Business process management (BPM) isn't exactly new; as a management and improvement approach, it's been around since the early 1990s. As a market for software developers, BPM doesn't, at first glance, appear to be rife with potential.
So, what makes BonitaSoft -- a relatively tiny French company, with 85 employees -- think it's got a prayer?
An equally interesting question: Why would several respected investment firms pour more than $17 million into this upstart?
Miguel Valdés-Faura, CEO and co-founder of BonitaSoft, has a multi-point answer, but it all starts with open source.
Tip #1: The key to penetration is open source.
"In our case, from day one, we knew this was a global market," says Valdés-Faura. "OK, we want to play in a mature market -- we are not inventing a market -- and the way to penetrate is to use open source.
"There is plenty of interest in BPM, across many industries, but the software market has been dominated by heavyweight, proprietary vendors. What makes us different is that we offer a complete open source BPM suite, with all the advanced features that used to be available only in proprietary solutions."
Tip #2: Do your initial work on someone else's bankroll.
BonitaSoft was founded in 2009, but the underlying technology has a longer history, Valdés-Faura says. "The technology was created in 2001; it was an open source project with a huge community.
"I was an employee of different companies, including Bull. I was paid for deploying BPM products for my current competitors. [BonitaSoft co-founders] Charles [Souillard] and Rodrigue [Le Gall] were part of my team at Bull.
"I was an open source evangelist, traveling worldwide. I was working in conferences, meeting everyone. I was not only learning and not only deploying Bonita, but getting to know those people."
Tip #3: It's all about leveraging the community.
"I know pretty well most of those guys in the community really well; they were working with me," says Valdés-Faura. "The strength of the open source community is that we know each other.
"It was very much a form of viral marketing -- using the community and social media tools. Our market isn't just BPM, it's also open source.
"There are lot of other companies in this space, and one of the things we did to push globally was to reach out to the customers of those companies. We defined an integration between them, and we leveraged the community. We attracted millions of users from those communities.
"In open source in general, for all those that have succeed in terms of business and community, they created the community first, and then created the business. The eight years we spent before creating the company was exactly about understanding the market and getting to know the people."
For BonitaSoft, this combination of knowledge and attraction has had a happy consequence: More than 1.3 million people worldwide have downloaded Bonita Open Solution, and the company now has 300+ customers.
BonitaSoft is privately held, so Valdés-Faura wouldn't disclose revenues, but he did say that in the past year -- which was the first complete year of business -- the company went from zero to "several millions" of dollars in sales.
Tip #4: Go global, or don't go at all.
"Some software companies start in one country, then roll out to another," Valdés-Faura says. "That hasn't been our strategy because we are proposing an alternative to existing solutions. We said, 'Let's disseminate really fast, worldwide.'
"We began communicating in different languages from day one, which helps in spreading the word really fast. There's a worldwide community of developers, and we wanted to communicate globally and try to make business in all those countries."
BonitaSoft's headquarters are in Grenoble, France, with R&D offices in Paris. In addition, sales and marketing are handled from Paris and San Francisco, and QA runs out of Beijing, China.