The Future of Apple & Enterprise IT: Q&A With JAMF Software Founder

Zach Halmstad was an Apple loyalist before it was cool.

He founded JAMF Software in 2002 after developing enterprise tools for Mac computers as part of an IT job at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, where he was studying music.

Today, JAMF—which is headquartered in Minneapolis but has significant operations in Eau Claire—has more than $52 million in annual revenue, more than 5,500 customers, nearly 500 employees, and just opened its eighth office, in Poland. The company helps businesses set up and manage Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL) computers and mobile devices that employees use for work.

Halmstad co-led the company until earlier this year, when Dean Hager was named CEO. Halmstad is now a JAMF partner focused on product strategy.

Halmstad was among the headline speakers at last week’s Wisconsin Early Stage Symposium. Afterwards, he sat down with Xconomy to chat about JAMF, business users’ demand for Macs, and where Apple might go from here. The following interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.

Xconomy: When you started JAMF 13 years ago, Apple had something of a cult following, and its logo was nowhere near as ubiquitous as it is today. Did you consider yourself an “Apple person” back then?

Zach Halmstad: I did. I started working with computers in high school. I was working with music software, and the majority of that was on the Mac at the time. When I got the [IT] job in college, I had a fair amount of knowledge about the platform already.

X: During JAMF’s 13-year lifetime, Apple has become the biggest company in the world, as measured by market cap. Do you think JAMF, which focuses entirely on Apple products, was the beneficiary of great timing?

ZH: In a lot of ways, yeah. When JAMF was founded in 2002, from a revenue standpoint, it was Apple’s worst year in the last 26 years. We were definitely not jumping on the bandwagon of the biggest company in the world. We were jumping on the bandwagon of something that we believed in and wanted to see succeed. By the time Apple started to become more popular, maybe in the 2007 time frame, we had five years of technology built. We were lucky from that standpoint that we really did have a focus way before anyone else really viewed them as a sexy company to build for.

X: Were Macs viewed as computers for geeks and creative types, rather than businesspeople, during that time?

ZH: Everyone told us, “If you want to be a real company, you have to support Windows, too.” We loved what Apple was doing and really believed in their mentality of putting humans first in the technology equation. Steve Jobs used the phrase, “humanizing technology,” and that’s always rung really true to us as we try to do the things that are most intuitive to people.

In reality, technology is something that’s supposed to make their jobs easier. If they’re focused on getting technology to work, we’re failing them in the sense that they’re focusing on things that don’t actually move their field forward.

X: JAMF didn’t accept any outside capital in its first eight years. Was it a struggle being entirely bootstrapped during that period?

ZH: Yeah, I mean, we didn’t get paid for five years.

X: How did you pull that off?

ZH: Well, we did some consulting work on the side. But for me personally, one of the great things was that living in Wisconsin was very cheap. My mortgage was more like a car payment, so I didn’t have to work that many jobs to make ends meet. I was able to dedicate a ton of time to JAMF without getting a paycheck back.

X: During an earnings call last month, Apple CFO Luca Maestri said that at IBM (NYSE: IBM), a JAMF customer, “over 30,000 Macs [have been] deployed within the company, with 1,900 more being added each week.” Why do you think IBM is becoming more Apple-friendly?

ZH: IBM is listening to its customers. They have a huge worldwide customer base, and customers are starting to want to focus on their users. At JAMF, starting around 2007, companies have come to us and said, “We need to support Macs because we can’t attract the talent we want if we’re giving our employees Windows computers.” That’s just the way a lot of the world is going right now. They see the need out there.

X: Is the popular perception still that Windows is the operating system for businesses?

ZH: It’s still out there in big pockets, but it’s changing rapidly. I think it’s a very antiquated way of looking at technology. The more progressive IT departments that look at themselves as moving their businesses forward are focused on user experience and how to make people more productive. That’s where Apple really shines inside organizations.

X: In 2010 and 2013, JAMF closed funding rounds of $3 million and $30 million, respectively. Is the company planning to raise more money soon, or anticipating an exit, either in the form of an IPO or acquisition, in the near future?

ZH: We don’t have anything like that on the roadmap right now. We’ve never worked with an exit strategy in mind. We’re out solving problems, and moving toward one of those [exits] doesn’t necessarily help us help end users solve their problems. We’ve done a lot of things to make sure those doors are open to us. But right now, I have no idea what the future holds.

X: Who do you see as your competition?

ZH: There isn’t anybody else that’s solely focused on Apple that we compete with. We have competitors on the mobile side like MobileIron (NASDAQ: MOBL) and Good Technology, which just got acquired by BlackBerry. And then we have competitors on the Mac side. But there’s nobody just focused on Apple as a platform. Depending on the customer we’re talking to and what type of Apple devices they’re using, the competitor changes on a daily basis.

X: Google parent company Alphabet (NASDAQ: GOOG) recently announced plans to combine Android and Chrome into a single operating system across computers, tablets, and smartphones. If Apple were to combine its two operating systems, would that make life easier for JAMF?

ZH: Not really, no. Apple has an operating system built from ground up to be used on computers and another operating system built from the ground up to be 100 percent touch interface. They are two very different things, and I don’t see a compelling reason to [combine them].

X: One Jobs tenet was that Apple should maintain end-to-end control over its devices, which means integrating hardware and software. Does that simplify things for JAMF’s purposes?

ZH: Absolutely. When you look at the number of form factors we support on the mobile side, it’s very small. We have a couple sizes of iPhones and a couple sizes of iPads. When you look at the number of screen sizes an Android developer has to support, the number I usually hear is between 270 and 350. It’s insane. The amount of time that, in my mind, is completely wasted on things like that is incredible.

X: What’s next for Apple? Do you think they’ll ever make a television?

ZH: I have no idea if they’ll do that. I don’t know if they have reasons to do it. If they have ways they think they can make the experience better by doing that, then yes. They will never go into something just to do it. They’re only going to do something if they can really make it better and create a unique experience for people.

X: Besides living rooms, another part of the house some observers believe Apple has set its sights on is the garage. Do you think we’ll see an iCar for sale anytime soon?

ZH: It’s really interesting to see what’s going on there. I drive a Tesla and it’s amazing to see a company take a very software-centric approach to a car. They’ve had two software updates since I bought my car that have made it faster. What Tesla (NASDAQ: TSLA) has proven is that they can make a car that is completely different from how traditional cars are built. And the things that are making Tesla successful are the same things that make Apple successful as a company. So yeah, I think it’s a spot where Apple could do incredibly cool things if they choose to fully go into it.

Jeff Buchanan is the editor of Xconomy Seattle. Email: jbuchanan@xconomy.com Follow @_jeffbuchanan

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