On May 7th 2009, SugarCRM (MGI-X:NR; pvt.), a highly visible open source CRM software company announced that its CEO John Roberts was leaving the business effective immediately. Board member and founder of VA Linux, Larry Augustin is assuming the role of CEO. It is unclear if a search for a permanent replacement CEO is underway. As MGI Research discussed in a note published on January 7, 2009, titled, "2009 Outlook for Open Source: Do or Die Time", the halcyon days of easy capital and low near-term profitability expectations for VC-backed open source companies are likely to come to an end this year. MGI Research estimates that SugarCRM's revenues are close to the amount of total capital raised, i.e., $45 million, and it's probable that the company is encountering the same headwinds as others in the SaaS/enterprise software market - lower renewal rates, downward pressure on pricing, and drop in the deferred to realized revenue ratio, a key indicator of soft demand.
The competitive impact of this specific event is minimal - SugarCRM has struggled to compete effectively against Netsuite, Oracle, RightNow, Salesforce.com and SAP. But from an industry perspective, this event highlights the challenges even well capitalized open source software (OSS) vendors like SugarCRM face in building durable businesses, and how OSS companies by and large have failed to be universally disruptive. The success of OSS (and indeed it has been successful in a few niche markts) should be measured company by company and market by market. Ultimately, management execution and not the degree of open source conformance will determine success or failure in specific OSS companies.
Two core business assumptions regarding the OSS business will now come into focus and face a reality test: 1) that the recession will benefit open source companies, and 2) downloads are more important than bottomline profits. CEOs of OSS companies should take note of this event - it could be the first of many replacements this year. Investors should note that the success of Linux, and namely RedHat (MGI-X:840; NYSE:RHT) is not transitive - there are plenty of lackluster OSS results, and the OSS business model has not proven to be more efficient or even as profitable, as evidenced by RHT's and Novell's mediocre MGI-X scores.
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