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ZenHub brings automation to collaboration with GitHub projects

When a digital platform becomes so ubiquitous that it spawns other businesses, you know something big is happening. Just as Uber and his colleagues have fueled a number of startups targeting passengers, GitHub creates lucrative opportunities for entrepreneurs in the DevOps space.

Over the past six years, the project management and collaboration tool from the Canadian SaaS company ZenHub has been integrated into the GitHub interface, which can be accessed via a browser extension or – for those who are less comfortable working directly in GitHub – in a stand-alone web App. Through ZenHub, GitHub users can create project roadmaps and reports, and create task boards to visualize problems and track dependencies.

Above: ZenHub workspaces

Today ZenHub is adding new automated smarts that allow developers to spend more time coding and less coordinating.

Automate workflows

While GitHub already supports workflow automation through actions and other automated tools, this area mainly focuses on software delivery rather than project management and coordination, which ZenHub comes into play with.

With the automated workflows introduced today, ZenHub aims to give developers the ability to manually delegate work to other teams. This means users can visualize all the different boards and workspaces, pre-configure issues (via GitHub’s task and bug tracking functionality), and pull requests (with notifications to review code changes) to automatically switch between different teams’ workspaces .

“When the same problem occurs in multiple team workspaces in ZenHub, automated workflows can update the location of that problem based on action taken by another team,” ZenHub co-founder Aaron Upright told VentureBeat.

When an engineering development team has closed an issue and wants to pass it on to the design or quality assurance (QA) team, for example, they can choose to make this transition automatically by tapping a few boxes in the ZenHub user interface and clicking “Connect.” “

Above: Automated workflows

If an issue fails in the QA phase, it can be automatically reset to In Progress in the development team workspace and removed from the QA team’s queue.

Above: Automated workflows: moving a problem back to the development team for work

While this may seem like an incremental upgrade, on larger projects with numerous developers and back and forth interactions, the time savings can be significant.

“Each handover creates the potential for delays if the status of a task is not properly communicated,” said Upright. “To avoid these potential delays, teams are typically forced to schedule handover meetings or to clutter the team with messages and notifications. Automated workflows put an end to this by allowing tasks to be moved in one team’s workspace to trigger tasks to be moved in another team’s workspace. “

Ultimately, automated workflows ensure that the task status is always up to date. While the first iteration of the product is a little like IFTTT in terms of manual configuration, it might be possible to add smarter elements later using machine learning.

“Future versions of this could automatically suggest pipeline mappings based on general patterns we see in our data set or where we can identify similar or identical pipeline names,” said Upright.


ZenHub was founded out of Vancouver and has gained around 2,400 paying customers since its launch in 2014, including well-known customers like Microsoft, Adobe, Comcast, Docker, Cisco and SAP. And that under full bootstrap. The company employs a relatively modest 32 full-time workers in Canada, with a few remote workers in the US and Ireland.

ZenHub said it was profitable despite reinvesting most of its earnings. Although the startup does not require outside capital, Upright said it is “open to discussion” if the right investor comes along. “I believe that who you raise is more important than anything,” he said.

Most of ZenHub’s revenue comes from direct subscriptions through the website. However, ZenHub is also listed on the GitHub marketplace, where companies can purchase add-ons for their GitHub subscriptions. GitHub cuts sales by 25%. According to Upright, ZenHub has the second largest number of installs on the GitHub marketplace.

Given ZenHub’s close relationship with GitHub, which Microsoft acquired for $ 7.5 billion in 2018, an acquisition is out of the question. In fact, GitHub has already made five acquisitions in its two years at Microsoft. For a startup founder, Upright was untypically open to such a prospect.

“We have a great relationship with [GitHub CEO Nat Friedman] and the GitHub executive team and have had several conversations about how software development is moving, ”he said. “While we’re not trying to plan an acquisition, it could be a natural exit path for ZenHub. As a founder, my approach to every acquisition is to optimize one that will allow us to continue living our mission and further improve the lives of developers. Both GitHub and Microsoft could be great places to do this. “

Such a deal, of course, can never go through, and ZenHub is currently going an independent path. Any platform that relies too heavily on a third party is at risk. As a private company, GitHub (or Microsoft) could theoretically replicate any functionality they wanted.

“While this is always a risk we look out for, we’ve seen most of GitHub’s focus so far on improving parts of the core developer experience,” said Upright. “From an ecosystem perspective, GitHub has always taken a best-of-breed approach: building the basics yourself, but relying on their ecosystem partners to improve and enhance the customer experience.”

A number of companies are building significant businesses based on GitHub and similar platforms. London-based Snyk raised a whopping $ 200 million valued at $ 2.6 billion last week to help developers find vulnerabilities in code hosted on GitHub and other repositories. Paris-based GitGuardian, which raised $ 12 million last year from notable backers like GitHub co-founder Scott Chacon, created a platform that allows developers to find sensitive data hidden in GitHub public and private repositories are.

While nothing suggests the GitHub partnership is going to go wrong, ZenHub might be wise to split its proverbial eggs across multiple baskets and support other platforms.

“We believe there are many ways to integrate with other places developers spend time,” said Upright. “This includes IDEs [integrated development environments], other tools and source control platforms like GitLab and BitBucket. [There are] No short term plans, but it’s definitely in our short to medium term plans. “

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