Archive for March 2010
My response to Garner’s Brian Prentice’s reply to my post responding to his post got too big for a comment field… So here it is
What I care about is whether your business model creates incremental value for your intended customers. Those are the people I spend most of my time speaking to. And those are the people who clearly understand the value that Gartner provides in an increasingly open-world. What they want from us is to put vendor claims to the test – and that’s what I did in my blog…
If I have this correct, you’re saying that providing an equivalent product at 0% of the license cost is of no value? I’m skeptical.
…Believe it or not James I actually do understand the dynamics around S&M costs. I spent a good part of my career in product management, marketing and sales roles at software vendors. Those managing software companies should be concerned about these costs. But the nature of those cost structures are far more complex and entrenched than advocates of open core models make out…
I agree its complicated. I don’t doubt your claim that you understand the factors that influence proprietary software vendors. But you have no experience working for an open source vendor, and so you are starting to make (invalid) assumptions. What I don’t see in your posts is an indication that you understand the differences that exist between these business models. If you really understood these things I’m guessing you would point them out (to add value).
…And the jury is definitely out whether the open core approach will create a lasting impact. I personally think it won’t…
Let’s look at another domain that is in transition – cars. We can attempt to state that hybrid cars will create no lasting impact. This is almost certainly true given a long-enough timescale. Eventually hybrid cars will die, because, eventually, there will be no more oil. But probably, in order to get to an oil-free scenario, hybrids are vital during the transition. So can you really state ‘no lasting impact’?
Open core might be of value only during the transition from a proprieatry world to an open source one. If we ever get to an end game (20-30 years) my opinion is that open core will vital during the (long) transition
…But again James – so what? If you can lower your S&M costs you’ve increased your profit margin. Where’s the value to your clients?…
Thank you for proving my point. You don’t understand the model. We don’t lower our S&M costs to increase our profit margin. We lower our S&M costs to completely eliminate the up-front license fee. The cost of our subscription is less than the maintenance fee of the proprietary vendors, with 0% license fee. The software you previously paid $2million for, with a $400k maintenance fee, you can now get for $0 up-front and a $100k subscription. You see no value in that? Really?
…I think you should be spending more of your time blogging on that topic…
I do. You either don’t read, or don’t comprehend ;-)
…What is about open core that makes companies like Pentaho uniquely valuable as a potential supplier…
We provide an equivalent product at 0% of the license cost. Simple.
… And there’s the rub – there isn’t. …
0%. Still not compelling?
…That doesn’t doesn’t detract from your company or product. It just means you’re like every other software company out there vying for people’s business. Therefore you should be treated by those potential customers no differently…
I absolutely agree with you. From the perspective of the mainstream customer, when they come looking for a solution, they should treat every vendor the same – whether proprietary, open core, or pure-play. In fact we do best under those conditions – better than both proprietary and pure-play open source vendors.
Over to you, Brian.
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Brian Prentice at Gartner has a new post titled Open Core: The Emporer’s New Clothes – click here to read it
I met Brian at OSBC recently and chatted with him for a while about several topics including patents and Microsoft’s open source strategy. While I like Brian, and we agree on many things, I (somewhat predictably) don’t agree with this latest post.
There are some important things that are missing from his piece.
For most proprietary software companies the biggest expenses are sales and marketing.
Let’s look at a proprietary competitor in Pentaho’s market – MicroStrategy (stock symbol MSTR). In their last quarterly report they state that
- Revenue from Product Licenses $34.4m
- Revenue from Support and Services $69.6m
- Sales and Marketing (S&M) Expenses $31.5m
- Research and Development (R&D) Expenses $11.4m
- G&A Expenses $14.2m
MicroStrategy’s figures are fairly typical for an independent proprietary software vendor. You can see from these figures that R&D is the smallest expense, and S&M is the biggest. In fact the S&M expenses are more than all other expenses combined. You can see that revenue from licenses is about the same as the S&M budget. It takes almost as much money to convince people to buy the software as they get from the sales. The word ‘convince’ is important – the S&M teams have to convince companies that the software both does what they need, and is worth the cost. Each quarter the money made from selling licenses is poured into next quarter’s sales and marketing budget. It is therefore support and services where they make most of their money and all of their profit.
To re-iterate, because the S&M expenses are so high, MicroStrategy make no money selling software licenses, they make most of their money (and all of their profit) on support and services. From this perspective they sound very similar to the pure-play open source companies – who make no money selling software licenses, they make it all on support and services.
If you contrast the S&M strategy and budget of a proprietary software company with a commercial open source one you will see fundamental differences. The commercial open source company provides open source software. This software has to be be fully-functional and useful, otherwise their will be no adoption. The R&D costs of this software will be lower and, more importantly, development will be quicker than that of a proprietary company. But, as proved above, the R&D costs are the lowest costs anyway – lowering your lowest cost does not provide you with a significant benefit. The major difference is that the open source community edition of the software enables an efficient, cheap, in-bound marketing strategy instead of an expense, out-bound, enterprise marketing strategy. By switching to a primarily in-bound sales model a commercial open source company can drop its marketing budget dramatically. The reduction of the S&M budget allows the license fee to be eradicated. So the tasks and strategies of S&M in an open-core company is significantly different from those of a proprietary company.
These facts about the S&M activities of proprietary and open source companies seem to be largely ignored by many analysts and commentators:
- Tarus Balog (CEO of The OpenNMS Group), says that open core vendors use open source as a marketing gimmick. As far as I know Tarus has no prior experience running a software company so I’ll forgive him his confusion. This is no gimmick, this is a fundamental part of the business model.
