Evan Henshaw-Plath is one of those entrepreneurs who’s surprisingly under the radar in comparison to the integral role he’s played in the development of some key web tools — he was the first employee and lead architect of Odeo, which later became Twitter, and was the architect of Yahoo Brickhouse’s Fire Eagle location platform. But perhaps he won’t be undercover for much longer: Henshaw-Plath has sold his 20-person Uruguay-based Ruby on Rails development shop, called Cubox, to New Context, the lean software consultancy that includes Eric Ries as a partner.
The companies didn’t announce terms of the deal, but Henshaw-Plath will become CTO of New Context. New Context is a subsidiary of Digital Garage, the Japanese internet and media company that was an early investor in Twitter and Path. Digital Garage launched New Context just a few months ago.
Henshaw-Plath tells me in an interview that New Context was interested in Cubox because it was looking for an agile development shop focused on working with lean startup clients. It wanted a shop with an ability to do test-driven development, focus on short release cycles, and contribute to open source. The idea is to be able to offer “customer development as a service” — an emerging trend in the development world.
Development as a service could actually have a large effect on startups and Silicon Valley — picture what cloud computing has done for startup web architecture, but apply it to a startup’s business, design and development. Henshaw-Plath says “we realized that building a startup isn’t just about creating it’s code, you need to have a better process around building the business. The concept of a lean startup is that way of doing it.”
Henshaw-Plath actually isn’t so under-the-radar if you hang in the right circles. He’s got a bit of a cult following. He’s an uber nice guy — always trying to help people out, one friend told me — and a geek’s geek. He met up with Digital Garage in Japan during one of Dave McClure’s Geeks on a Plane trips, and I met Henshaw-Plath on the Geeks on a Plane trip to Latin America (and was super bummed that I missed his Uruguay tour). Now within the Lean Startup environment, he’ll also be using his growing influence to help create conferences and give talks.
Now, you’re probably thinking, “Wait, there’s a hot development market in Uruguay?”. Yep. And although it might seem like an unusual place to run a dev shop, it’s actually got a lot of strong resources for a budding development community. The country has provided free laptops for every school child, offers free broadband for everyone, and provides tax breaks to encourage the development of the software industry. It’s also on a similar time zone as the United States, so a U.S. firm working with Uruguay-based developers faces less early-morning or late-night Skype calls, compared to working with a shop in India or Eastern Europe. The country also has a high quality of life, a low crime rate, and transparent business climate — you know, all that good stuff for encouraging business climates.
Henshaw-Plath moved to Uruguay a few years ago with his wife (who’s from Uruguay) as a change of pace from the Valley. After freelancing and opening up a co-working space in the country, he says he “fell into running a consulting company,” and founded Cubox in 2008. He’s been splitting his time between Uruguay and Portland ever since, but will probably spend more time on the west coast as CTO of New Context.
Image courtesy of Robert Michael Murray.