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From Open Source to SaaS

I'm about to take a week off from my new gig as COO at Zendesk and it got me reflecting on the company and my decision to join.  I stayed with MySQL through the Sun acquisition and left when Oracle acquired Sun.  Although I have a lot of respect for Oracle, it seemed to me the only interesting jobs would be those that report directly to Larry Ellison.  So I took some time off to travel, worked as an EIR at Scale Ventures for a few months and began thinking about what I wanted to do next.

I turned down offers from companies and investors to come in and "repeat the MySQL playbook" in Big Data or NoSQL or apps or whatever.  I think Open Source can be a fantastic development approach and it provides good commercial possibilities when done at scale, but I also felt that it was time to do something new.  And as important as Open Source has been in powering the last ten years of Internet companies, I felt that there was an even bigger force that would play out over the next ten years: namely the cloud.  

While some are quick to dismiss the cloud as a new buzzword for an approach that's been around for a while, I think that's missing the forest for the trees.  I believe the transition to Software-as-a-Service, Platform-as-a-Service, Infrasctructure-as-a-Service will be as profound as the introduction of the PC, client/server or even the browser.  In other words, this is a huge platform shift that will have profound effect on businesses and individuals.  It may take some years to play out, but from my perspective, cloud is where the excitement is.

When I joined Zendesk back in December it was already a strong business.  The founders Mikkel, Alex, Morten had built a phenomenal business.  They got to over 7,000 customers worldwide without a sales team!  That's the kind of adoption that makes open source guys envious.  And I don't mean just free users; these are paying customers including the likes of Cloudera, DataStax, Dropbox, Groupon, Hulu, MSNBC, Neilsen, Rogers Communications, Rockstar games, SAP, SmugMug, Zappos Insights.  Equally importantly, the company has developed a customer-oriented culture.  Zendesk enables the fastest way to great customer service.  It's not just a motto, it's a way of life at Zendesk.  And we love our customers!

In the last six months, the company has delivered tremendous innovation and is now recognized as the leader in cloud-based help desk software.  Recent innovations include: integrations with Salesforce.com, SugarCRM and Atlassian JIRA, advanced reporting and analytics with GoodDataTwitter integration, mobile versions for iPad, iPhone, Android and Blackberry, and a new open API for sharing tickets.  The NetworkedHelpDesk API allows you to share support tickets across teams, organizations or applications with support from more than two dozen software companies.  

Zendesk now has more than 10,000 customers in more than 100 countries worldwide with revenues quadrupling last year.  The company also has funding from Benchmark capital, Matrix Partners and Charles River Ventures enabling us to develop a deep bench of technical talent and a superb management team.

I'm tremendously proud of what we've been able to do over the last couple of quarters.  And I'm even more excited about all the innovations planned in engineering over the next six months.  This is the most fun I've had since the early days of MySQL!  This is one heckuva exciting time to be in the software business.


Open Source & Interactive Fiction

One of the amazing things to me is that the Internet has enabled the development of very far-flung communities.  Social, media, music or other interests that might be of interest to only a handful of people can now attact a global audience and foster greater partcipation than ever before.

One of these odd-ball communities that I happen to be interested in is Interactive Fiction.  (Or for those who have been around for a long time, think of old-school text adventure games.)  Somehow the likes of old games like Infocom's Deadline or The Witness fill me with nostalgic memories from the 1980s.  

And oddly enough, there continues to be a thriving community developing new Interactive Fiction games.  This is largely due to open source efforts that reverse engineered and ported Infocom's Z-Machine interpreter architecture to modern machines.  Games written in the 1980s now run perfectly fine on the latest interpreters for Windows, Mac, Linux, iPhone, iPad and Android platforms.  And this in turn begat the development of newer virtual machines and domain specific programming languages like Inform and Tads, Adrift and Alan that enable the development of new games.  

If you're at all curious, I encourage you to check out some of the games that are available at IFDB.  There's also a thriving community several annual game competitions.  IntroComp kicked off this week and there are more than a dozen games published there, including my own Infocom-tribute mystery story, The Z-Machine Matter.