Thursday, November 29, 2007

Scaling a Software Business (open source or otherwise)

OK, I've grabbed the bait Savio Rodrigues (of Big Blue fame) has cast for me. Savio's a good guy and we've traded opinions in the past, so here we go again.

Savio asserts "The OSS business model is great to grow from $0-$50M, but very difficult if you're trying to get to $100M.".

In my inimitable Philly style, my response is: Dude, that same statement can be made of most software companies, open source or not.

Let me use Princeton Softech (non open source) as an example. I was there before JBoss, and my focus was to help them grow to $50M and beyond. So I helped build and launch their database archiving solutions for Oracle E-Business, PeopleSoft, Siebel, and JD Edwards. In order to scale the business, we expanded our footprint beyond the generic archiving solution, to application-specific solutions. This scaled the business and increased valuation enough to entice your Big Blue to buy them be sure to treat my friends well! ;-)

So let me now use JBoss and Red Hat as examples.

To establish and build the business, you've got to start with great technology and A players. You then need to focus your business model on selling the right stuff. In the case of JBoss, we sold 75% subscriptions, 15% training, 10% consulting. Why? Because subscriptions have higher margins than training and consulting.

Once you've got momentum going on one product, you scale the business by:
  • Expanding your footprint (new products, product lines, solutions, etc.)

  • Expanding your reach (channel business, partners, geographies, etc.)
The focus when I joined JBoss in 2004 was to grow the footprint beyond the application server into a full middleware suite of products (Hibernate, JBoss jBPM, JBoss Rules, JBoss Portal, etc.). Add in our upcoming SOA Platform (based on JBoss ESB), and the fact we added MetaMatrix earlier this year, and you've got a nice footprint.

On top of that, Red Hat has a pretty cool strategy for the RHEL business, has a solid Channel focus that includes JBoss, and offers a global reach.

All of that adds up to a multi-product line company with decent reach. You take that into customer conversations and you're able to drive strategic decisions rather than single product discussions.

[Added on Dec 1]
To those who think “The support-only OSS business model does not scale.”. Uhhh…I disagree. It may take a while to build up a base, but once you do and you can keep renewals at a good level, it’s a very scalable model. It's actually quite similar to the maintence revenues traditional software companies treasure. The subscription model is the gift that gives day in/day out.

IBM is famous for its 10 year strategies, so I encourage you to visualize this over the long term and let me know if you're still having problems seeing the model scale.

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