Interview with Stu Stern, Gorilla Logic

Yesterday, Boulder-based Gorilla Logic ( announced a new version of its popular, open source mobile app testing tool, FoneMonkey, for the Android platform. We had the opportunity recently to chat with Stu Stern, President and CEO of the company, to learn more about how consulting firms like Gorilla Logic have been reshaping the software development world with their open source tools.

Tell us about Gorilla Logic, and how you guys started?

Stu Stern: We're an enterprise application development firm, providing software consulting services mainly to Fortune 500 companies. We were founded in 2002 by myself and some of my fellow executives at Sun Microsystems. I ran Java consulting worldwide at Sun, and my co-founder, Ed Schwarz, ran e-commerce consulting. Our CFO, Hank Harris ran telecom consulting at sun. We're all a bunch of Sun refugees. Prior to Sun, Ed and I were both Wall Street computer guys, so we've been doing this a long time. I've got almost 30 years now as both senior executives of a global organization, with hundreds of people in many countries, but left sun in 2002 to start Gorilla Logic. We're an $8.5 million company nowadays, with more than 50 engineers, and we are focused on delivering enterprise applications. We have a heavy enterprise focused, and also are very focused on web and mobile apps. We do complete design, development, deployment, and management of enterprise apps across many industries. We don't have any particular industry focus, but we have big customers in financial services, telecom, media, and transportation, including people like NBC Universal, Zappos, Skype, Chrysler, and Frontier Airlines. We provide everything from a website, soup to nuts, and mainly for large companies.

You also have a big open source component to what you do, don't you?

Stu Stern: We've also sponsored many open source projects. We started up in open source with testing tools for advanced user interface testing, starting with Adobe Flex, the Flash-based UI technology. We've also got tools to help build fancy user interfaces for iOS. Our iOS tool FoneMonkey, is probably the most widely used testing automation tool for iPhone and iPad apps. We'll also be making an announcement in two weeks about our Android testing tool, bringing what we've been doing with Adobe Flex and iOS, and providing the same sort of functionality for Android. All of those tools do recording and playback of the user interface. You can instrument your application with our tool, and start interacting with your applications, and then later play back what you've done, so you can automate, rather than repetitively testing your app manually. Instead, you can record, test, and replay it to make sure you haven't broken anything. All of those tools are free and open source, and we provide our consulting services around those tools. It's a very rapidly growing line of business.

How did you go from consulting to open source?

Stu Stern: We started when we developed our first tool, FlexMonkey. We came out with that out of our own needs. We're pretty serious about Agile development around here, and we made the observation years ago that you can't do Agile incrementally, without a way to do automated testing. With Agile, one of the big tenets is that you don't over-engineer your software to anticipate things you think you might need in six months, because as priority shifts and market shifts, you might wind up doing something completely different. With Agile development, you focus on the problem at hand, and not over-engineering the solution. The corollary to that is, six months down the road, you might end up with something you didn't anticipate, and you end up having to make fundamental changes to your software. That's a tradeoff with not trying to think everything through upfront and being Agile. Because you might have to make those major changes to your software, without some way to automate testing you have a tough time figure out if you're breaking anything. It's arguably insane to use real Agile development without some kind of robust automated software testing, to automate regression testing. That's referred to as refactoring--changing your code to meet new requirements, and also not breaking everything that previously worked.

We started working with the web, and there are good tools there for functionality testing. But, when we started getting into rich application development, we found there is nothing out there for doing this kind of regression testing for rich applications. We started developing the tool for ourselves internally, and once we got to the point of it being fully featured, we figured out how valuable it was, so we put it out as an open source project. There was not much strategy at that point, it was really driven by developing it for internal use, and we just threw it out on the web. But, we were gratified by the response and invested in driving it forward, because we found it was driving a lot of business for us and brand awareness of Gorilla Logic in the Flex development space. We suddenly found that people knew who we were, and felt we were leading in the development community around Flex, and that drove lots of Flex consulting---not in testing, even though we're into some of that--but large Flex development projects. Those customers all were seeking our assistance, because we had established lots of credibility with our project.

How did you decide to do the same thing for iOS?

