Harness snags Split.io as it goes all in on feature flags and experiments

DevOps startup Harness has shown itself to be an ambitious company, building a broad platform of services while also dabbling in M&A when it made sense to fill in functionality. On Wednesday, the company announced it was ready for a much bigger M&A bite, acquiring feature flag startup Split.io for an undisclosed amount of money.

Harness founder and CEO Jyoti Bansal admits Split is a bigger company than he has purchased in the past, without revealing the purchase price. It’s worth noting, however, that Split raised over $100 million before the sale was announced today.

“The feature flag is a way for developers to roll out a new feature and control who gets access to it, so you can reduce the risk of a new code change,” Bansal told TechCrunch.

So what does Split have to offer that Harness’ organically developed feature flag tool is missing? Well, quite a bit, according to Bansal.

“We launched our feature flag on our platform in 2021. But we're very excited to bring Split in and combine it with the Harness platform. Split has been one of the most advanced and mature feature flagging capabilities,” he said. “Where Split does an excellent job is allowing developers to run experiments on it. For example, they can run experiments on 1% of the users to see what kind of impact it has on conversion rates on the app.”

Forrester analyst Christopher Condo says that’s a key sophisticated differentiator for Split. “It enables users to perform audience segmentation in combination with a feature flag, and, very importantly, Split has a statistical engine for running comparative experiments in production,” he said.

Brian Bell, CEO at Split, says the idea of combining with the Harness DevOps platform was attractive in a maturing market. “What's happened in the market is that it's continued to mature. I mean, it's still a massive market. It's still early in the evolution of that market. You have every developer waking up, if they haven't already, to realize that you can't really write code reliably, and you can't do it quickly if you don't have a really powerful feature management platform,” Bell said.

The company's primary competitor in this space is LaunchDarkly, which has raised over $330 million.

How this is going to impact Split customers, especially those who are using a different DevOps platform, remains to be seen, says Condo. “For a customer that already has a DevOps tool chain in place, I think their biggest questions should be how this merger will impact Split’s pricing, quality and service,” Condo told TechCrunch.

“It will be interesting to see if Harness can sell additional modules to Split users, such as some of their capabilities related to FinOps. As for staying independent, the general trend is consolidation in the DevOps space, so no customer should be surprised if the best-of-breed tool they are using gets acquired by one of the big tool vendors.”

Bell believes he’s done right by customers, investors and employees. He says that most employees hadn’t heard about it when we spoke last week because it wasn’t officially announced yet, but those that had were excited about the outcome.

“Is this the right thing for customers? I think it absolutely is. And investors too. I mean, investors are bullish on the market. I don't think we're disclosing the structure of the deal, but they're excited about this, about us and they're very happy with this outcome in this market,” he said.