JAMF Software maps international expansion: Q & A with Chip Pearson & Zach Halmstad

Chip Pearson and Zach Halmstad - JAMF Software

Chip Pearson and Zach Halmstad on a mission to build Minneapolis’ JAMF Software into an international player with offices in Europe and Asia.

Merely hours before Apple’s Special Event, The Guthrie Theatre in downtown Minneapolis opened its doors for a special tech event to call our own:  the third annual JAMF Nation User Conference

Managing partner Chip Pearson took the stage to address the 700+ in attendance with a palpable display of energy that you’d expect from a thriving company who’s building its business off the back of another — who just so happens to be flourishing even more.

The three day conference not only provides a unique glimpse into the nuances of their core product line, led by founding partner and product manager Zach Halmstad, but also the cultural elements of success and strategic vision for the future. Below is an interview with the the duo:

When did JAMF start and why?

ZH: In June of 2002 I was working at UWEC in desktop support and became frustrated with the lack of tools available for the Mac platform. After some fits and starts developing in house, we created JAMF Software on the side to start developing software independently.  We didn’t see Eau Claire as the place to instill confidence in customers, which is what prompted the move to Minneapolis back in the day.

How did you cross paths with Chip Pearson?

ZH: I met Chris through his former company The Foundation after we did a demo for him on Casper 1.0.

CP: The Foundation is all about bringing enterprise IT to small and medium sized businesses. I tried to do both for a while, but didn’t do either very well. Then in the summer of 2006, I sold my interest in Foundation and committed full time to JAMF.

What does JAMF do?

CP: We build tools to help the enterprise succeed with Apple, primarily through the Casper Suite.

What industries do you serve and who are some of the larger customers?

CP: We have a lot of NDA’s, so I can’t be too specific, but 35 Fortune 100 companies and roughly 70 Fortune 500 companies over all; 7 of the top 10 universities. Multiple industries — education, banking, retailing, media.

Anywhere you see the Apple logo, there’s a pretty good chance we’re involved one way or the other. A little over 2,000 unique customers use our stuff to manage about 1.6 million devices between 1.2m OSX and 400k iOS devices.

What do you as the total market potential for Casper?

CP: Everytime we look, the number gets bigger. It’s amazing how many new people are coming from traditional businesses.

It’s hard to get a measure on how many new devices they’re shipping because the product is moving so quickly. If the market potential isn’t in excess of a billion dollars or more at this point I think we’d be kidding ourselves, but hard to know exactly.

How many offices and employees do you have now?

A total of 4 currently; Minneapolis, Eau Claire, New York and Cupertino. And we’re absolutely serious about going into Europe (Amsterdam) and Asia (Hong Kong), ideally in Q1 of 2013. We have jumped to about 160 employees overall.

What role will distribution agreements like the one with Tech Data play in the growth strategy?

As the Apple market continues to grow, there’s going to be more routes for procurement, and we’re talking to another big US distributor, some European and Asian ones as well.

Ten years later, what’s been the secret to success?

ZH: There’s a lot of reasons for it. Focus on the customers, I mean a lot of people say that, but we came from their jobs and we know what it’s like. We want to know that if we were in their shoes that we’d be happy working with us.

Beyond that, we have a ton of incredibly smart people who work here. Letting them do their jobs and just staying out of the way is what we strive for.

Moving forward, what’s the vision for the company?

ZH: For me, it’s continuing to solve problems. It’s what we’re good at and we show up to make their lives better. If we can continue to do that then we’ll continue be successful

CP: I agree. We have a unique view of all the problems faced by so many organizations and can spot broader trends.

As things accelerate for the company, does anything keep you up at night?

ZH: We’ve been very risk adverse, always looking out for our customers and employees. I think the biggest risk we have going forward is really missing the right opportunities…how to make sure we’re in the right spot at the right time.

The biggest risk we’ve taken so far was starting in the first place.

Have you ever had buyout offers or discussed going public someday?

CP: Going public – not really. Buyout offers, we’ve had a few of those, but we’ve always ran a balance scorecard and consider customer retention, employee retention and revenue as some core measurements of health instead of just profits.

People have approached us about accelerating the firm, putting money in or tying us with other companies. At the end of the day, those are interesting conversations, but no one has really come to us and said “We want to help you help more people faster,” which is what we’re all about

The risk of them changing the tenor of the business has been high enough that we haven’t felt it necessary to take in capital, sell, or change the mission we’re on.

What is the firm’s run rate this year?

CP: North of $20m.

How’s the Grain Exchange treating you?

CP: Phenomenal.

ZH: The management company has really treated it like a partnership.

Does JAMF re-invest into Minnesota’s tech community?

CP: Yes. We employ a significant amount of our staff here in the Minneapolis headquarters and we’re members of the Minnesota High Tech Association. We’re also rolling out internship programs and looking at more charitable options going into next year.

Events like today’s annual JAMF Nation also bring in hundreds from outside Minnesota for days of programming and exposure to the Twin Cities.

Anything else you would like to add?

CP: Thank for taking the time to talk with us, it means a lot.