I started my technology career at a startup, running sales. Now “running” is probably generous, given that I was the only sales guy (my partners were busy creating products). But every morning, I’d get up, roll out of bed to my desk (which was in my bedroom – this was before raising venture capital became like raising your hand), and start down my call list. We’d get leads from anywhere we could – but at a startup, all sales are basically cold calls. And in all honesty, I hate cold calls. But hold that thought.
We just finished up Sun’s annual Analyst Conference – where we bring financial and industry analysts together (they never seem to sit on the same side of the room), and present our updates and perspectives on the marketplace. (The above link is video and slides.)
The central topic of my presentation was free software – trying to answer the questions, especially from among the financial community, surrounding its impact on our financial results. Some still believe “free” can’t be good for business – despite a rush of businesses predicated upon free. My point was that free software doesn’t decrease revenue – it amplifies adoption. And radically simplifies customer acquisition and qualification.
To make the point, I invited Marc Andreesen to join me on stage – to talk about one of his (many) companies, Ning. Ning is all about accelerating the emergence of social software through the delivery of its infrastructure as a service (with some really inspired thinking about cloning and tipping effects). It’s a very cool idea, run by some very smart people. And Ning is ground zero of the coming revolution in the IT marketplace: social software will drive more infrastructure and transactional volumes than the entirety of last decade’s ERP build out. To prove the point, Sun runs its ERP implementation on a partially used 5 year old computer – vs. our developer communities and customer portals, which serve millions of users 24 hours a day requiring far more infrastructure.
But what’s interesting to me about our relationship with Ning is that no one from Sun had ever paid them a visit. No one had ever made a sales call, cold or otherwise. Marc assumed he’d simply run Linux on a whitebox platform – yet it turned out to be twice as expensive as running Solaris on a SunFire server (a point many customers find surprising, which is both a good, and a bad, problem to have). See C|Net’s coverage, here. And now he’s become a Sun customer (I’ll post his email to me detailing the math next week).
It’s my view that the growth in front of Sun won’t simply be from stabilizing and growing our existing customers. It’ll be from acquiring new customers. Large customers as well as small. The important point is we won’t be able to meet most of them – there aren’t enough sales executives on the planet to call on each of the 4 million Solaris licenses we’ve distributed to the world. But so long as the internet connects us to them, the distribution of free software allows them to discover us – and for us to invest in building a bi-directional link, ultimately driving revenue from only those who want added services and infrastructure (vs. those who don’t).
Which allows me to believe (perhaps hope) that the days of cold calling are numbered…