For the past 16 years I’ve been doing a personal Holiday Greeting that is kind of a quick year in review. This year I figured I would add a Bickel Running Year in Review as well as a Bickel Business Year in Review. It is kind of a personal log that hopefully I will keep up. I kind of split my life between the running side and the business side… My basic model on the business side is to work with several small technology companies and take a small ownership stake. It has worked out well for me at Bluestone and JBoss, but also a couple of other more part time gigs like Princeton Software, Bristol Technology and this year Hyperic. Hopefully a few of the others will experience similar growth and success.
Well, 2009 was much better than 2008 (see Ringside Winding down). Here are the highlights of the businesses that I am involved in…
Hyperic This was the highlight of the year. Over the past several years I had gotten to know the guys at Hyperic very well – great group with technology that just was not getting widely spread fast enough. In the spring, Spring acquired Hyperic. I know a number of the people over at Spring (Rod Johnson, Rob Bearden, Peter Cooper-Ellis and Shaun Connolly) and thought this was a great combination – basically fulfilling the same vision we had back in the JBoss days of combining development thru production and management. Rob Bearden had built a great sales force, and the Hyperic technology gave them a lot of value to sell, and the widespread use of Spring gave Hyperic much broader distribution and market recognition.
Apparently VMWare thought this was a good combination as well and they acquired Spring. It was a great acquisition because VMWare structured it so the whole team was highly motivated to stay and be very engaged (so many tech acquisitions fail from overlooking this point). The Spring technology will be a useful part of VMWare’s strategy for cloud computing and engaging the development community. The Hyperic technology is becoming an important part of VMWare’s management strategy. And the business continues to grow.
Metaverse I have been involved with Metaverse for a number of years. First when they were a content management company, then more recently over the past couple of years as they have grown their online Art business. The past year has really seen the strategies we implemented in 2008 come to fruition. The acquisition of Liebermans in 2008 has been fully integrated and our volume and size have given us some very nice efficiencies that have allowed to become very profitable by the end of this year. Operationally, we moved into a brand new facility to accommodate our growth (we do thousands of orders per day – I find the facility amazing after being in the software business (where there is nothing physical happening) for so long and seeing the whole inventory, shipping, framing, canvas transfer processes). The other major initiative was to decrease our dependency of Google Adwords. We have implemented a project we call “Chameleon”. It takes advantage of our content management roots and we are now in the business of running the art portion of other online retailers websites. For example, in addition to our flagship website – www.fulcrumgallery.com, if you buy art at Sears, Kohls, Spiegel, Overstock and over 100 other online sites, Metaverse is actually doing all the fulfillment. Kind of similar to the business model that GSI Commerce is using. When one of our major competitors went bankrupt and Art.com acquired their assets, we were able to pick up many of the old customers due to our better web infrastructure and operational efficiencies. The team is great
Moorestown Running Company I write about this in my Running Blog. This is more of a passion business for me. And it is very fulfilling from that perspective. We have been open 2.5 years now and have finally reached a stable break-even level. We did over $600K of business this year, and have started to expand our offerings into coaching services and team uniforms. These both fit with our core mission of helping serve and build the running community. More on my running blog.
RunSignUp.com In another cross-over with running, I started up a company to compete with Active.com for allowing runners to register online for races. I had become frustrated with Active.com as a user over the years and finally got around to doing something about it. We have been thru a very successful trial phase this fall with about 20 races. This coming year, Stephen Sigwart is joining as a full time developer, and my old running buddy from college, George Buckheit is joining to help connect with race managers, timing services and race directors. We are taking an approach of focusing on helping race management and timing service companies serve their races better – essentially creating a channel for our business where we share in the revenue. We can do this with lower costs to runners than Active.com, much better user experience, no advertising or spam. We have some great technology plans coming this year with Facebook integration and management tools for race management and timing service companies. There are over 9 million runners per year who signup for 15,000+ road races, so this is a big market. My intention is to build this business as a “lifestyle” company and not take VC money or sell out like many of my other business ventures.
eXo When Hyperic and Spring got acquired I started thinking about replacing them with something else. After talking with many companies, I finally decided on eXo. It is a good fit since they are trying to become the next generation of Java Middleware - http://news.cnet.com/8301-13846_3-10419892-62.html. Benjamin Mestrallet is the founder and CEO of this French company. They have a strategic deal with Red Hat/JBoss that significantly expands the company’s reach. With that, Benjamin made a decision to open a US office and take VC money. We are in the process of finalizing that and hiring some great people in the US that I have worked with in the past in addition to a cool set of advisors that include Sacha Labourey, my friend and former CTO of JBoss, as well as Edwin Khodabakchian of Collaxa and Oracle fame. I am really excited about this company as I think Java has kind of gotten behind PHP and .Net. They have Drupal and Sharepoint to bring a much higher level set of services to their communities – and I think eXo can bring something similar to the Java market. This could make Java relevant again, as it seems JBoss and Spring keep focusing increasingly on lower level development and core middleware functionality rather than enabling Java developers to bring Consumer Web type experiences to their users.
Secret Project My good friend, Sacha Labourey, is working on a new secret project and I will be trying to help a bit. After retiring from Red Hat earlier this year, he got the itch again to start up something. I think he’s got a good target market and hopefully in next year’s summary I can talk about how we have an initial version out and showing some market success.
In addition, I am an adviser to several firms. Jaspersoft has had a very successful year in the business intelligence space with their open source strategy. They are starting to create separation from the other open source player, Pentaho, and they seem to be more and more a part of companies strategic plans. Funambol is another open source company who is innovating a lot in the mobile space. Mobile companies are suing this across the globe to deliver Blackberry functionality on any phone - pretty cool. Sonatype is the company behind the Maven project, which has a huge Java developer community and could service they run in Maven Central. It will be interesting to see if they can mature their initial “Enterprise” offerings this coming year and gain some real revenue traction.
I guess that is enough to keep me busy for 2010! It should be another fun year…