Funambol's mobile open-source opportunity

Funambol is sitting on a gold mine.

Tech Culture
Capo has style

I was fortunate to spend some time skiing today with Fabrizio Capobianco, CEO of mobile open-source company Funambol and a good friend. Fabrizio sees a side of open source that few of us get to see, and so has a different take on many of the issues than the enterprise open-source players do.

First off, I wanted to get a health check on some ideas that he'd suggested a little over a year to me at a dinner (again, here in Utah - for loving the Valley so much he sure spends a lot of time on my turf ;-).

The answer is "Yes." Yes, Funambol continues to succeed by not trying to upsell its community, but rather selling to a different demographic that doesn't want to bother with the "risk" of open source.

While the rest of us chase enterprise dollars, Funambol gives his product away for free to enterprises (and gives any support dollars for that market to its partners). The real market for Funambol is the service provider, for a few very good reasons:

  1. Service providers are looking for "sticky" services that will keep consumers loyal to them. Few things are stickier than an email address. Funambol can deliver mission-critical grade mobile messaging.
  2. A massive array of supported devices. An enterprise may be able to mandate or limit phone hardware, but a service provider cannot. Funambol's community writes its own support for nearly every mobile device on the planet.
  3. Service providers need a carrier-grade system and are prepared to pay for it.

Undoubtedly, Funambol could make money from enterprises, but why? It gains a great deal of value from this part of its community (read: device support, among other things), which it can then package up and sell to a different market (the service provider), with different add-on features that only the service provider wants or needs. It's a very clean split between the two markets.

Within the service provider market Funambol either charges for the software, or for a hosted service, or takes a revenue share on ad-supported email.

It's working. Funambol is cash-flow positive and, like everyone else these days, will be IPOing within 24 to 48 months. (Inside joke: we had a good laugh at how everyone is talking up their IPO plans, including my own CEO. If the IPO is three years out, it's not worth talking about. Sorry.) In the process, he has also figured out a great vacation policy, one that I'm hoping to bring to Alfresco's US team.

It couldn't happen to a better Italian. While I bemoan Arsenal's struggling form, Fabrizio's woes are much deeper since he also has to grapple with corrupt Italian politicians squashing his beloved team, Juventus, in favor of Inter Milan. Arsenal at least only has itself to blame for its poor form of late.

At any rate, keep an eye on Funambol. It's working on a range of highly interesting deals, in an explosive and interesting space. Mobile. Have you heard of it?

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