IT Entrepreneurs

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Content Copyright © 2007 Bloor. All Rights Reserved.

We wouldn’t usually report the launch of something like Sun Startup Essentials in EMEA here—it’s news, especially for today’s entrepreneurs (who will be tomorrow’s ISVs; Sun is “catchin’ ‘em young”), but not really “analysis”. However, in this case, Juan Carlos Soto’s presentation (he’s Vice President, Marketing, Market Development at Sun) gave us some interesting insights into the evolving developer marketplace. Soto himself seems to have a soft spot for startup entrepreneurs—according to him, Sun still thinks of itself as a startup, despite its size (it spends about a billion dollars a year on R&D, out of some $13 billion revenue; and has about $6 billion cash in the bank). We wonder whether large companies ever really keep the “garage mentality”, but we suppose it’s worth trying.

Anyway, Sun seems to be running its Startup program as an interactive community, instead of just bribing startups to buy Sun technology. This means that it learns something about future marketplaces as well as, probably, building a stronger long-term relationship with its entrepreneurs. It started the program in the US, which is perhaps understandable, then took it to China/India (which perhaps tells us where entrepreneurial IT is really hot)—and then came to EMEA, where entrepreneurs apparently don’t have quite the same access to venture capital as they do elsewhere (or perhaps the European funding model is different). However, EMEA has what Sun considers it takes for entrepreneurial IT: innovation; lots of developers; some sort of VC investment; and a strong Internet access infrastructure.

The first insight was that entrepreneurs need access to advice. Not just technical advice but also business advice. It is much easier to put “good governance” into effect when you’re small and have it grow with you than it is to apply governance suddenly to chaos when you grow big enough for the regulators to notice you. “Death by success” is a real possibility for startups that haven’t thought about the future as a “real enterprise”—and a well-governed company finds that investment capital is cheaper and selling the company easier.

Startups are also hitting the realities of modern IT sooner than established companies: the cost of operating IT far exceeds the cost of acquiring it, the world is becoming asynchronous, service-oriented, and architectural decisions made, often unconsciously, early in the life of a company have a major impact on its mature operations, when they are very hard to revisit.

On a more technical level, startup entrepreneurs seem much happier with the integration of IT into the business and rather uninterested in IT as an end in itself. Everything works on software, of course, but to these entrepreneurs IT is no big deal—it’s just there as an enabler. And they’re quite happy with the idea of Open Source, not because it’s “free” (it still has a cost of ownership) so much as that it is more agile, as you don’t have the same vendor upgrade agendas to deal with. Most interesting is their attitude to hosted solutions and “software as a service”—many established companies are frightened of letting their data and critical services escape from their premises (for no very good technical reasons), but this doesn’t seem to worry most startup entrepreneurs. So much so, that Sun added hosting to its SSE program after a few months, responding to customer demand.

So, perhaps not just a startup program, more (a pointer to) a way of life…