I had the privilege of attending an informal presentation by Marten Mickos, CEO of MySQL, last week at SAP Labs. Marten was his usual candid self, and spoke frankly about the challenges of making money in Open Source, why MySQL sold to Sun and the ups and downs after the acquisition closed. Key takeaways:
- Open Source really is a smarter way to create software; somewhat because of community code contribution, but even more because the omnipresent threat of public scrutiny makes everybody produce better software
- By trying to buy Yahoo, which is built mostly on Open Source tools, even Microsoft has indirectly affirmed the value and longevity of Open Source. Nokia's acquisition of Symbian and subsequent open-sourcing of its software, and Oracle's acquisition of InnoDB and BerkeleyDB are other affirmations.
- You can't build Open Source businesses on services and support alone; the love and passion of your users is great, but open checkbooks are even better.
- Nothing sells itself. Not Coke, not Pepsi, and certainly not software, Open Source or proprietary. Most Open Source companies underestimate the need for a sales-force that can generate lucrative leads and close meaningful deals, and that's why so few Open Source companies make money
- Sun buying MySQL made MySQL much more appealing to big enterprises - they appreciate the backing and commitment of a large player. This is reflected in the warmer reception MySQL's sales team gets at large accounts
- MySQL sold to Sun instead of going public for a couple of reasons, but the most important one, apart from the immediate financial return, was the great cultural fit with a company whose tagline is "The Network is the Computer" - ideal for MySQL, which has long billed itself as the database for the Web
- As the software industry matures and buyers get more power vis-a-vis vendors, software providers will have to cooperate more in a bid to provide workable solutions rather than shelfware. Sun is already doing this in its relationships with Oracle, IBM, HP ...