Johannesburg-based open-source software start-up Snapt launched only in August 2011 but already it’s drawing interest from top drawer customers, mainly international clients, including the US National Aeronautics & Space Administration (Nasa).
The company uses open-source software as a basis to build server and network management software. With all of its marketing and sales activities being Web-based, the company is finding there’s huge demand for free and open-source solutions that are backed by support, particularly from US companies looking to cut costs by avoiding proprietary software solutions.
Snapt developed one of its two primary products — a front end for server load-balancing called HAProxy — in-house. It ran limited beta tests in the middle of last year and used these as a proof of concept from which to raise venture capital.
The company got an undisclosed amount of venture capital it was looking for from SA venture capital firm 4Di Capital. CEO and founder Dave Blakey says that although there are a growing number of options for SA companies looking for funding, it remains one of the challenges facing local entrepreneurs.
He says than in SA a good idea isn’t enough to secure funding and that start-ups need to be able to prove that there is a market for their idea. “South Africans are also more risk averse than, say, US investors. Google got its big break from a US$100 000 cheque written out at a dinner party. SA investors aren’t at that stage; they need reassurance”.
Snapt employs six people, most of them developers. Blakey himself comes from a developer background and says he saw the need for alternative software solutions for businesses that could be based on open source and other free software but providing after-sales support.
“I used to work at a company that dealt with networked appliances,” Blakey says. “When we were winning deals against open-source alternatives it was because of missing features in the open-source offering, and that’s the gap Snapt is trying to bridge.”
Blakey says the company sells its products online exclusively for now, but that it has recently entered into an agreement with a US company that wants to be a reseller. He says Snapt is looking to find resellers in other regions, too, and that some prospective partners have expressed interest in bundling Snapt’s software with hardware and selling it to clients as a whole service solution.
One of the benefits of using open-source software, according to Blakey, is that it allows the company to reduce costs across the board. “We’re looking at selling a 100Mbit/s load balancer for around $4 000,” says Blakey. “Many of our competitors’ offerings are easily in the $50 000 or more range”.
Furthermore, he says open-source solutions “almost always allow for better performance” because they needn’t be one-size-fits-all and they manage to avoid the “bloat” that Blakey says one often finds in business-orientated products.
Though Snapt launched HAProxy first — the software now has around 60 clients — Blakey says he expects its other offering, the open source Web cache and proxy server software Squid, to do better in the long run because it can be added to existing products and is inexpensive.
“We thought we’d be looking at small and medium-sized enterprises for most of our business, but now we’ve got some big Internet service providers in South America using our products, as well as Nasa.”
Snapt offers 30-day trials of its products, and Blakey says free accounts are almost always converted to paying ones after the trial period.
He says Snapt’s products support a wide range of Linux versions, offer images for VMWare virtual machine integration, and says the company is constantly working to make the initial installation process as simple as possible and widening the range of supported platforms and hardware with which its offerings can integrate.
Nevertheless, Blakey says he’s surprised by just how many Snapt customers have turned out to be less technically inclined than he’d expected. “I thought we’d have very technical clients, but 50% have never actually run Linux before. They’re just fed up with huge licence fees and are looking for an alternative.”
He says these customers can’t use “pure HAProxy” because it doesn’t provide alerts in the case of a server going down and lacks other essential features like reporting tools. “We want to bridge technically superior open-source products with what businesses actually require.”
Without its Internet presence and international reach, Blakey says he doesn’t think Snapt would ever have got off the ground because the bulk of its business comes from abroad.
“Around 55% of our clients are in the US, with another 35% coming from Europe,” he says. He adds that last year, 50% of all software spending came from US companies. Nevertheless, he says the company wants to grow its SA user base as well as its international presence in other markets.
He says SA is moving towards acceptance of open-source models as an alternative to traditional commercial solutions but the country still has some catching-up to do compared to the developed world. — Craig Wilson, TechCentral
- Subscribe to our free daily newsletter
- Follow us on Twitter or on Google+ or on Facebook
- Visit our sister website, SportsCentral (still in beta)