With $50M of His Fortune, AppDynamics Founder Creates a Startup Factory

Jyoti Bansal, who was raised in a small town in India, earned a computer science degree in 1999, worked for three successful Silicon Valley startups, founded his first company in 2008 while still in his 20’s, and led it through its acquisition by Cisco early this year for $3.7 billion.

He clearly had a knack for solving engineering problems, but he failed at one thing he tried to do: Taking his haul from the sale of AppDynamics and retiring on the beach.

“I traveled the world and spent tons of time on various beaches evaluating the relative merits of the local margaritas,” Bansal wrote in a LinkedIn post published today. “But ultimately I realized that I had to come back to what I truly love: finding enormous problems, then building amazing companies dedicated to solving them.”

Today, Bansal announced how he’s going to do that: He unveiled his new startup studio, BIG Labs, a San Francisco venture foundry that simultaneously brought its first startup, Harness, out of stealth mode.

San Francisco-based Harness tackles a problem that Bansal says he had observed even among the satisfied customers of AppDynamics, a software suite that allows developers to monitor the performance of their applications as well as evaluate users’ experiences with it. Software engineering teams still needed a way to roll out updates rapidly with a minimum of errors, Bansal recalled in the announcement of his new ventures on Tuesday. Harness was designed to automate the app update process with the help of artificial intelligence software. It is making its public debut along with $20 million already raised in a Series A financing round led by Menlo Ventures and BIG Labs. Bansal is serving as Harness CEO, and is its co-founder along with former Apple DevOps platform architect Rishi Singh, who is CTO at Harness.

“Harness easily met all of my criteria for a BIG Labs startup—a really compelling problem that I am passionate about, a big market opportunity, a viable path to building a billion dollar company, a strong sustainable technology advantage, and a great co-founder in Rishi Singh who I’m really excited to work with,” Bansal wrote in his LinkedIn post. [Bansal no longer has an active role at AppDynamics.]

Harness aims to democratize the capability for quick software update rollouts, which only big tech companies such as Amazon, Google and Facebook have developed so far, according to the BIG Labs announcement. Using unsupervised machine learning, the Harness system is designed to detect irregular patterns that may emerge after an application change, to roll back the update if problems arise, and prevent widespread failures. The company claims it can accomplish an application change within a few hours, while it would usually have taken a company’s engineers weeks to months.

Bansal has devoted $50 million of his own money to fund BIG Labs (BIG is short for Bansal Innovation Group), which is searching for more novel technology solutions to major problems that affect large markets. The startup studio will develop product prototypes and build companies to commercialize promising ideas.

Bansal is looking for founders and engineers to work with. His natural bent is to work on ways to make life easier for software professionals, he says in his post.

“At the same time, I would like to expand the scope of areas we are passionate about as we go,” Bansal says. “But my fundamental criteria for BIG Labs projects will remain pretty simple: they have to solve large problems that I can personally get passionate about.”

Photo credit: Harness and BIG Labs

Bernadette Tansey is Xconomy's San Francisco Editor. You can reach her at btansey@xconomy.com. Follow @Tansey_Xconomy

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