How GitLab CEO Sid Sijbrandij built a $1 billion business by taking an idea from another programmer, then hiring the guy

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Sid Sijbrandij, CEO of hot startup GitLab, fully admits that the original idea for his company came from a developer he had never met at the time. The developer was happy for Sijbrandij to take the idea and try to make money on it. It was a struggle at first — building the business cost Sijbrandij his life savings, and he ended up speculating on Bitcoin and dipping into his life savings to pay the bills. But Sijbrandij eventually hired that original developer, Dmitriy Zaporozhets, full-time as his cofounder and together they've grown the company into a hot Silicon Valley startup valued at over $1 billion. See the full list of the 100 people transforming business here. In 2011, a programmer named Dmitriy Zaporozhets was living his country house in the Ukraine, — a home so rustic, he had no running water. Still, his big concern wasn't his plumbing. He wanted to collaborate with other developers on software projects using free and open source tools, and he didn't like any of his options.
So Zaporozhets thought: "How hard could it be? I'll just make something myself," as his future co-founder Sid Sijbrandij recently told us. And he did — calling it GitLab, based on Git, the software collaboration tool created by Linux creator Linus Torvalds.
It's not the only such project based on Git. The more famous company GitHub — recently bought by Microsoft for $7.5 billion — is based on Git, as well.
Still, Zaporozhets released the original iteration of GitLab as an open source project, meaning it was free for anyone else to take, use, and add their own features at their leisure.
Read : The 10 people transforming the way the technology industry does business
"[Within a year,] 300 people had joined the project or contributed code to it. Only at that point I saw it because someone posted about it on Hacker News," the popular online developer hangout, Sijbrandij recalls.
Nowadays, Sijbrandij is CEO of the modern incarnation of GitLab, a hot startup based on Zaporozhets' original project of the same name. Their company has raised about $146 million from venture investors who value the company at $1 billion, and has publicly shared its plans to go public on November 18, 2020 .
But back when Zaporozhets was creating GitLab, Sijbrandij was a full-time software developer in the Netherlands, his home country. He loved the idea behind GitLab: a tool to track the development of open source software that was, itself, open source, so its users could add features and plug security holes, sharing them with the world.
"I thought, this is going to have a great future," he said. "So I sent Dmitriy an email and it said, 'thanks for making this. I'm going to start and I'm going to try and make money off it and I hope you are okay with that.'"
He sent a nice email back: "Oh, that's so awesome, you are going to make GitLab more popular. Lots of luck with it," Sijbrandij remembers.
To this day Sijbrandi points out, "That's very open minded and very much the ethics of open source: you don't owe me anything."
Yours, mine and ours
GitLab founders Dmitriy Zaporozhets (left) and Sid Sijbrandij GitLab By 2013, Sijbrandi found himself in an unusual situation. He was operating the commercial version of on his own. But most of GitLab's fans were using Zaporozhets' free version of the software on their own computers, not paying him for his website-hosted version. "I wasn't making a lot of money on," Sijbrandij said.
Still, because he was more visible on the internet as a person associated with the name "GitLab," people kept coming to him asking for help and support with the free software.
That's how he discovered that the Fortune 500 and other giant companies were willing to pay to get additional features in GitLab, he said.
Just as Sijbrandij was trying to figure out how to accommodate those companies while running the site and still working his day job, Zaporozhets tweeted that he wanted to quit his own job and work on GitLab full time. Zaporozhets' efforts on GitLab were blossoming, but he wasn't earning a living from the free project.
And although couldn't afford it, Sijbrandij offered Zaporozhets a job, and dipped into his personal savings to cover his paycheck.
Sijbrandij even tells a funny story of wiring Zaporozhets' pay, when the person at the Western Union office questioned sending money like this to someone in the Ukraine. The wire agent obviously believed that Sijbrandij was being scammed, and asked, "Is this someone you met over the internet?"
Sijbrandij had to vouch that while Zaporozhets was, indeed, someone he met online, the money was going to a person he really "knew," he laughs.
But the incident caused him a moment of doubt. The truth was, as he was sending money and they had never met, never seen each other, never even so much as talked on the phone. The extent of their collaboration thus far had consisted of merely exchanging some emails over a few months.
Luckily, Zaporozhets "did exist a...