Mitchell Hashimoto is clear up front — Vagrant was never supposed to be a business. It was a tool he built to make his own life easier when it came to setting up a laptop for software development and testing.
“I worked for a consultancy as a developer and was frustrated with having to set up my laptop every six weeks for new projects. With tech changes coming so fast, we’d have to reinstall everything and none of that time was billable to the client,” Hashimoto said in a recent interview.
How much time are we talking about? Setting up a single PC could easily take hours and that was for someone who really knew what he was doing. “It was a particularly big pain when old clients would come back in the middle of a new project and I’d have to go back and re-install their stuff,” he said.
So, in December of 2009, Hashimoto took the bull by the horns and came up with a way to do this better, using what was then Sun Microsystems’ VirtualBox desktop virtualization software because it was free and really easy to use. “The whole idea was to not have any barriers,” he said.
Easing the pain of software dev setup
As he described the process to me last fall, with Vagrant, developers get a work computer pre-installed with Git versioning and Vagrant. The key thing here is each project needs a clean slate and few companies have the resources to provide a separate PC for each. What Vagrant does is make it faster and much easier for the developer to create his or her own pristine development PC for each and every project. They double click and it clones out their test and development environment with Vagrant hooking into Virtualbox and using their devops tool of choice — CFEngine, Chef or Puppet — to set up the required virtual workspaces.
Hashimoto used Vagrant for his own projects and his buddies picked it up, but he still didn’t think much about it being a viable business. “People gravitated to the idea. Once they started using it, they’d hit their head and say it was so obvious they couldn’t believe they hadn’t thought of it themselves.”
But it still didn’t occur to him that Vagrant might be a business opportunity.
Two years later when he was speaking at a conference in Stockholm, something happened that changed his mind. “I was talking about other stuff but mentioned that I made a tool called Vagrant and asked the crowd of 300 or so people if anyone used it — 100 percent raised their hands. That was my first ‘aha’ moment.”
At that point, Hashimoto was employed full time but also putting in six hours a night on Vagrant. “I had two full-time jobs with one not making me any money. Vagrant was my passion so I decided to go for it.”
Here’s the thing: Many startups seem to be a solutions in search of a problem. What Hashimoto had here was a solution to a very real problem — minimizing the time suck that’s involved in setting up fresh laptops to build and test new software. That’s a key concern that’s getting more critical in this era of fast, iterative software development. Hashimoto’s fix and his future plans are what led us to choose him as a Cloud Trailblazer.
He’s not sure who the first big Vagrant adopter was — the nature of open-source software is it’s impossible to know who downloads and uses it — but Vagrant now claims such large customers as the BBC, Disqus, Edgecast, LivingSocial, Mozilla, Yammer, and O’Reilly.
Next up: Building a distributed company to create a suite of tools
HashiCorp’s business model — which he admits is “not cooked yet” — will resemble what Github has done. “Basically I want to make Vagrant one of many tools I’m building … to manage to the whole product life cycle based on freely available open-source foundations where there can be proprietary stuff on top. There will be no lock-in, folks will be free to leave but hopefully they won’t,” he said.
For example, while Vagrant itself expects there to be an operating system already installed on the target device, Hashimoto is building another tool that will automatically install the OS that Vagrant can then tap into. Or you don’t have to use Vagrant at all, he said. He expects there to be other testing tools to come as well.
Three years ago, Hashimoto decided to leave Seattle for San Francisco and that’s where he’s starting this new venture. “I love Seattle but I needed change. I had no family ties and wanted to experience what San Francisco is all about,” he noted. So HashiCorp is based there — at least nominally. So far it’s still pretty much a one-man shop, but, again, like Github, he expects to hire smart, motivated people wherever they are.
“There are lots of awesome people out there, but not all of them are in San Francisco,” he said.