A peek inside CA’s internal startup accelerator
Business Management

A peek inside CA’s internal startup accelerator

Across the span of some 40 years, CA has made hundreds of acquisitions. But at a Q&A with Mike Gregoire at this year’s CAWorld, the CEO said he wanted his company to be known as “a great company that builds great software, not a company that buys companies.”

Ironically it might be one of CA’s previous acquisitions that helps them achieve that goal. Upon acquiring Rally Software in 2015, CA also inherited Rally Labs, the company’s own innovation hub. Around the same time, CA CTO Otto Berkes (and one of the original Xbox creators) joined the company and was interested in innovation and incubation. 

“A couple of things came together all at once,” explains Howard Abrams, SVP, Incubation at CA. “We weren't sure; how do we manage these innovative things? They're different than the others [parts of the business].”

The powers that be went away and did their research – books such as Lean Startup by Eric Ries, Running Lean and Scaling Lean by Ash Maurya – and came up with a plan.

“We took some learnings from some things they had already at Rally, combined that with some things that we had seen in the lean startup community, took some of those principles and those practices, and adopted them in a way that we thought made sense for CA.”

The result was the CA Accelerator; an internal lean startup program designed to let the companies own staff experiment, innovate, and ultimately help the company in one way or another.

From pitch to success

The process is simple: any CA employee can pitch an idea via a one-page lean canvas. This A4 pitch outlines the hypothesis on who the customer is, what problem they have, what the solution might look like. If it passes the initial inspection, the fate of the project is decided in half an hour.

“We give them 10 minutes of uninterrupted time to give us their presentation, walk us through their lean canvas, any background they think we need,” Abrams says. “And then we ask questions for 10 minutes, clarify exactly that we understand it. And then once they leave the room we'll spend 10 minutes arguing about whether we think it's a good fit or not.”

After a successful pitch, the founders are taken out of their current roles so they can focus on their projects full time, given some cash and people, and essentially sent off into the world. CA provide some of the essentials; some help with marketing, HR, finance, legal, the kind of stuff that can easily bog down fledgling companies and prevent them actually working on their ideas.

“We didn't want to make it big process, heavyweight, that impedes their ability to innovate. [We wanted to] make it as lightweight as possible but still give teams some guidance, a little bit of guard rails, and something to look forwards to, something to head towards, their next step.”

While there’s no set limits on what can be pitched, the idea is that it generally fits in the general CA ethos. Abrams does joke, however, that Berkes might make an exception if someone comes up with a new kind of Xbox.

While the company has an open mind there are some things the company does look for: Machine Learning, IoT, and Containers, for example, and occasionally CA requests proposals and pitches around certain technologies.

“But if we only did that, if we only said we only look for these things, then we miss out on things that might not have seen the light of day if we didn't give them an audience and place to experiment.”

“InstantAgenda [see below] is not exactly CA's standard business. The customer set is much broader - it's people who have meetings, so it's a pretty broad audience - but it still ties into the mission for CA; helping our customers be more efficient, be more agile. So it ties in that way even though it's a different customer segment, a different end product.”

 Project Jarvis – the first success story

The company isn’t expecting every project to be a winner. The company has already shut down a couple that haven’t worked, and expect perhaps one in 10 to be successful – a figure in line with startups out in the real world.

Project Jarvis is one such success story. Originally part of bot-detection service Forty2.io as its underlying analytics engine, it was decided that the technology could be put to use elsewhere within the wider company. 

“It was an early success,” says Abrams. “We recognized that it had broader application to the other products in CA, Ayman [Sayed, Chief Product Officer] said, “We need that in our group, we need to build on our analytics capabilities in a common way.”

Now part of CA’s App Experience Analytics product, what was previously used to help detect DDoS attacks can now be used to help improve user experience by giving developers greater insight into application performance.

CA seems to be staying flexible on what counts as a success within the Accelerator. If it doesn’t slot into a current product or business unit, the company is happy to incubate longer, maybe create a whole new unit, or even spin out a whole new business if something shows real promise in a new area.

“Our goal is to build new businesses organically that do lead to growth for CA. In a way this is an alternative to acquisitions in a sense. We can build these things faster and cheaper than going out and acquiring them.”

