Last week I suggested that open source still has work to do to penetrate the SMB (small to medium-sized business) market. Immediately various open-source companies started contacting me, either corroborating my contention or contradicting it.
Untangle is in the latter camp.
Untangle CEO Bob Walters talked with me in 2008 and indicated the company's switch to open source had paid serious dividends. As I learned in this follow-up email, the momentum has accelerated, as shown in the graph at right, and it's apparently all coming from the hard-to-reach SMB market.
Untangle sells software that allows small businesses to securely connect their local networks (LAN's) to the Internet. In other words, Untangle is a "secure network gateway" company, as Bob describes it. The company has now open sourced roughly 90 percent of its code, which is given away free of cost, and then charges for advanced features, similar to the business models used by SugarCRM, Zimbra, and others.
That move to open source has proved beneficial, as can be seen in how deployments have soared since Untangle open sourced its code. But I still wanted to know how Untangle successfully reaches the SMB market, particularly in light of the fact that Untangle doesn't build appliances which might make the software easier to adopt than a download-and-install-it-yourself model.
Open source has helped turn Untangle's customers into a self-reinforcing community:
Nothing sells like free during a recession. And those 18,000 active Untangle sites become both spokespeople for and prospective customers of ours. It's then our job to put highly-useful complementary commercial products in front of them.
Well over 99 percent of our customers have fewer than 100 employees. These include accounting firms, professional services firms, retail franchises, and small government agencies/offices. We are also popular for schools, especially private middle and high schools. (These can sometimes exceed the 100-user mark.)
Fine, but how do you reach such a scattered, tight-fisted market?… Read more