Early on at Amplify Partners I was fortunate to work closely with Kolton Andrus, CEO & co-founder Gremlin. Gremlin is pioneering a new approach to resiliency through Chaos Engineering — breaking things on purpose to proactively find and fix failure.
Kolton is a quintessential Amplify founder: see-around-the-corner visionary, one of the foremost experts in the domain, driven by a passion to build community around a new approach. In working with their first customers, Gremlin realized that the expertise he and others at the company possessed could be a key element of their sales approach.
How well understood was Chaos Engineering when you started?
Not very. Folks at places like Netflix and Amazon had been early practitioners, and were familiar with it. Outside of that however, it wasn’t really widely understood. Our idea in starting Gremlin was to build a product to help people do Chaos Engineering safely.
What was the feedback from your initial customer conversations?
People really got the reasons for Chaos Engineering and liked the Gremlin demo. The first question nearly everyone asked was “How do we actually DO Chaos Engineering?” Most people just did not know where to begin and how to get started — that was both a big opportunity but also a challenge in terms of having the confidence to move forward.
You and the team thought a lot about how to address this. Talk about the first principles you started with.
It was important to us that whatever we came up with be what we considered “real work." As engineers, we hated being sold to and traditional marketing approaches. Plus everyone is busy. We wanted to do something of value — real work — that they could learn from, put to use and iterate on after we left.
What did you end up with?
We borrowed from a process that originated at Amazon called a Game Day. It starts with getting folks in a room talking about what could go wrong with a system. We had led these conversations at both Netflix and Amazon, and could help people start to think about all the possibilities. From there, we’d talk about how to run chaos experiments in a way that uncovered real bugs, and at the same time was safe. Then we’d help them actually run some tests. While we used Gremlin during the Game Day, the focus was on building knowledge and confidence.
Fast forward a year later, how has your approach evolved?
In the beginning we’d brainstorm ideas with a potential customers and would offer the Game Day as one option. The Game Days were a huge success and led to our first paying customers. Over time we have moved to proactively laying out the Game Day at the beginning of the engagement as a standard part of how we do business. It’s effectively the POC step of our sales process.
How does focusing on real value and building expertise extend beyond the Game Day?
It’s a huge part of who we are as a company. It starts with hiring people who have the same commitment to building the Chaos Engineering community. We take our knowledge and share it freely with the community — blogs, videos, training and so on. Tell people how to do it and be straightforward and honest about what works and what doesn’t. Let them take that value and use it. Knowing that down the road when the time comes hopefully they’ll think of us.
What perspective do you have for other entrepreneurs facing a similar challenge?
Gremlin was born out of being on call and not wanting to get paged at 2 am. We knew that pain personally and we knew our solution helped. We spoke to that shared experience and formed a bond of trust. Finally, if you want engineers to do the right thing you need to make it easy and valuable. Solve a pain and make their lives better. Working backwards from that has been an effective strategy for us.