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Lucid Imagination conjures up $6 million

The company, which aims to commercialize the popular Lucene open-source enterprise search technology, attracts a Series A round of venture financing.

If you were looking to create a start-up, and particularly an open-source start-up, you could hardly do better than to stumble upon a pre-existing open-source project with millions of downloads, widespread adoption by some of the biggest names in the industry, and a fast-growing enterprise need.

Take Lucene, for example, as CMS Watch's Kas Thomas noted on Monday. It is a hugely popular project with one big failing: no enterprise support. Writes Thomas:

Lucene has a lot going for it...(It's) one of the safest (open-source projects) around, in terms of governance and oversight (through the Apache Foundation), the maturity of the code, the amount of active development going on, the size and vitality of the user ecosystem, and the number of high-traffic Web sites that have validated the technology in real-world applications (some better-known examples being, Netflix, and Wikipedia).

Perhaps reflective of all this, Lucene has become a top-five Apache project, with 7,000 downloads a day.

But one thing Lucene is not is an out-of-the-box solution...To go from Lucene to a ready-to-deploy solution requires programming (and lots of it). And when you have a problem, there's no phone number to dial in the middle of the night. It's just you, the source code, and the community.

Enter Lucid Imagination, a commercial Lucene company that on Monday announced a $6 million Series A round of venture financing from Granite Ventures and Walden International, which also invested in SugarCRM.

Started by Eric Gries in 2007, the company already has a full roster of customers that includes Netflix, Hewlett-Packard, FedEx, Orbitz, AOL, Apple, Comcast, and Zappos, which sets it apart from Gries' former venture, Levanta (formerly Linuxcare), where he was CEO.

In fact, in talking with Gries several times over the past few months as a member of Lucid's advisory board, it became apparent to me that the Levanta experience may well prove to be one of the best reasons to be optimistic about Lucid, in addition to its stellar roster of engineers and Doug Cutting, the founder of Lucene, as an adviser.

Enterprise search is a growing market, and Lucene (and its more commercially friendly Solr brother) is keeping the pace. The question then becomes whether Lucid and Gries can provide enough value around Lucene to warrant companies such as Netflix spending big with Lucid rather than rolling their own Lucene-based search solution.

I think it can, because it's being run by people that have learned the hard way how to ensure open-source success. As an adviser to Lucid, I'm somewhat biased, and doubly so because my own company uses Lucene as part of our content management solution, so I've felt the power and pain of Lucene firsthand. But I believe that this is a space to watch and a company worth watching.