors and they have this urge to say, "Oh yeah, we have a product market fit after like, you know, sometimes six months of each iteration." So I like to think about where we are, and this is how I communicate, you know, with the team. We have the sense of a product market fit. We can see it. We can feel it. Why am I saying it? Because just like Dan said, we understand now what it takes to bring somebody to try our product and we can bring them at scale. We also understand, you know, what are the things that are getting them, you know, engaged. Engagement is such an important word. I think that's what people should be focused on a lot of the time. And we also understand, okay. Yeah, we kind of understand how their buying motion will be. We proved it. Definitely. I think we're starting to see nonlinear growth. I wouldn't say we're like, you know, exponential right now. Always more conservative there. But definitely feel that we are starting to see it because, again, all of the cycle that I just described is starting to happen. How do we bring people, how do they start to use the product? What's their first experience? How did they stay engaged week by week? When did they raise their hand? Yeah, I want to expand here and buy something more. And how easy it is for them to do that. Once you have all these pieces in your equation, you are in a great trajectory.
Roland Siebelink: Absolutely. And it sounds like you've got a pretty clear definition of who your core customer is, right? Dev leaders like a VP of engineering, sometimes even product owners. How do you actually reach those people? How do you make them aware of a product such as LinearB? And how do you get them to engage with it?
Ori Keren: That's a Dan question.
Dan Lines: Yeah. Okay. That's a me question. One thing to be clear, actually, our users right now are really engineering team leaders and the teams themselves. But we also have a bunch of users that are VPs of engineering and CTOs, and that type of thing. And what we've really found cause I'd come from this background, Ori comes from the developer background, you have to be really truthful in the way that you're talking. And you have to, you know, really be down to earth. Then there's kind of like an underlying no BS policy. I've seen this for years with leading teams. So the way that we really try to interact with our community is providing this great down-to-earth content. Writing blogs, going on podcasts, interviewing people from our own community, you know. I do a lot of the content myself and Ori does a lot of the content himself. Of course, we have great marketing people that make our bad sentences sound amazing. But you know, there's heart and soul behind what we're writing. And so, you know, what I believe kind of in the developer community is the truth always wins. So that's what we go for.
Roland Siebelink: And that's really that ethos of a technically minded people that have that value things like truth and scientific provability. Maybe some values are not always that prevalent in those days, right? Now they're everywhere.
Dan Lines: Yeah, I used to lead a lot of all hands for my engineering organization. And the things that our developers would appreciate most is what they would call real talk, right? I don't need sales talk. I don't need, you know, we're going to be unbelievable and everything is so great. They need real talk, like what's actually happening. And that's kind of what we try to translate with our context for our content.
Roland Siebelink: So are you really saying that products targeting the dev community, in whatever way possible, should kind of ditch the traditional sales people, the traditional marketing and focus on real talk?
Dan Lines: I think so, yeah. And I don't, you know, neither of us come from a sales background. So, you know, what's kind of traditional for us is kind of that openness since we're from the dev community. That's kind of how it's always been.
Roland Siebelink: Okay. So, how many dev teams are there in the world? How big could this company become if we see you conquer a big market share?
Ori Keren: You know, the goal is to stay humble but always shoot for those directions. You know, they're saying, I think the last numbers that I saw were talking about, I think in GitHub you have 20 million developers registered, right?
Dan Lines: 25 million plus I think is the last.
Ori Keren: Yeah. So, we think that, some of it is open source and people that are working individually. But you know, dev teams and we definitely think it's an endless, you know, market that we can be part of or get a big market share out of it. We're there, you know, early and about to grow stage. We have, at this point in time, 500 teams using LinearB. And we think we can be end of this year we can triple it.
Roland Siebelink: By the end of the year? Wow. That's a huge growth rate, right?
Ori Keren: Yeah, you know, some changes that we did recently where we, again, we launched the free tier where every team in the world can use it and we see what's happening week by week.
Roland Siebelink: Yeah. That must generate great leads for you guys, right? So, before we get into what the future holds, what are some learnings that you've picked up on the way as founders? And if maybe founders that aren't quite as far yet with their startup would like to learn something from you guys. What would each of you say is the one thing you'd like to convey? Let's start with Dan.
Dan Lines: Yeah, I think the biggest thing that I would convey is don't be afraid to get something out there early. Don't think that it has to be perfect. Your community will back you if you are solving a real pain point. If it's not perfect, then they'll help you make it perfect. So get your product or whatever your solution is there, out early, often. We actually do this with all of our features. We have a great, what I call like design partner program or beta community program. Get feedback and learn fast.
Roland Siebelink: Is there an example, Dan, that you want to highlight where you really learned this?