- Matt Aslett (451) and Brian Prentice (Gartner) talk about code contributions and R&D practices but rarely mention S&M
I have worked my entire professional career in either proprietary software development or commercial open source software development. I have experience of the differences between these models first hand. I have only covered differences in the S&M domain. There are also numerous, significant differences in the development, QA, partnering, business development, support and service departments etc. Some of these I cover in part II of the Bees and the Trees
As I have said before, the software industry is in a transition from proprietary software, to some mix of proprietary and open source software. Is that eventual mix 0% proprietary and 100% open source? I don’t know. I do know this transition has been in progress for over a decade and has a long time (decades) to go. Maybe the open core model will only be relevant during this transitional period. But this transitional period is long, and many start-ups and existing proprietary companies have no viable way through this transition without the open core model.
Brian Prentice seems to be trying to find something to say about open source. Using invalid comparisons with ‘freemium’ and SMB strategies isn’t a good idea. Heavy-handed, one-sided statements, about an entire business model – based on seemingly incomplete knowledge of that model, doesn’t seem good either. Companies like Gartner are struggling to show value in an increasingly-open world. Brian’s latest post, in my mind, doesn’t exactly help them do that.
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After the Open Source Business Conference last week a few analysts have been chiming in on the ‘open core’ business model for commercial open source companies:
Matt’s first point is that:
The proprietary vendors are now using open source collaborative development and code to lower the costs and improve the quality of their own product development, and are better quipped to compete with open core vendors thanks to their installed base, larger resources, and product maturity.
What I don’t think Matt appreciates is that than open source business model is not just a different development strategy. Executing well using this model affects every department within a company – particularly sales and marketing. You use mass-marketing techniques instead of enterprise-sales techniques. I don’t see the large proprietary vendors changing that much. Also you have to factor in ratios of open source code to proprietary code: from 100% open in a pure-play, 80-99% in an open-core play, and 0-2% for the big proprietary vendors. If a large vendor manages to reduce their development costs by 10%, you are not going to see them drop their license fee by 80%, particularly because the license fees cover the sales and marketing costs.
Another mistake is to view the ‘product maturity’ of the incumbent proprietary vendors as an advantage for them. Some of these product are bloated, and very hard to install and configure. This is not an advantage against open source software which needs to be easily to consume – otherwise the model does not work. In many cases the large vendors want to limit (or carefully manage) access to the software before customers purchase it, because they know the experience of using it is not great.
Matt’s second point is:
The shift towards software services (SaaS, managed hosting, cloud-based delivery), where the value being delivered is via services, rather than products.
Matt’s point here is that an open-core approach is irrelevant in this environment. That’s true, but you can say the same of pure-play open source and proprietary software. Since this applies to all software development strategies I don’t see the relevance of it.
Brian’s first point is about the VC-centric nature of open source start-up in the USA:
There’s a yawning gap between the value open source provides a venture capitalist (VC) and what it provides an end user.
I think this is the wrong comparison. Brian seems to think that VC-based companies and self-funded companies have different attitudes towards making money. Having done two self-funded start-ups, and now a VC-backed one (Pentaho), I can say that we would still be using an open-core model if we were using our own money.
His second point:
Open-core is a largely a re-tread of tired, old SMB packaging strategies which have almost universally failed in the market.
This is ridiculous. An open source distribution model, and the adoption of the software by an active community, is nothing like the SMB packaging strategies of the proprietary vendors. The community and enterprise editions are marketed consistently to all companies of every size – there is no different positioning or pricing for the SMB space. Making software available for $0 and converting a small (<1%) set of the community into customers, is very different from taking a huge expensive piece of enterprise software and trying to sell a cut-down version of it for less down-market.
I’m not sure most open-core business models have been successful in building large external code contributions
Brian is fixating on code contributions – a common failure. Ignoring the other (in my opinion) 95-99% of all contributions. Take Apache Tomcat – the majority of the code has been written by a small group of people (lets assume 100), but the user base is in the millions. Certainly the software would not exist without those 100 developers, but without the large community of millions, Tomcat would be a hobby for 100 developers, nothing more.
His third point is about the companies that acquire these start-ups:
Who are those likely buyers? Increasingly it appears to be the very same established vendor community that are saying “ya, I do open source too!” So much for a compelling new business model!
When it comes to the M&A decisions and processes of large proprietary software vendors (and I’ve been through a few of these), I doubt whether the issue of ‘open-core’ or ‘pure-open’ would ever come up. It will come down to sales, brand, traction, and community. If ‘pure-play’ open source companies are as successful (or more successful), than the open-core companies, they are just as likely (or more likely) to be acquired by proprietary vendors as open-core ones. I don’t see the relevance of this point.
Recently a couple of analysts have shown confusion about dual-licensing of open source software.
A Matt Aslett (451 Group) survey shows that he was asking which business model open source companies are using ‘open-core licensing strategy’, ‘single open source license’, or ‘dual-licensing’. This make it looks like dual-licensing is an alternative to the other options.
During Brian Prentice’s (Gartner) session at OSBC last week he inter-changed the terms ‘open-core’ and ‘dual-licensing’ were the same thing.
In reality dual-licensing is not open-core or an alternative to it. Dual-licensing is the provision of the same software under two licenses, an open source one (usually GPL), and a commercial one. Dual-licensing can be applied to open source software regardless whether the company also offers proprietary software or not. So you can have an open-core model with or without dual-licensing. You can also have a pure-play open source model with or without dual-licensing.