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The rise of feature management in a product-centric world

How LaunchDarkly enables feature flagging and why Bessemer is leading its $44 million Series C

By Ethan Kurzweil 3.13.19 Developer

The challenge (and beauty) of software development is that no product is ever truly finished. Tech giants like Amazon hold onto mantras like, “Every day is day one,” a reminder that each decision, down to a line of code, is a new beginning when building a relationship with the customer. As a result, modern dev teams have always been maniacally focused on improvement. This is largely due to the ever-evolving demands and expectations consumers and enterprises have of digital products, along with the tools and systems people depend on for work. In today’s market, all companies–led by their product development teams– have to move quickly when developing and implementing new product features, while also avoiding botched and buggy launches.

To navigate these unique challenges, developers historically have rolled out changes gradually, often using feature flags, a modern development practice which allows engineering teams to continuously deploy code and launch product changes iteratively to a small subset of users first. Feature flagging allows developers to quickly and reliably reduce the risk of bugs, scalability issues, and code errors. Thus, feature management has allowed engineering teams to do what once seemed impossible: continuously deliver better solutions, more effectively, and at even faster rates without risking a major bug that can disrupt the product experience.

By investing in feature management, which is critical for continuous integration and continuous deployment (CI/CD), we believe code-based businesses (read: most of them!) are supercharging innovation and raising the bar for software.

Allocating engineering resources wisely

Because businesses update and deploy code with greater frequency these days, engineering teams started to build feature management systems in-house so they could more effectively roll out these improvements. Facebook is famous for giving developers the keys to the codebase allowing them to rapidly implement changes; they can do this because of an elaborate feature flagging system that minimizes the impact of errors. However, not all companies building internal tools have had such success; these systems have historically been poorly designed, error-prone, and require manual updates with increasing complexity.

As we’ve written in our eight laws for developer platforms, the fastest moving companies and teams wisely allocate their engineering resources to projects that move the needle for competitive differentiation. Building internal tools like a feature management system is almost certainly a distraction and is unlikely to move the needle for any business given the state of the art in this discipline. In other words, the Facebooks of tomorrow would be foolish to build this themselves.

Some of the best developer platforms we have invested in, like PagerDuty, HashiCorp, Twilio, and SendGrid, have taken over non-critical skill sets for developers, such as incident management, deployment and orchestration, and communications. As investors, we learn a lot from internal tooling trends which often signal opportunities to offload these non-core skill sets, and we think LaunchDarkly is next to make developers’ working lives much more rewarding.

Bessemer’s Series C investment in LaunchDarkly

Feature management is fundamental to delivering and managing cutting edge software, and now it’s even stronger, thanks to a small but powerful startup in Oakland called LaunchDarkly and two passionate zealots of this trend: Edith Harbaugh and John Kodumal. We’re very excited to lead LaunchDarkly’s $44 million Series C financing and partner with Edith and John in helping bring this trend to the mainstream of software development. Customers exhibit such deep product love that we believe Edith and John are well on their way to dominating this strategic market.

Instead of requiring manual insertions of code to turn features on or off, LaunchDarkly provides a broad array of SDKs and APIs to help companies manage the evolution of their product in a simple user interface. Developers at organizations of all sizes trust LaunchDarkly because it improves the speed and efficiency of product and feature releases. After launching in 2014, the company continues to scale rapidly with more than 700 customers across the globe, including enterprises such as NBC, Microsoft, Sling, IBM, and RyanAir.

Today LaunchDarkly is squarely focused on developers, but the company believes that, eventually, anyone on a team will be able to make changes to the product through its intuitive UI. And after changes are made, team members will be able to understand the impact of those product changes in real-time through rich analytics.

“We want to make it possible for enterprises to keep up with the speed of innovation in a world that’s built on software,” Edith told us recently. We couldn’t think of a more worthy and important goal that’ll serve developers everywhere.