Dan Lines: Yeah, I think the example was when Ori and I, there were two people in the company, Ori and myself. Ori did all of the development himself in our first prototype. I went around, pitching this to engineering leaders. This was all backend code. I kinda made a PowerPoint presentation out of it to make a little front end. They saw what we came up with and they said, "This is amazing. Like, this is great. When is the app going to be released?" And that was the way that we were able to go from like two people, no funding, just trying to explore if we had a concept that other people believed in to like really, really quickly: "Whoa!, we have something big here." Like, let's build a great company and make this happen.
Roland Siebelink: That's awesome. That's a great example. Thank you so much. And what about you, Ori? What was the lesson you would convey to some of the starting founders out there?
Ori Keren: Yeah, I think Dan took the best one, like the fast iteration and learning fast. But, you know, my second thing is, so, you know, iterate fast, learn super fast. Like just look at the data and understand what it tells you and change. But then the second thing is like, you always have to have this compass of where you're trying to go. I think it's also important. I always feel, you know, I get this sense with the team that we're trying to say, "Listen, like, this is the change that we need to do." And whether we're changing and when they got it, I say, "Okay, guys, this is the next thing. Now we need to go there." And they'll say, "Oh, we just completed, this transformation." You got to know like this high-level direction all the time. Don't fear that. Sometimes, you know, you're going to have such bad days, right? Everything seems awful. Then you go and, you know, remind yourself of this, like big, big goal why you're here, what you're trying to do and, you know, go to sleep, get some sleep. It's important too. Wake up and you'll know the right answer. Okay. How do we align ourselves back to reaching that goal.
Roland Siebelink: Like the really that big, hairy, audacious goal, as you mentioned, right? So, I think you raised funds last year, right? So how much is raising more funds part of that big, hairy, audacious goal? Or is that more like a parallel thought in your mind?
Ori Keren: Yeah, we will need to raise more funds. It's always there. You got to work on this all the time. It depends on the stages. Fortunately, we're getting a lot of inbound interests at this time.
Roland Siebelink: I imagine you would. Yeah.
Ori Keren: But, you know, I'll give you one example. There was a point in time, like in July, August that we got a lot of interest. I said "Guys, we're heads down now. So, I got to know when you're saying gotta get back to everybody, but now we're heads down completing like a very important move for the company. So it's always there and we'll probably be able to announce something and complete something toward, you know, the beginning of next year. But it's like a constant work. Like you have to be there all the time.
Roland Siebelink: Okay. Yes, I understand. And I do think to I agree with you so much, it's important to know when you want to spend your time on fundraising and not just jump into debt all the time, right? This is a great segue in what's next for LinearB. So you already mentioned that you might be able to announce some funding. But also, is there other big hurdles that you're working on, things that the listeners could potentially help you with? What do you need from our audience?
Ori Keren: Dan, you want to take this one?
Dan Lines: Yeah, I mean, I think the biggest thing that we've been working on and we continue to invest into is our free offering. And so, you know, we're big believers. We want to make sure everybody in the world has an opportunity to see if they can really embrace this async dev, you know, movement. And obviously, they can do that utilizing LinearB. So for any team that has eight or less engineers, you can just come to our website, you know, sign up immediately. And a lot of the features that we've been working on are now more geared towards helping the developer and helping, you know, from the team leader and down, and making sure that every day we're providing value with them, with alerts and notifications on the code and hitting them in Slack when they need it. And so, you know, that's really where our focus is as a business for right now.
Roland Siebelink: Okay, so everyone sign up for LinearB. Now what's the website to go to then?
Dan Lines: The website is [LinearB.IO](https://LinearB.IO). And you can just go in there and sign up for free. And you can start using our product.
Roland Siebelink: That's awesome. And, Ori, what would you say is something you could need from the audience?
Ori Keren: We love people using our product and saying what they think of. That's like the best fuel, the best energy for a product-led-growth company. We want to hear if you don't like it and what you don't like about it. So like Dan said, just come and try our product. Every dev team in the world can try it. Assuming you use Git, which is again 99% of the teams. So yeah, that's what we need. We want people to try and tell us what they like, what they don't like, what we can improve. This fuel, this energy, helps us build a great company.
Roland Siebelink: Yeah. And I think a little bit of the culture flows through there as well. Like my own culture from the Netherlands and Israeli culture is very much known for open discussions and playing hard ball being quite direct, right? But you learn from that a lot, right? So very good.
Ori Keren: Yeah. I learned this when I was in Amsterdam. People are very direct, yeah. I really appreciate it.
Roland Siebelink: Absolutely. Absolutely. Well, thank you so much for joining this recording of the Silicon Valley Momentum Podcast. It was great to have you on, Ori Keren, co-founder and CEO, and Dan Lines, co-founder and COO of LinearB. Please all sign up for this amazing product. I recommend it wholeheartedly. And if you want to be in that investment round and you need an introduction to Ori, then, of course, I'm happy to provide as well. So, thank you, guys.
Ori Keren & Dan Lines: Thank you for having us.Roland Siebelink talks all things tech startup and bring you interviews with tech cofounders across the world.