Confidence in the Future: After sale of firm, Jamf co-founder sees upward path
In a few short years, Jamf has become one of Eau Claire’s highest-profile businesses, thanks in no small part to the firm’s new downtown office building and the community involvement pursued by the company and its co-founder, Eau Claire native Zach Halmstad. Jamf, which makes software to manage Apple devices, again made headlines last month when it announced that it had received a majority investment from Vista Equity Partners, a technology investment firm based in Austin, Texas. What does this mean for this homegrown company now that it is owned by outside investors? What opportunities does it present for the Jamf and its 700 employees, 200 of whom are in Eau Claire? Volume One talked with Halmstad about what the future holds for the company he founded, the city he calls home, and himself.
Volume One: In your own words, break down exactly what transpired between Vista and Jamf.
Zach Halmstad: We sold a majority of the shares of Jamf to Vista, which makes them the new owner of Jamf. Jamf as an entity is still exactly the same, with the same mission, vision, and values.
How did you reach the decision to sell a majority stake in the company?
We concluded that Vista’s proposal offered a great milestone for our employees, customers, and shareholders. It also keeps the Jamf brand fully intact, which is something that means a lot to me. In Vista, we felt we had a unique moment in time to partner with a company that shared a deep understanding of the software industry and what makes a great technology company. We felt other ownership options could distract us from continuing our mission, advancing our product, and serving our customers. We believe this partnership with Vista will help Jamf accelerate its mission to help organizations succeed with Apple. While we retain the possibility of going public one day, the idea of remaining an independent private company was more appealing at this time.
Beyond the infusion of capital, what are the other benefits to getting an investment like this?
Vista is a value-add investor. The have an incredible amount of expertise that they bring to the table. Jamf will now be in a family with almost 50 other high-performing software and technology companies that can be partners, customers, and allies of Jamf.
What stake in the company do you still own, if any, and what does that mean for Jamf and you?
I will continue be a significant shareholder going forward, but will not be on the board. I have not had any operating role at Jamf since Dean Hager became CEO over two years ago, so my role as a support and promoter of Jamf in the community and economy will remain the same.
What exactly will it mean to not be part of the board?
As Vista will now be the majority owner, they have control over the board. It is critical to have a board of directors that has the right skills and experience for that phase of life. Our board got pretty sophisticated by the time of the Vista transaction and I found that I was most useful as an industry connector and supporter of Jamf’s values system and org, most of which took place outside of the boardroom.
So what does your role at Jamf look like moving forward?
Over the last two-and-a-half years, since Dean Hager became CEO, my role has changed significantly, almost entirely due to my confidence in Dean and the whole Jamf org. This transition has been intentional, and I’m forever grateful to Dean for the extraordinarily smooth transition. Since I stepped out of a formal role two years ago, there won’t be a material change. I will be available for anything that Jamf wants me to help with, and will sustain relationships with all of my friends and colleagues from Jamf that I’ve made around the world.
The press release announcing the deal said it would allow Jamf to “accelerate its growth and innovation,” and in a subsequent interview Dean said, “We’re not quite an adult yet, but we’re still on the way.” What kind of growth plans does Jamf have in the near and far terms and how might that impact operations in Eau Claire?
The 2018 plans we had before Vista showed interest are the exact plans that Vista is expecting us to execute next year. This means continued hiring in all of our offices to meet these plans. We hope to be more aggressive with our growth, not less, including looking at acquisitions we might make of smaller companies.
Considering the high visibility of Jamf in Eau Claire – in terms of employment, the construction of its office, and its engagement in the community – some locals may look at this deal with uneasiness. How will it (or won’t it) change the company’s relationship to the community? And how will it change your relationship with the community?
I’ve been asked about this almost non-stop since the investment was announced. The performance of the Eau Claire office should give everyone confidence in the future here. Our Customer Success team is largely based out of Eau Claire, and they deliver better than anybody in the industry. Our customer satisfaction and customer success is one of the key attributes that drove Vista’s interest. We also have large groups of our product and engineering teams in Eau Claire, and this knowledge is incredibly valuable to our organization. I expect us to continue to grow our presence in Eau Claire.
More than anything, I believe this is an opportunity to put Eau Claire on the radar of other companies. If we continue to perform like we are, other companies should look to what we are doing, how we are doing it, and where we are doing it. Success breeds success, and we hope Jamf grows so large and respected that others will look to us as an example of what can be done from our key regions around the world.
For me, personally, it will give me an opportunity to work on some more projects that we want to see happen in Eau Claire. We are also starting a foundation that will be one of my primary focuses going forward.
Considering that you and Jamf have invested in the Eau Claire community in ways outside of Jamf’s operations – the Confluence Arts Center, hotels, restaurants – what other local endeavors are you currently or potentially interested in pursuing?
There are some new projects that we want to start exploring under Pablo [Properties], which is the company that we started to build the Jamf building, The Lismore, and to partner in the Oxbow. We have a lot of ideas that we are brainstorming on right now. We’ll continue to invest in Eau Claire, and now have a better opportunity to do that.
What has been your take on the recent increased visibility of Eau Claire’s development and culture that has played out in regional and national newspapers and websites in recent months? Do companies like Jamf gain from this type of community exposure, or is it all a flash in the pan?
I do think that Jamf benefits from the same developments that are getting Eau Claire in the news. This is why we’ve been so active in the redevelopment of downtown. It creates a better community for the employees of Jamf to live in. This year we have had at least 12 people relocate to Eau Claire, and my hope is that we continue to make it a more and more attractive city to come live in.
What’s the most important thing you want the people of Eau Claire to take away from the news of the Vista investment?
I fully expect Jamf to continue to have a long-term presence in Eau Claire, and to continue to grow. Vista is a company that invests in growing, healthy companies and is committed to strengthening the communities where their companies operate. They were interested in Jamf because of everything that we do, and the people throughout Jamf are the most important part of that. I am confident that they will be a good steward of Jamf, and we would not have entered into this agreement if we didn’t feel that way.