SugarCRM Gets a True Open Source Visionary in Larry Augustin
I was pleasantly surprised to read that Larry Augustin had been named SugarCRM's full-time CEO. After spending much of the last decade as an investor and board member extraordinaire for many (most?) companies grouped in the commercial open source category, it is good to see Larry back in the CEO saddle. This is a vindication of sorts for Larry and his vision of an open source future. After years of attempting to explain just how ubiquitous open source was going to be, he can now take the reigns of a company at a time when most customers and vendors take as a given that a substantial portion of any solution will consist of open source code. This was not always the case, especially when Larry was still CEO of VA Linux Systems, at the time the premier vendor for servers running Linux.
To give you an idea of what SugarCRM is getting, Larry is a guy who saw the value in building a center of gravity for open source developerment before most; a guy who counseled LinuxWorld Expo to look to the developer audience and eschew the bad advice they were receiving from their vendors. That they ignored him and subsequently failed is a testament to his vision.
Perhaps the best example of this vision was a move he made almost 10 years ago that many, including yours truly, openly questioned at the time: the acquisition of Andover.net by VA Linux Systems. Some of you may remember that Andover.net was the media company that had purchased Slashdot.org and Freshmeat.net. VA was then still gleaming with post-IPO sparkles, which had taken place just two months prior to the Andover acquisition. With the addition of VA's home-grown SourceForge.net, VA was on the verge of establishing a veritable open source developalooza. At that time, early 2000, the dot com bubble was still in full swing, seemingly oblivious to its imminent demise just ahead. In that context, the Andover play seemed to be another example of a high-flying IPO company looking to make and stay in the headlines for the sake of pumping its stock price. Many of us questioned how acquiring what amounted to "a bunch of web sites" fit the mission of VA Linux. With hindsight, however, the Andover acquisition wasn't a cynical move at all, but rather a stroke of genius that was ahead of its time and unappreciated by industry observers.
In early 2000, everyone was still trying to comprehend how the open source revolution was going to shake out - would it be a fad? Was there a viable revenue model for a company that peddled in open source software? It occurred to Larry - much earlier than other executives - that there was an intrinsic value to building the center of gravity for open source development. That there was value in "activity" and capturing that activity meant, by its very definition, adding value. This was a point missed by the company most poised to benefit from the idea, Red Hat. It's a point not missed by companies like Google, who seem intent on building that center of gravity.
To fully comprehend the magnitude of the Andover acquisition, one must realize that at the time of acquisition, a rather large percentage of open source types religiously visited Slashdot and Freshmeat. Shortly afterward, SourceForge.net came into its own as a provider of free hosting services for open source projects. Between the three sites, VA commanded a high percentage of open source mind share. That this fact went unappreciated both internally at VA and by outside observers is a pity. That many other companies have since jumped on the open source developer bandwagon serves to vindicate the original ideas and goals.
Larry was unfairly maligned for that acquisition. An interesting sidenote is that the race for open source hearts and minds has yet to be won. Some have tried, some are still trying, but no one has made it. Mark my words: whoever is most successful at building the center of gravity for open source developers will reap handsome rewards for it. Larry was the first executive to see that, and it's about time he got some credit for it.