Learning a trade

When asked if he has a personal favourite, Abrams likens it to picking a preferred child because he “loves them all”, but does name Instant Agenda, Yippe.io and Qubeship as three he is “really excited” about.

“I’m going to get in trouble by not mentioning them all.”

While some of the projects are adopted internally – Abrams says Instant Agenda is used by many to handle meetings, and projects may get hints about which teams internally might want to use their product – there’s no mandate from CA CEO Mike Gregoire about obligatory company-wide adoption, and each startup is left to choose its own route to market.

“We try to let them do whatever they feel is best for their experiment. We give them guidance, but we don't put any restrictions.”

“Some of these teams have their own logos, and home pages, they do some advertising campaigns to test their value proposition on their web page, and run experiments on which message is resonating with which customer sets, we let them do all that stuff.”

Given the often sluggish image a massive 40-year-old tech companies can often have, all this talk of innovation and startups no doubt makes CA an attractive company for tech pros with ambition.

“It’s much better for the company and much better for our talent pool: we get to keep the people; they get to learn all about how to build a new business from scratch. It's a great skill that's hard to find out in the real world, and so if we can grow those people internally and have them permeate back into the business units it's going to make us much leaner and faster.”

Ultimately, there is one badge of honour everyone in the Accelerator aims for.

“We do have one criteria; that to judge you as a success in our process you have to have a sticker on Mike's laptop!”

 

Here’s a guide to some of the startups currently residing inside CA’s Accelerator. Could one of these be the next major business unit within CA, the next piece of technology to make the whole company better, or even be the next Docker-esque spin-off?

 

Waffle.io

The veteran of the program and one of the main reasons CA even has an accelerator, Colorado-homed Waffle is probably the poster child for all the others to aspire to. Started by a team of interns in 2013 while still part of Rally, Waffle provides automated DevOps management for GitHub projects. While speaking on stage during one of the CAWorld keynotes, founder Andrew Homeyer said it now has around 12,000 users. Promising to “reinvent project management for engineering teams by building a project management tool integrated deeply with GitHub, where developers do their work,” Waffle is looking at becoming a scalable, repeatable business.

 

Yipee.io

Yippee.io aims to jump on the container craze and streamline application development for running microservices on the technology. Joining the Accelerator in February and set up by Senior Principal Software Engineer Mark Emeis, Yippee is designed to “model, collaborate, and communicate your microservice Docker applications in an orchestration agnostic format that can be used within and between your development and operation teams.”

 

Qubeship.io

Another Container based project, Cali-based Qubeship aimed to be the first enterprise-grade Container Lifecycle Management solution. Set up by Ankur Agarwal, previously a Senior Director of DevOps and Cloud Management, because there was a lack of solutions and best practices around deploying containers in enterprise environments, Qubeship aims to simplify the management of containers from code to production. By offering a fully-rounded out-of the-box package, Qubeship hopes to save enterprises the cost and effort of building their own internal container management tools.

 

CodePilot.ai

Originally called SCM Analytics and focused on post development, Texas-based CodePilot shifted focus once it joined the CA Accelerator in April to provide more real-time assistance to software devs. Originally started in 2015 by Product Management Director Ian Kelly, CP is billed as a “Virtual Coding Assistant”, this startup uses machine learning to provide the right information at the right time as you encounter problems during development.

 

Instant Agenda

Another one based out of Colorado, Instant Agenda sits outside CA’s traditional remit. The ‘SaaS-based agile meeting facilitator and moderator’ aims to provide a framework for keeping meetings precise and on-track. Conceived during a hackathon in Spring 2015 by former Rally-er Michael Ball-Marian and in the program since July of this year, IA “helps users keep time, stay focused, take notes and action items and send good follow-ups.”

 

WhoZoo

Another one slightly out of CA’s normal comfort zone, Virginia-based WhoZoo aims to help you source the right people for the job. Founded by Senior Principal Product Manager Simon Cockayne, WhoZoo “uses analytics of the behaviors and actions of people to build up a rich picture of people and how they truly work together.” Only started in August, the mobile app aims to not only help you find the people within your company for the right skills for your project, but also how well they work together.

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Dan Swinhoe

Dan is Senior Staff Writer at IDG Connect. Writes about all manner of tech, from driverless cars , AI, and Green IT to Cloudy stuff, security, and IoT. Dislikes autoplay ads/videos and garbage written about 'milliennials'.  

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