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The Open Source CEO: Eero Teerikorpi, Continuent (Part 22)

In this 22nd installment of the Open Source CEO Series, I talk with Eero Teerikorpi, CEO of Continuent.

I thought it would be a good idea to shift gears a bit to talk with the CEO of an open source startup that has Europe in its veins, especially one with Finland coursing through it. So I caught up with Eero Teerikorpi, CEO of Continuent, which provides database high availability software (for MySQL and PostgreSQL).

I've known Eero for some time (though, in my ignorance, I once asked if Eero is a Greek name. He replied, "No, Matt. I come from the land of open source." Finland, in other words. :-)

Name, position, and company of executive

Eero Teerikorpi, CEO, Continuent.

Year company was founded and year you joined it

I founded Continuent in 2004. (Continuent?s predecessor, Emic Networks, was founded in 2001.)

Stage of funding and venture firms that have invested

Continuent has received three rounds of funding, primarily from Scandinavian VCs: AuraCapital (Finland), Ledstiernan AB (Sweden) and Nordic Venture Partners (Denmark/Sweden/Finland).

Background prior to current company

I started my career at Apple Computer during the original hey-days in the mid-80's. A serial entrepreneur in Finland (founder of three companies before moving to the USA in 1993). I executed an MBO at Alcom Corporation (Mountain View, CA) in 1995 and subsequently sold the company to Esker SA (France). I was a founding partner of Blue White Venture, a company specializing in bringing Scandinavian companies to the US market.

Biggest surprise you've encountered in your role with your company

The duality of the open source market, plus a lack of channels. Let me explain.

There is no doubt that open source companies have been very successful on multiple fronts, whether that is the operating system platform, key core applications (databases: MySQL, PostgreSQL; application server: JBOSS, Tomcat; web server, etc.), higher-level solutions such as CRM (Sugar, Centric) and CMS (Alfresco, Drupal, Joomla) or even network appliances (Snort intrusion detection). Also some of the most successful web (Google, Yahoo) and Web 2.0 (YouTube, MySpace, Facebook) companies have leveraged the open source solutions to the max. This is all good, and hardly anyone can claim that open source could not be used to run serious businesses.

Yet same time significant numbers of 'serious' Fortune 1000 companies have yet to adopt open source solutions and a number of early adopters of open source solutions are gravitating towards commercial solutions as they face real business challenges. It looks like one can still get fired using open source solutions, but not if one chooses Oracle....

Another surprise is partner networking, or actually the lack of it. Maybe this is result of open source companies natural tendency to focus on services and, for the most part, on a direct sales model. Open source companies have created tight-knit partner communities, which are excellent vehicles for the self-promoting (every self-respecting open source company seems to be partner with at least 10 other open source companies), while sametimes there has been very limited success in creating truly significant partner networks (system integrators, VARs) to push open source solutions to the end users....

Open source companies need a much more concentrated effort to create partner networks. Without comprehensive and very solid partner strategy, there will be only limited success for open source solutions. Then again, by combining the efforts and working together open source companies can quickly create a productive network of partners who will deliver superior solutions at lower cost to their customers. Let?s work together!

Hardest challenge you've had so far at your open source company

We have bet our company's success on open source adoption. Initially Continuent had a proprietary clustering solution that provided availability and scalability for MySQL and MySQL alone. Clearly that was too sophisticated a solution for the market, one that did not quite exist at the time.

Since then we have changed our strategy and now Continuent offers a commercial open source-based clustering solution for MySQL and PostgreSQL. The new strategy has clearly been very successful, but our growth has still been slowed down due to the fact that adoption of open source solutions in truly mission critical environments is still quite limited.

We do continue to believe that open source database alternatives - EnterpriseDB, MySQL and PostgreSQL - will ultimately gain the trust of the larger enterprises and the need for highly-available and highly-scalable solutions will continue to increase. I naturally would like to have seen this adoption rate been much faster....

If you could start over again from scratch, what would you do differently?

We have always believed in the open source market. We just have been slow to warm up to the idea that our own solution could be completely open source. The open source approach works great for commodity solutions, especially when you present a free alternative for an existing, well-established solution (classic cases being Linux vs. Windows/Unix, MySQL/PostgreSQL vs. Oracle/MS SQL Server).

This is not quite obvious when you create a whole new solution (in our case shared-nothing based database clustering solution) for a market that has not fully matured. Nevertheless, we should have embraced an open source-based approach much earlier.

At the same time we should not have limited our solutions solely to the open source database market. Our future solutions will be far more open, both in terms of license but also in terms of the market we will go after.

Top three pieces of advice for would-be open source CEOs

  1. Community. Without community, there is no point in being open source. You don?t need to have millions of community members, but you do need to have a solid core group that is steadily increasing in size and is willing to contribute to the success of the project.
  2. Deliver great solutions. "Good enough" is not enough. "Me too" doesn't cut it, either. "Insanely great" should be the goal from the beginning. And when you have done it, make it better!
  3. Focus on partners, partners that sell for you. Strategic partners are great to increase credibility, but won't pay your bills. Peer partners are great to increase overall visibility, but won't pay your bills. Partners who will deliver your solution to the paying customer is a god-send - they pay your bills. Understand what motivates partners, and keep them happy and productive!

Sage words, Eero, especially the emphasis on partners. I, too, have found it puzzling that open source vendors are so quick to partner with other open source vendors...when there's very little immediate customer value tied up in doing so (and, hence, no money). You've clearly learned this over time with Emic/Continuent. Thanks for sharing.