Chef (formerly known as OpsCode) is an IT Automation platform that provides solution to managing servers in the same way as developers manage code. In traditional IT, there would be team to manage the servers who would make sure all servers are running correct operating systems and apps, all security vulnerabilities have been addressed and all patches applied and servers are up to speed. If the Servers needed a change to support a change in application, the team would implement that change across all servers that are being used by the app. This works when you have a few servers. But in today’s world where the load has increased and each app uses multiple servers (especially in a cloud based infrastructure), managing each server independently is not just costly, but also slow.
Chef provides a solution to this problem. It allows IT admins to define (what they call ‘recipes’) the parameters or configurations that the server’s should be maintained at. These recipes are stored on a central server that acts as the ‘mother ship’. All virtual machines have chef client running and each server pings this mother ship daily (or at another defined frequency to check the configuration definition. If the definition matches, server does nothing. If there has been an update to the definition, the server downloads it and updates itself. This process removes a lot of manual overhead from managing the servers including running the same configuration changes on multiple servers, thus saving their customers time & money. In addition to providing the software, they also provide consultation services to help with the implementation of the software.
The market the company is pursuing is small to medium sized IT Organizations. I say IT organizations because their target customers are not just IT companies, but the IT Teams in traditional organizations that need to own and manage servers. With the current shift towards cloud based applications, focusing on customers who leverage AWS and Microsoft Cloud. To that effect, they recently entered a partnership with Microsoft to help clients set up their services on Microsoft cloud. They are disrupting an established process – dedicated teams to manage servers, and creating a new market – automated server management.
Chef was started as an open source program by Adam Jacob by 7 years ago. Adam was working on managing server configurations and was trying to use the tools available in the market, but nothing available met his needs (remember that these were the early days of cloud infrastructure). So he wrote the first version of chef and shared code with his friends who were working on similar challenges. That led to enough early adopters that he was able to secure VC funding.
The first customers of the company were early adopters of the open source offering. First paid offering was a ‘hosted service’. Chef was offering the free open source software but would charge for management of core server (mother ship). A year later they came out with ‘Private Chef’ – a forked version of open source Chef with proprietary ‘pay to use’ features. Soon they identified that their customers needed support implementing the software and they spun off a consulting business that helps with implementation of Chef’s software. Last year, they moved back to one version of software and offered all the features as ‘paid add-ons’ thus giving their customers an ‘ala cart’ menu.
They focus on two primary channels to acquire customers. First, they attend a lot of conferences (AWS, DevOps etc) to meet potential customers and then follow-up thru email twitter etc. Second, instead of spending a lot of money on advertising, they fly people around to meet the potential customer. In these conversations, they focus more on sharing best practices than making the sale, thus building customers confidence leading to them to buy the software as well as consulting services.
The company has a “THIS” slide that is leveraged as internal positiong/vision. In order to ensure every employee is able to understand and remember it, they have kept it very simple, which I think is very effective. Here’s the “THIS” slide:
- Fuel the love of Chef
- Make it easy to be successful with Chef
- Give our customers reasons to work with us
- Be our customers and our partners’ favorite company to work with
- Be disruptive