Stu Stern: With iOS, it was a very deliberate decision. There were no good tools to provide that automated functionality and regression testing for iPhone apps, and we needed the tool ourselves. We decided to put it out as open source, to do the same things for us, and so we did it again and were very gratified. It was the first out there for iOS, and continues to be out front, and nothing does what FoneMonkey does for native iOS. It's similar with Android, where there is a complete vacuum. It really is not an overstatement to say that we own the mobile testing space, because there are just not any tools at all. We're not just the best free tools out there, we're the only tools out there that provides this kind of capability to record, playback, test, and generate scripts from that recording. We provide a very complete testing solution for mobile apps, and what is very unique in the industry is that they are free and open source. From that perspective, we've destroyed the incentive for others to invest in the area, if they were looking to develop something. It's hard to compete with free, so that's one part of the reason there are not any tools we compete with.

Does the fact your business model is consulting really make it possible for you to be developing and releasing free tools?

Stu Stern: Tools have become a less and less interesting place for companies to invest. There is so much open source out there, and most development tools are free these days. So, really, the consulting model makes more sense. Most tool development now is being driven by consulting companies, who are providing consulting services directly related, or a little bit indirectly related to those tools. For us, it has driven a tremendous amount of mobile development consulting, and not necessarily around testing. It's just established brand awareness for us, showing our technical depth in iOS and Android development, and brings us business.

There are many ex-Sun employees who have started up their own companies here. How difficult was it for you and your partners to embark on your own?

Stu Stern: Ed and I have both spent our careers in large companies. Prior to Sun, I was an executive at Paine Webber, which is now UBS, running the technology on the equity and trading floor there, in a real-time trading environment. After years of supporting traders on the floor I had had enough. I was more interested in technology, so I joined Sun. This was right before it became the juggernaut of the late 90's. I had been a big user of Sun on the trading floor, and went from big finance to a big technology company. But, I found that both experiences were very frustrating. If you've worked in any large Fortune 500 company, in an executive position, it's very politically charged. You spend lots of times jockeying for control of your domain, as opposed to what I wanted to do, in my case, which was focusing on technology, where my passion is. Running a consulting organization and building a global organization, and interacting with engineers was very gratifying. But, the constant politics of a large company, with people always coming after your turf made me decide I had enough.

Plus, the bubble was really not a good thing for Sun. When the bubble burst, Sun never came back. The bubble destroyed Sun's culture, which for years had been a huge company which was able to maintain a startup culture. However, when Sun started to bring in GE management practice, such as forced rankings, it brought in everything that had disgusted me about my job on Wall Street. It became a miserable place in the end. We all kind of left screaming for sun. I'm only half joking calling us refugees from Sun. We weren't laid off, we just had enough. We started Gorilla Logic as a product company, which eventually evolved into consulting when we couldn't get our product off the ground. All of our experience consulting made it very natural to move into consulting.

We definitely left Sun very happily, and were very excited to be embarking on a startup. I've found it personally very fulfilling and satisfying to run this company, and building this company.

What aspects of your company are you most proud of?

Stu Stern: It's a very geeky place and guys who run this. We're a bunch of senior executive, who understand running business, but have a passion about being geeks. I wrote the original version of FoneMonkey myself, and although I spend the majority of my day-to-day basis running the company, I'm still writing code. It's similar with Ed. That geekiness pervades the company. If you look at our messaging, we talk about how the answer is not more monkeys--give me gorillas. I think it's a funny line, and it works well wit our name. But we're serious about this. As geeks ourselves, we understand that there's a big difference between a talented geek and the average geek. We want to be able to attract, find, and retain the "gorilla" people, because we understand what drives them, and what satisfies them. Our culture is a very happy place for extremely geeky people to work. We've got extremely talented people working here, engaged to do very complex work for people, and who get to work on very interesting products. Customers come to us when they need that talent. We're not the cheapest guys out there--there are many bodies lots cheaper than us -- but customers who have a hard problem to solve, bring it to the table. I love the life we're living together at Gorilla Logic. It was an easy decision to make in 2002, because we knew we wanted to do something else, be geeks, and not have to do that in a large, political environment.