Sramana Mitra: How much of your leads come from open source customers who have bought your core platform and then you get in and sell them applications?
Patrick Sullivan: A lot of our leads come from word of mouth. It woulld usually be an engineer who works at one company and then transfers to another company. Early on, we had a hard time because when customers heard open source, they’d assume it’s inferior. It’s interesting how over the last couple of years, that mindset has drastically changed. Open source means they can build anything they want on top of it.
In 2009, if you talked to people about open source, people would literally tell you no. We got that comment from a lot of major companies. In 2017, people embrace it. Even Oracle is now talking about how they support open source. These major corporations are really starting to embrace the open source communities. A lot of companies look at open source first before looking at the expensive ones.
Sramana Mitra: You described your product strategy very well. What else is interesting strategically in how you’ve built the company?
Patrick Sullivan: I don’t know if this works for other people. At the start, we had no money. Our support system was built in-house. We took an open source CRM and customized it. We couldn’t really afford to buy anything. This was probably 2013. We made a decision that we wanted to upgrade our community software. One of our consultants suggested that there are a lot of good forum companies.
It was really expensive. We were convinced that because we were paying all this money, our community is going to grow. The sales person told us everything we wanted to hear. When we got the system implemented, it was lacking a lot of the fundamental functionality that we needed.
Sramana Mitra: If you start building everything under the sun, you will never be able to take control of this.
Patrick Sullivan: I agree with you. You have to be careful about what you choose to go after and build internally and what you go out to buy. There are a lot of good products out there to buy. We ended up taking an open source platform and built on top of that. By building this community, it’s a thousand times better.
Sramana Mitra: The point that you’re really making is some types of software, at various points in history, have been very expensive for a small company to buy.
Patrick Sullivan: That’s what I’m trying to get to. If it’s something that’s so important, when you go out there to look for solutions, make sure you vet them. We were naive. We use Zendesk. Zendesk was decent but it wasn’t what we needed. Instead of replacing Zendesk, we built a whole interface on top of Zendesk which is customized to what we really need. It was a good decision. The sales people out there are good. They’ll sell you the world. Be wary about that.
Sramana Mitra: In our community, what we use the most is various kinds of cloud software. You can get trial accounts for that. That’s basically one of the requirements of buying software these days – people can use it.
Patrick Sullivan: I agree with you. Every day, it becomes easier for entrepreneurs. That’s what’s becoming great. Entrepreneurs don’t need to go out to venture capitalists and get $2 million upfront.
Sramana Mitra: Our program is heavily grounded in the realities of bootstrapping. Even if people go on to raise money, they’re raising money afterwards. Thank you for your time.