Jetbrains has won developer tools.
Of late, Jetbrains has:
- Introduced a subscription model on all its IDEs
- Released new Intellij 16 in just 3 months with more new features than Eclipse manages in a whole year.
- About to introduce a paid C# IDE when Microsoft has released a free Visual Studio Community version.
- Google's new Cloud Debugger was announced with an Intellij plugin, and not even a mention of Eclipse.
None of this was fathomable 5 years ago.
How did Jetbrains do this?
1. Slow and steady wins the race
10 years ago, Eclipse was such a huge force. Dev tools companies like Borland were 'eclipsed' and shut down due to Eclipse essentially killing the dev tools market on account of it being free. Jetbrains was expected to die eventually too.
However, they kept on chipping away at it. Iterating, improving, and listening to their users every year. They have now managed to eclipse Eclipse.
2. Product, Product, and only Product
It is simple. Jetbrains has the better product. For each IDE that Jetbrains offers, there exists a free alternative, whether its Eclipse, Visual Studio or Sublime Text. Some of these, like Eclipse & Visual Studio even have huge resources behind them. The reason you pay for a Jebrains' IDE is simply cause it is better.
Jetbrains is willing to wait. It is understood that v1 of any product won't be the killer version. But get to v3 or v4 and you can start to see it become a formidable product in its category. Rome wasn't built in a day, and overnight success is but a myth. Jetbrains seems to acknowledge this fact and keeps improving its product until they truly are better than the competition by a huge margin.
While this may sound like the normal thing to do, it is not how its competitors seem to work.
Visual Studio for example, does minimal updates to its IDEs on each release. The reason you buy the new version is because its supports the newest version of .Net or the latest C++ compiler. In fact, the IDE portion of Visual Studio has languished so far behind that Jetbrains makes a killing selling the Resharper plugin for Visual Studio.
Eclipse at this point has given up so much that it hasn't even bothered updating its website for years now. Its 'feature list' on the download page shows the internal ids of its various plugins.
4. Solid core tech
The reason why iteration works for Jetbrains is because they always aim to have a solid core technical foundation.
Take the C++, C# and TypeScript IDE for example. They are taking the time to write their own parsers and code analysis for each of these languages. They could have gone the easy route and used the Microsoft provided 'Language Service' or (in the case of C++) written a basic parser that just 'estimates' when it cannot parse complex code.
However, by taking the time to get things right they eventually have the best product on the market.
5. Non sexy tech
Jetbrains core tech comprises of incremental parsers and lexers written in Java rendered on a desktop using Swing APIs. There is no Big Data, Hadoop, Kafka, NodeJS or any other 'sexy' technologies in use.
They haven't made technical decisions only to serve a fad, like putting the whole IDE in the cloud.
The reason why Jetbrains has such little competition is because few startups and programmers are willing to learn and embrace non-sexy tech.
What didn't matter
1. Sales team
You buy a Jetbrains IDE because you like it. You didn't need to talk to an 'account executive' to buy it. Their sales people didn't contact your VP of Engineering to sell it your company.
2. Content Marketing
The Jetbrains blog only has product announcements. The closest they have to content marketing is a monthly Java newsletter.
This is all in stark contrast to your typical venture backed 'enterprise startup' which has 'enterprise sales' people making calls and over 50% of company budget reserved for marketing and sales.
My favorite example of this is this talk by Hadi Hariri introducing the Jetbrains Rider C# IDE. At 37:17 someone asks him to compare Rider to Visual Studio. Hadi responds by simply saying "Try it. Test it. If you feel its better use it". Just goes to show how confident Jetbrains is in its product.
Jetbrains is a unicorn that Silicon Valley doesn't like to talk about. It is fully bootstrapped, built on solid core tech, tenacious through tough times and wins by having the better product.
It is not endorsed by Paul Graham, isn't backed by Andreesen Horowitz, doesn't have a profitless business model, doesn't throw decadent $7m holiday parties, and its formed by a bunch of intellectuals, not people who wrestle over drinks in a steakhouse.
Jetbrains is the role model company that Silicon Valley startups deserve, but not the one they need right now.