After college, Chip Pearson intended to make use of his geography degree from the University of Minnesota. However, a stint in Portland and Seattle in the mid-1990s diverted his career toward information technology instead. By 2002, he had co-founded one of the Twin Cities’ most successful technology companies.
Jamf, which Pearson co-founded with Zach Halmstad, creates software for businesses to manage Apple devices. Jamf Pro, for example, allows IT departments to purchase and pre-configure apps in bulk across their team’s devices and to make sure all devices have the right updates and security settings installed.
Jamf started out as a two-person collaboration between Pearson and Halmstad. Today, Jamf has more than 800 employees, Pearson estimates, and manages more than nine million Apple devices worldwide. The company had 2016 revenue of more than $110 million, a number that grew by 30 percent in 2017 though the company didn’t release exact revenue numbers for that year. They count 17 of the 25 largest Fortune 500 companies as clients, as well as more than 6,000 K-12 schools and higher education institutions.
In the early days of the company, Pearson and Halmstad worked out of coffee shops and answered their phones day and night to provide customer support. Halmstad wrote the code, Pearson focused on marketing. Once the product began to sell, they moved on to their next challenge: hiring and building a team.
Pearson and Halstad waited until they had six months salary for each hire before bringing team members on, a practice they continued throughout the growth of their company. Once the team began to expand, they also began the process of building a company culture. They started writing down policies and communicating them more formally, and once they hit 50 people, they began leading formalized training for classes of new hires instead of onboarding one or two employees at a time.
As he focused on bringing people from different backgrounds to work together in a cohesive unit, Pearson drew on his experience serving in the Minnesota National Guard from 1989 to 1998. “When you’re in the military, you don’t necessarily pick the people you’re around. You’re just slotted in with them and you have to make it work,” he said. The same was true for running a company.
Pearson found that having clear, well-defined expectations around company objectives and the order of operations translated well from the military to the business realm. He led Monday morning briefings on where the company was at, akin to a commander’s intelligence briefing. In part, his approach to information was inspired by retired U.S. Army General Stanley McChrystal, commander of United States and international forces in Afghanistan until 2010. General McChrystal emphasized the importance of making sure everyone serving under him had a clear picture of what was going on so they could make independent decisions.
Other important culture-building decisions included certifying every Jamf employee in the product. In software companies, Pearson noticed, a two-class system frequently emerged between those who worked directly with the product and those in support roles like human resources or legal. “You didn’t really have the same vocabulary, and that started to create a little bit of a rift,” Pearson said. If in the Marines everybody is a rifleman, than at Jamf, everybody would be able to deploy Jamf’s software, including receptionists and lawyers.
Another major culture building decision was to bring every new employee to the Twin Cities for a month for a company boot camp, including remote employees from around the world. In the first week, new employees learned the company’s history, values, and goals. In the following week, they received their product certification training. In the final two weeks, new employees worked with their counterparts in the Minneapolis or Eau Claire offices to build camaraderie and eliminate separation between office people and field people.
The company hired based on values rather than skills. “You can’t take a skilled person and change their values,” Pearson said, but you can take a person with good values and teach them the required skills. “At one point, we would turn away 43 people for each hire. If we couldn’t find someone who fit our values, we would leave the job open until we did.”
They found especially good luck hiring musicians, farm kids, and veterans.
Though the company started out as a bootstrapped endeavor with strong operating numbers, they eventually took on investments that delivered additional cash and desirable board members. They raised $3 million in Series A funding from Quest Software in 2010, and in 2013 raised a Series B round worth $30 million from Summit Partners. Pearson and Halmstad continued to run the company as co-CEOs until 2015, when they replaced themselves by hiring Dean Hager, the company’s current CEO.
In 2017, the company received a majority investment by Vista Equity and Pearson and Halmstad reduced their involvement even further. Today, Pearson has a key card for the office but he spends most of his time volunteering, working with beta.mn, refreshing his local professional network, and spending time with his wife and son. He enjoys mountain biking, gardening, and spending time in nature, and recently took a trip to Wyoming to camp and mountain bike.